Thomson John Image 3 Glasgow Celtic 1931

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Kirkcaldy, Fife born goalkeeper John Thomson began his football career with Bowhill Rovers in 1924 and played for Wellesley Juniors from 1925 before being signed by Glasgow Celtic for £10 in October 1926, and in February 1927 he made his Scottish League debut against Dundee at Dens Park in a 2-1 win for Celtic. He was to be a mainstay in the Celtic first team, making 188 appearances for The Bhoys, and he won two Scottish Cup medals – in 1927 when East Fife were defeated 3-1 and in 1931, when Celtic beat Motherwell 4-2 in a replay in front of over 105,000 spectators at Hampden Park., having drawn the first game 2-2.

International recognition followed on the back of his impressive displays for Celtic, and Thomson gained four caps for Scotland and four for the Scottish League. He was first selected for The Scottish League in October 1928 in an 8-2 victory over The Irish League at Firhill, playing twice more for the League side before he made his full international debut, For Scotland he made his first international appearance against France in Colombes on 18th May 1930 in a 2-0 win. He had a very impressive record of having three clean sheets, the others coming against Ireland and England in February and March 1931, and only goal conceded coming in a 1-1 draw against Wales in October 1930. In 1930 it was said of him that he “makes up in agility what he lacks in inches, and his clutching and anticipation leave nothing to be desired”.

On 5th September 1931, Celtic were playing their Old Firm rivals Rangers at Ibrox Park in Glasgow in front of 80,000. Early in the second half Thomson and a Rangers player, Sam English, went for the ball at the same time. Thomson’s head collided with English’s knee, fracturing his skull and rupturing an artery in his right temple. Thomson was taken off the field in a stretcher; most people assumed that he was just badly concussed, but a few people who had seen his injuries suspected worse, and he died later that evening, aged 22. English, who was deeply traumatised by the event, was totally cleared of any responsibility for the accident. Even at the start of the 21st century Thomson’s grave in Bowhill, Fife remains a place of pilgrimage for Celtic fans. On his gravestone it reads “They never die who live in the hearts they leave behind”.

Celtic manager Willie Maley wrote of him:

“Among the galaxy of talented goalkeepers whom Celtic have had, the late lamented John Thomson was the greatest. A Fifeshire friend recommended him to the Club. We watched him play. We were impressed so much that we signed him when he was still in his teens. That was in 1926. Next year he became our regular goalkeeper, and was soon regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the country.But, alas, his career was to be short. In September 1931, playing against Rangers at Ibrox Park, he met with a fatal accident. Yet he had played long enough to gain the highest honours football had to give. A most likeable lad, modest and unassuming, he was popular wherever he went.

His merit as a goalkeeper shone superbly in his play. Never was there a keeper who caught and held the fastest shots with such grace and ease. In all he did there was the balance and beauty of movement wonderful to watch. Among the great Celts who have passed over, he has an honoured place.”

In November 2008 The Scottish Football Association inducted Thomson into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame.

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