Bathgate, Lothian born left or right half John MacFarlane began his football career with Denbeath Star in 1917 and played for Wellesley Juniors in 1918. After trials with Cowdenbeath and Raith Rovers he joined Glasgow Celtic in November 1919, initially signed as an inside right, making his Scottish League debut in a 0-0 draw at Motherwell in April 1920. The following year he was tried out at left-half in Patsy Gallacher’s benefit game with Burnley and such was the quality of his assured performance that in time he was make the position his own. It wasn’t until the second half of 1922 that he was finally made a regular starter.
An elegant presence on the pitch he was a wonderful passer of the ball and was supremely gifted at feeding his forwards with chance after chance. He helped pull in the crowds no matter what else the performance of the Celtic crowd. An “artist all the time” and “a glorious passer of the ball”. He revealed in his weekly (humourous) column for the Weekly News that it was a Celtic groundsman who first started to call him by his nickname Jean instead of John and it stuck ever more.
He played his part in the Scottish Cup triumphs of 1923, 1925 and 1927 and even when Celtic were off colour McFarlane could always be relied upon to provide some moments of real quality to lift the support. He even set up the winner in the 1925 Scottish Cup Final for Jimmy McGrory:
“It was a mighty goal scored by McGrory diving full-stretch to ram a perfect free-kick from McFarlane past future Celt Jock Britton. Jean McFarlane was a classic wing-half, a carpet artist and an all-time Celtic great.” (Eugene MacBride, Alphabet of the Celts)
McFarlane never played for Scotland but he did represent The Scottish League on four occasions, making his debut in a 3-0 win at Tynecastle against The Irish League in October 1924 and making 3 more inter-league appearances through to November 1928.
He was a near ever-present as Celtic won the Scottish League title in 1925-26, making his last appearance in a 4-1 win over Arbroath in February 1929 before being sold to First Division Middlesbrough in June 1929 after 13 goals in 304 appearances for Glasgow Celtic. He made his Football League debut against Liverpool that August and was a near ever present in their 1930-31 campaign, missing only one game as they finished 7th in the League Championship, but he lost his regular place in ‘Boro’s line up at the end of the 1931-32 campaign and played only 4 more matches the next season before moving to Irish League Shelbourne in the summer of 1933 after 101 appearances for Middlesbrough.
After a season in Ireland he then returned to Scotland joining Dunfermline Athletic in 1934, retiring the following year.
His nephew, Willie Fagan, played for Celtic, Preston North End, Liverpool and Scotland.