Belfast born centre half Jack Vernon was regarded as one of the best defenders in the world during the immediate post-war period. He served his time in football’s unofficial apprenticeship scheme with Spearmint FC, a Summer League team, and Springfield Road Juniors, and then Dundela in the Intermediate League from 1935. A rugged centre-half, Vernon rejected an early approach by Liverpool in 1937 and decided instead to sign for Belfast Celtic in August 1938 where his education continued in the reserves. Promotion to the first-team duty came at the outbreak of the Second World War when departing players made a place in defence for the 21-year-old Vernon. He accepted the chance with relish as Celtic collected their fifth successive Irish League Championship in 1939-40, and he won the Irish Cup three times during the War.
International honours followed in the 1945-46 with three ‘Victory’ caps and, as Vernon’s reputation continued to spread, he won two caps for the Eire in June 1946 (the only time Northern born players were officially included in an FAI selection) and the first of 17 full (Northern) Ireland international caps against England that September.
Following Celtic’s 3-2 defeat by Linfield at Paradise, on Saturday, 8th February 1947, Second Division West Bromwich Albion had a £9,500 bid accepted for Vernon. Glasgow Celtic could have paid a lot less; Parkhead manager Jimmy McCrory thought their Belfast counterpart’s £8,000 valuation was too high. He made his Football League debut at West Ham United in March 1947.
Later that year Vernon played for the Great Britain against the Rest of Europe at Hampden Park, and he later captained a Rest of Britain team against Wales as the FAW celebrated their 75th anniversary at Ninian Park in 1951.
In 1949 Vernon captained West Brom to promotion from the Second Division as runners-up to Fulham, and the same season he scored his only goal for The Baggies in his total of 200 appearances on Christmas Day in a 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday. He made his final appearance for Ireland in a 2-0 defeat to England at Villa Park in November 1951. Having helped Albion cement their place in the English top-flight Vernon returned to the Irish League in July 1952 as player-manager of Crusaders, the club which three years earlier had taken Belfast Celtic’s place in the Irish League, where he helped them win the Ulster Cup in 1954.