Belfast born inside forward Tommy Priestley was a Coleraine player when he was included as inside-left in the Ireland line-up to face Scotland at Windsor Park in September 1932. Although he had been in the Ireland Amateur side in January 1932, scoring in a 4-0 victory over Scotland, he had not actually turned out for the Bannsiders during that campaign. Within days he was a Linfield player and featured in that season’s Co. Antrim Shield and Charity Cup successes, winning two further Amateur caps early in 1933 including playing in a 4-3 win over England in February.
A controversial character, Priestley could not be mistaken on the field of play as he sported a rugby-style skull cap. The red cap was to cover his premature baldness caused by a childhood illness, and brought much derision from opposition fans. Although eccentric in demeanour, Priestley was a solid player, and one of the games thinkers.
Priestley had played in the South Derry League for Cookstown before joining Coleraine, and had been a long-time follower of Linfield’s fortunes, so once he arrived at the club he was reluctant to leave. After a mid-week friendly with Sheffield Wednesday he rejected a move to Hillsborough. The story was the same when offered the chance to move to Glasgow Rangers, but he eventually left Linfield for First Division Chelsea on 7th June 1933, making his Football League debut the following August at Stoke City. The move, valued at between £2,000 and £3,000 hinged on the precarious financial situation at Windsor Park and the fact Priestley had been offered the job of schoolmaster at Arthur Street School, Peckham.
Shortly after his move to Stamford Bridge, Priestley returned to Windsor Park for an international match with England, his second and final Ireland cap in a match Ireland lost 3-0. He lasted just a season with Chelsea, scoring twice in 27 appearances, his club career brought to a close after mud entered his eye, causing a major problem. Although Chelsea retained his registration through to 1939, Priestley returned to the field with Shelbourne. While with Shels he was selected three times by for the League of Ireland between 1937 and 1939, tasting success on each occasion with victories over the Yugoslav, Irish and Scottish Leagues.