Glasgow born right half John “Jock” Gilchrist signed for Celtic from St Anthony’s in May 1919 and he made his Scottish League debut for The Bhoys in a 3-1 victory over Dumbarton at Parkhead on August 18th. On the pitch Gilchrist was an assured ball player and a precision passer. An excellent reader of the game he had the ball skills to complement his vision and this was recognised by his call up to the Scotland team in April 1922, playing in a 1-0 win over England at Villa Park, although this proved his only cap for his country. He also played twice for The Scottish League, both times against The Irish League, at Ibrox in January 1921 and at Parkhead in October 1922, both matches finishing 3-0 to the Scots.
He was a near ever present in Celtic’s League Championship winning season of 1921-22, the only game he missed was one League match late on in the season. However Gilchrist frequently had run ins with Celtic secretary-manager Willie Maley about the player’s attitude and temperament. Gilchrist was not adverse to challenging the authoritarian Maley and on numerous occasions the half back further antagonised his boss by failing to turn up for training. As one childish retort shows between the two of them, Gilchrist needed to learn some restraint:
Maley (in shirt sleeves): “Gilchrist, I’d like to speak to you.”
Gilchrist: “I’ll let you speak to me when you’re better dressed!”.
Ultimately the relationship deteriorated to such an extent that the manager and player were no longer on speaking terms. It didn’t help that Gilchrist was suspended at one point for “wilful inattention to training”. Celtic, not prepared to put up with this attitude, decided to sell Gilchrist and in January 1923 – to the delight of the player – First Division club Preston North End paid the then very handsome fee of £4,500 to take him south after 6 goals scored in 134 League and Cup matches for Celtic. He made his Football League debut against Burnley the same month and played 17 times in the rest of their 1922-23 campaign, but only played 2 matches at the start of the new season before being dropped.
Despite his obvious ability on the ball Gilchrist lacked pace and his overall fitness was not helped by his poor approach to training. At Preston, this weakness was exposed on a regular basis and Gilchrist’s dream move quickly descended into a nightmare. By early 1924 the Deepdale club had released Gilchrist after only 19 appearances and with his reputation in tatters there were few willing takers for a player who less than two years previously was a highly rated international.
Gilchrist signed for North Eastern League club Carlisle United as player-coach in 1924 but his spell with The Cumbrians was brief and he then returned to Scottish football when he joined Third Lanark in July 1924, but he again failed to impress and the football career of a potentially great player petered out first with spells with Dunfermline Athletic in 1926 and Bathgate in 1927, and then in the relative football backwater of the nascent US Football Leagues, where he played his final professional football. He initially joined Brooklyn Wanderers but made just six appearances, then finally had a year at Pawtucket Rangers, playing only three matches in his time there.