Dundee born centre forward Sam Gilligan began his football career with Dalry before the turn of the century and played for Belmont Athletic in 1900 and Dundee Violet in 1901 before joining Scottish League club Dundee in 1901, where he made a significant impression, such that he was signed by Glasgow Celtic in September 1903, making his debut for The Bhoys in a 1-0 Scottish League victory at home to Hibernian on 26th September. Initially bought as cover for Alec Bennett, Gilligan found himself a regular starter after Bennett was switched to inside forward. He would an exceptional notch 13 goals in 14 League & Scottish Cup appearances but despite such a startling ratio, his performances for some reason didn’t always impress and by 1904 was back to being cover for Jimmy Quinn and Bennett. His goals included a hat-trick in a win over Port Glasgow Athletic and he managed to play for Celtic in a Glasgow Cup Final (and replay) which Celtic lost overall to Third Lanark, but the presence of Jimmy Quinn meant his prospects at Parkhead were limited.
He joined Second Division club Bristol City in the 1904 close season, making his Football League debut against Bolton Wanderers at the beginning of September, scoring in a home defeat to Bolton Wanderers. The club’s leading goalscorer with 15 goals in his debut season, he scored a career best 19 goals the following season, missing only one match as Bristol City, now under Harry Thickitt’s management, won the Second Division Championship, a total which included bursts of four goals in successive League matches in wins at Glossop and over Stockport County in January 1906. In the First Division for their maiden top flight season, Gilligan joint top scored in the campaign with Willie Maxwell, both scoring 18 goals, Gilligan missing only one match as The Robins finished runners up in the League Championship, the club’s highest ever League finish.
In their 1907-08 campaign Gilligan again led the line and scored regularly, notching 16 goals as Bristol City finished tenth in the division, Gilligan again The Robins’ top scorer. Although his scoring rate dropped off the next season, as he played a considerable number of matches at inside right, Gilligan played in all 10 FA Cup ties, scoring 3 goals including a quarter final replay winner over Glossop, as Bristol City reached the FA Cup Final for the only time in the club’s history, where they were narrowly beaten by a Sandy Turnbull goal for Manchester United at The Crystal Palace.
Thereafter Gilligan occupied the inside right position for the rest of his career, but after missing the first half of the 1909-10 season he left Ashton Gate to sign for Liverpool, who were just finishing as runners up in the League Championship themselves, at the end of April 1910 after 85 goals in 211 appearances for Bristol City. Gilligan made a scoring debut for The Reds at Manchester City on 24th September 1910 and although he was also selected for the next game at home to Everton, he wasn’t picked for the first team again until February, when he started a run of 13 matches until the end of that 1910-11 season.
His appearances were more frequent the following year, but Liverpool were on the brink of relegation on the last day when The Reds faced Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park. Gilligan was Liverpool’s hero on the day scoring the winner in the second minute, his eleventh goal from 23 matches to keep his club in the top flight. He left for Southern League club Gillingham in July 1913 after 16 goals in 41 appearances for Liverpool and stayed there two years as player-manager, scoring 15 goals in 65 appearances before the onset of the First World War forced the suspension of peacetime football in May 1915.
Kenneth Campbell, a colleague at Liverpool and their goalkeeper, wrote fondly of him:
“I had quite the happiest of times with the second eleven, or the “preserves,” as Sam Gilligan would persist in calling it. The Dundee man was the life and soul of the party. There never was a dull moment when the Dundonian was about. I never knew a man who was so well up in football lore. Sam knew every wrinkle of the game, and to listen to his exposition of transfers, agreements, and the sundry other intricacies connected with the affairs of football was a revelation.”
During the War Gilligan returned to Scotland to work in shipbuilding, and resumed his career playing for Dundee Hibernian (now United) in 1918, and Forfar Athletic in 1919. He also made a single appearance for Dundee United in a Second Division win over Broxburn in March 1922. He then moved to the United States where he finished his career playing for Mahoning Valleys and Republican Iron & Steel before hanging up his boots in 1932 aged 50.
Gilligan had four brothers, all of whom were footballers. One of those could be John Gilligan of Clyde who is also featured on this site.