Glasgow born inside left Jimmy Gemmell played junior football for Duntocher Hibernian in 1899 and joined Scottish League club Clyde in August 1900 before joining First Division Sunderland in November the same year. He made his Football League debut for Sunderland on 8th December 1900 against Sheffield Wednesday in a 1-0 win at Roker Park but only made 2 further appearances that season. The following season, he broke into the first team in September and scored 10 goals in the campaign as Sunderland won the 1902 League Championship.
He continued as a regular at Sunderland for a further five seasons, nearly winning the League Championship again in 1903 when a loss on the final day handed the title to Sheffield Wednesday, but after 43 goals in 190 appearances for The Wearsiders Gemmell signed for Second Division Stoke in the summer of 1907, but after scoring twice in 11 appearances he was sold to Leeds City the same November due to Stoke’s serious financial difficulties. Of his debut in a defeat at Oldham Athletic, Wanderer reported in the Leeds Mercury: “A good deal was expected of Gemmell, who was transferred from Stoke on Friday, but it must be said that he was rather disappointing. He was not quick enough and allowed himself to be robbed of the ball on several occasions. Of course, one cannot really judge a man on the form shown in one match – especially when playing in what might be described as a swampy mess – and he will perhaps give a better account of himself on future occasions.”
A couple of weeks later, the same Wanderer noted distinct improvements. “Gemmell has undoubtedly done a good deal towards strengthening the quintet. He is by no means a showy player, and a lot of his work might pass unnoticed to the casual observer. But, watching him closely, one is struck by his general utility and untiring exertions. Cool and level headed, he knows what to do at the right moment, and is not often at fault in his passing.” He then had three seasons at Leeds scoring 14 goals in 73 appearances for The Peacocks before a return to Sunderland in the 1910 close season, spending two further seasons at Roker Park.
By the time he joined Third Lanark in April 1912 he had scored 46 times for The Wearsiders in 227 appearances across his two spells at Sunderland. He later returned to the area to play for North Eastern League club West Stanley as player-manager in July 1913 before his eventual retirement.
His son, also named James, played left back for Southport and Bury in the 1930’s and 1940’s, appearing more than 250 times for the latter.