Elisha Scott: The Black Panther- Part 2

“Elisha Scott has the eye of an eagle, the swift movement of a panther and the grip of a vice.” (The Belfast Telegraph)

By Gavin Bergin

Elisha Scott had a long international career with Ireland, which began in 1919 and ended in 1936. Throughout his 17 years and 31 caps as his country’s goalkeeper, he kept up a high standard of performance.

Ireland were a poor side a lot of the time in those days, but Elisha often-times managed to tip the balance in the team’s favour, even in the most unpromising of circumstances. He made a particular habit of performing goalkeeping miracles for Ireland in their biggest games of all, those against the old enemy – England.

For most of their history, Ireland had lost against England, and lost heavily. But, when Elisha was in the Irish goal, things were different and his irrepressible excellence was such that, for a long stretch of the 1920s, England just could not get a win against Ireland when he was in nets.

Elisha’s unbeaten run against the English began on October 21st 1921 at Windsor Park in Belfast. Armoured cars and wagonloads of military patrolled the surrounding roads, and soldiers were on duty at the ground itself, where the match was played in a very tense atmosphere due to the situation in the country at that time.

Despite everything, the match went ahead and as reported in the Irish Times, “England dominated play throughout but due to super work by Scott, Ireland were able to secure the 1-1 draw”. 

The next time Elisha played against England was back in Belfast on 24th October 1925, and he was in even better form, blanking the English as he clawed his team to a 0-0 draw. The Irish Independent match report said that “Scott gave a wonderful display during the game, and when it was over he was surrounded by teammates and Irish supporters who carried him shoulder high off the field.” Twelve months later, in the 1926 match against England at Anfield, Elisha was the Irish hero again, as he made a stunning save in the last seconds to secure a draw. It was his third undefeated match in a row against the English, who had by then certainly learned that it was a tough task trying to beat the Black Panther.

They had another chance to do so the following year, in Belfast, on October 22nd 1927. The newspaper previews for the game tended to focus on the renewal of the club rivalry between Elisha and Dixie Dean on the international stage. For Everton, Dixie was in exceptionally fine form and had scored in every match of the season so far except one.

And that one game was, of course, against Liverpool with Elisha in goal, which led The Irish Independent before the international game to ask “Would Scott be Dean’s bête noire today?”

The answering of that question took place in a drenching downpour, on a pitch which had been soaked by persistent, steady rain over the two days leading up to the match. When the game started, Ireland ignored the quagmire underfoot and were dangerous, scheming and probing in midfield to feed the forwards who put the frighteners on England’s defence, preventing them from feeding their own midfielders during the opening stages.

But, to the surprise of no Irish fan with any awareness of the history of these games, the English players gradually got to grips with the situation, managed to shift momentum in their favour and, before the midway point of the first half, their forwards made their presence felt and then got clear of the Irish defence. But Elisha “Stood firm and did all that was asked of him, and when the English striker broke through to shoot from close range, he palmed down the shot and cleared in masterly style.”

Among the watching crowd of 30,000 there were quite a few away fans, including almost 2,000 miners from Derbyshire and Nottingham who had travelled on special steamers from Heysham, arriving in Belfast on the morning of the match.

As they watched, Ireland sprung back into the offense again with a flurry of half chances in the English area that came to nothing in the end. But, in the 37th minute, an Irish corner kick from the right was looped high into the English penalty area, where a mass of bodies vied for the ball, and it was ping-ponged around a couple of times before being at last met with a firm header by an England defender, who put it in his own net… and, glory be,  Ireland were 1-0 up!

But in a matter of moments, it looked as if the Irish joy would be but brief, as from the restart, England hared forward while the Ireland players, caught off-guard, scuttled back in vain attempts to cover the defensive gulf. Unimpeded, the English forward got through, advancing on goal he looked a dead cert to equalise, but Elisha came up trumps and saved without any fuss.

But, suddenly, Ireland’s nerves seemed to be fraying, they only just managed to hold their lead into half-time and at the start of the second half, it was the exact same story as they looked brittle in defence while England rallied, again and again, dominating midfield and pouring up in attack as they did all they could in attempting to draw level. Time and again during this period of the match, Elisha was called on to be the last man in defence. He needed to be at his most alert and that he most certainly was. And so, every time the pressure built with the English forwards breaking loose on him, he showed himself to be absolutely up to the challenge.

As the match went on, the chances of a good result for Ireland seemed to be slipping away as England continued laying siege to Elisha’s goal, but he managed to hold the fort admirably. And when the goal wouldn’t come for the English their heads dropped somewhat, while Irish confidence rose again and the midfield began to play, creating openings for the forwards. They got closer and closer with a few moves in offense, before, with twenty minutes left, the ball was played up into the box, and in a scramble the ball was stabbed in to make it two for Ireland. 2-0! And that was it, with the win in sight, no way in the world was Elisha letting it slip away. Thereafter, he was smart and supremely confident, and two-nil it stayed. 

With that victory, he completed a run of results that is the greatest by any Irish goalkeeper in games against England. Those four games against them between 1921 and 1927 saw him at the peak of his international career.

Elisha was 42 when he played his last game for Ireland, against Wales in 1936 while he was still playing for Belfast Celtic, before he retired from playing to concentrate on managing the club, a job at which he was astoundingly successful.

In fifteen years as manager he won 26 trophies, including 10 Irish League titles and six Irish Cups. When he retired from managing the team, Elisha stayed on with Belfast Celtic.  He became an institution there and was employed in various jobs, from scouting to administration, remaining there for the rest of his days.

He was still working hard with characteristic drive, giving his all for the club up till the day he died in 1956.

Elisha was by then a hero and a legendary figure at Belfast Celtic, just as he was at Liverpool and for Ireland. Elisha Scott, the Black Panther. Elisha Scott, the Number One.