For over two decades Tom Saunders was a key figure behind the scenes at Liverpool Football Club. As Youth Development Officer he brought on many players who would succeed at the top level and as the club’s ‘spy in Europe’ he would prepare the groundwork for their successful campaigns on the continent. He was also responsible for me donning a West Germany schoolboy international shirt.
Thomas William Saunders was born in Liverpool on 2nd April 1921. After wartime service in North Africa he began a teaching career, firstly at Olive Mount Secondar Modern School in Wavertree then as head of the lower school at West Derby Comprehensive. He was a keen amateur footballer, turning out for New Brighton, Fleetwood Town, Burscough, Marine and Prescot Cables and soon became involved in schoolboy football. Becoming manager of the Liverpool Schoolboys team in the 1950s, his success led to him being appointed to run the English Schoolboys team, a post he held for 10 years.
It was in 1968 that the then Liverpool youth team coach, Tony Waiters, recommended the club to employ Saunders as Youth Development Officer, the first club in England to make such an appointment. For nearly two decades he oversaw the development of Liverpool’s youth players. He also became the man chiefly responsible for ‘spying’ on upcoming opponents in European football. In an interview in the Liverpool Echo [‘Tom Saunders Masterspy’ 21.5.1984] he recounted tales of his travels. Astonishingly, one trip involved Saunders and Bob Paisley travelling to Rome to personally pick up 17,500 tickets for the European Cup Final. They were so bulky that the duo had to jettison their clothes at the hotel to fit them in their suitcases.
Tom Saunders retired as Youth Development Officer in 1986 but returned to serve the club as a director in 1993. He died on 8th July 2001.
Tom Saunders married his wife Anne in 1946, having two sons, Peter and David. Their first home was at 50 Scarisbrick Crescent L11, later moving to 3 Kirkmaiden Road L19.
As to my appearance in a West Germany schoolboy international shirt. I was good friends with Tom Saunders’ son Dave, and at his dad’s request he got together a group of Quarry Bank boys to give the Liverpool Schoolboys team a practice run out. Asked to bring a white shirt, which I didn’t have, Dave kindly obliged with the international shirt in which I played.
Tom Saunder's home after his marriage in 1946.
The Saunders' family home from the 1950s.
Tom Saunders (front centre) with illustrious members of the Liverpool 'boot room'.
© Liverpool Footprints