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John Thomson
John Thomson
Personal information
Full name John Thomson
Date of birth 28 January 1909(1909-01-28)
Place of birth    Kirkcaldy, Scotland
Date of death    5 September 1931 (aged 22)
Place of death    Glasgow, Scotland
Height 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
Playing position Goalkeeper
Youth career
Bowhill Rovers
Wellesley Juniors
Senior career1
Years Club App (Gls)*
1927–1931 Celtic 211 (0)   
National team2
1930–1931 Scotland 004 (0)

1 Senior club appearances and goals
counted for the domestic league only and
correct as of 23 July 2008.
2 National team caps and goals correct
as of 23 July 2008.
* Appearances (Goals)

John Thomson (28 January 1909 – 5 September 1931) was a football goalkeeper for Celtic and Scotland who died as a result of an accidental collision with the Rangers player Sam English during an Old Firm match at Ibrox.


Early life

Thomson was born in Kirkcaldy and grew up in the mining community of Cardenden in Fife. His father (also called John) worked as a miner at the Bowhill Colliery, while his mother stayed at home. Although he played for Celtic, he was not a Catholic and his family were members of the Church of Christ. He was educated at Denend Primary School and Auchterderran Higher Grade School. By then he was already a wonderful goalkeeper and was part of the Auchterderran school team that won the Lochgelly Times Cup. His teacher N.E Lawton said "He was very keen on football, and was always training and hitting away at a punch ball. He was a born goalkeeper."

By 14, he became an oncost worker at Bowhill Colliery,which was the same place his father worked in. His job was 300 yards below the pithead surface and he uncoupled chains of wagons that carried up and down the tunnel.

Bowhill Rovers and Wellesley Juniors

By 1924, John had started playing for the local side called Bowhill Rovers and the season after he joined Wellesley Juniors. The local newspaper Fife Free Press reported that the club:

had unearthed a champion goalkeeper in Thomson... he is a youngster yet, but should develop.

A prediction that would come true but would be cut short by his untimely death.


Celtic manager Willie Maley was looking for a goalkeeper and had heard of this young sensation from the east of Scotland. After playing against Denbeath Star on 30 October 1926, he signed a professional contract with Celtic for £10 at the age of 17. He was not the first choice goalkeeper at first and had to bide his time. After Celtic had won 6–3 against Brechin City on 5 February 1927, Maley was concerned with the way Peter Shevlin had conceded three soft goals. In the next game against Dundee he decided to give the 18 year-old Thomson a chance. After then Thomson was able to hold down the position and he helped the team finish second in the league behind Rangers and win the Scottish Cup with a 3–1 victory against East Fife in the Final. The next year his work effort and team play was noticed by many, and one football journalist wrote:

I have no reason to change the opinion I first formed of young Thomson, the Celtic goalkeeper. Barring accident, he will one day play for his country.

Thomson did play for Scotland, but the accident was also soon to come. His first major injury scare happened on 5 February 1930 against Airdrie, in which he broke his jaw, fractured many ribs, damaged his collar bone and lost two teeth. His friend Jim Ferguson said "What was in his mind when he made the breakneck, goal-saving dives for which he was renowned". John replied that he thought of nothing but keeping his eye on the ball and if the ball was there to be won he had to go for it. Although John still continued to play football, his mother Jean tried to dissuade him from playing, as she said that she had a premonition of his death.

The second medal that he won was also a Scottish Cup winners medal in 1931 against Motherwell. After a 2–2 draw, a replay was held in which Celtic won 4–2. These two Scottish Cup wins were the only two medals that he won with Celtic.

International career

John made his first international appearance against France on 18 May 1930 in a 2–0 win. This was in the time before caps were awarded for matches other than Home Internationals (see Stewart Imlach), so Thomson won his first cap against Wales on 25 October 1930. He made another two international appearances for Scotland, keeping clean sheets against Northern Ireland and England.

Personal life

In 1931, John Thomson became engaged to Margaret Finlay. John Finlay (the father of Margaret) who was General manager of Edinburgh Collieries Company Limited was a keen supporter of Celtic FC. He was given a chance to become a director at the club but he refused as he was a Evangelical who went to the Church of Christ. However he took his 5 children to weekly Celtic FC home matches. In 1930, they were introduced to John Thomson the Celtic international goalkeeper. John and Margaret were instantly attracted to each other and they soon developed a close relationship. Thomson became a regular visitor to the family home and Margaret was present at the Old Firm match where her fiance died.


On 5 September 1931, Celtic were playing their old rivals Rangers at Ibrox Stadium 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. One source said "there were gasps in the main stand, a single piercing scream being heard from a horrified young woman"; this was believed to be the scream of Margaret Finlay, who was watching with Jim Thomson (brother of John). One Rangers player who was also a medical student said later that as soon as he saw him he gave little chance for his survival.

After having treatment from the St Andrew's Ambulance Association, he was taken to a stretcher. According to The Scotsman he was "seen to rise on the stretcher and look towards the goal and the spot where the accident happened". The game ended 0–0. Thomson was taken to the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow.[1] He had a lacerated wound over the right parietal bones of the skull, which meant that there was a depression in his skull of 2 inches in diameter. At 5pm he suffered a major convulsion. Dr Norman Davidson carried out an emergency operation to try and lower the amount of pressure caused by the swelling brain, but the operation was unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead by 9.25pm.

First picture shows Thomson diving at Sam English's feet
Second picture sees Thomson's head collide with English's knee
Third picture shows Thomson being surrounded by anxious onlookers
Thomson being carried off the pitch by St Andrew Ambulance Association


His death shocked many people, and there was a well-known song, Johnny Thomson,[2] written to the tune of Arbor Hill. 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 Fife, Cardenden, Bowhill 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.

Thomson was known for his incredible agility, bravery and safe handling, who produced some magnificent displays of goalkeeping.

The journalist John Arlott wrote:

A great player who came to the game as a boy and left it still a boy; he had no predecessor, no successor. He was unique
Mourners and well-wishers lining the streets to see his sending off.

Around 30,000 people went to his funeral in Cardenden (where he lived as a boy) on 9 September 1931. Lots of them had walked the journey of 55 miles from Glasgow. Another 20,000 turned out at Glasgow Queen Street station in order to watch two trains set off with two thousand passengers who could afford to pay the four shillings return fare.

Sam English was cleared of any blame in the incident but he was jeered by Scottish fans afterwards and moved south a year later to play with Liverpool FC. However he quit the sport altogether in May 1938, he told a friend that since the accident that killed John Thomson he had "seven years of joyless sport".

The John Thomson Song

The untimely death of Scotland's goalkeeper prospect John Thomson, had shocked the nation so much, that a song was dedicated to him:

A young lad named John Thomson,
From the west of Fife he came,
To play for Glasgow Celtic,
And to build himself a name.

On the fifth day of September,
'gainst the Rangers club he played,
From defeat he saved the Celtic,
Ah but what a price he paid.

The ball rolled from the centre,
Young John ran out and dived,
The ball rolled by; young John lay still,
For his club this hero died.

I took a trip to Parkhead,
To the dear old Paradise,
And as the players came out,
Sure the tears fell from my eyes.

For a famous face was missing,
From the green and white brigade,
And they told me Johnny Thomson,
His last game he had played.

Farewell my darling Johnny,
Prince of players we must part,
No more we'll stand and cheer you,
On the slopes of Celtic Park.

Now the fans they all are silent,
As they travel near and far,
No more they'll cheer John Thomson,
Our bright and shining star.

So come all you Glasgow Celtic,
Stand up and play the game,
For between your posts there stands a ghost,
Johnny Thomson is his name.

Recent Years

His grave at Bowhill,Fife.

In recent years, a book about his life called "My Search For Celtic's John" was written by Tom Greig, which talks about the incident and his personal life.[3] Greig started a petition to persuade the Scottish Football Association to induct John Thomson into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame,[4]. In November 2008 Thomson was inducted into the Hall of Fame[5]

A local committee has also been set up called John Thomson Memorial Committee.This organization works to make sure that the memory of John is remembered throughout the community and Scotland.Every year children in the Cardenden and Kinglassie play for the ‘The John Thomson Trophy’ to make sure his name is remembered. On his gravestone it reads "They never die who live in the hearts they leave behind."

See also



  • Greig, Tom (2003). My Search for Celtic's John. Ogilvie Writings. ISBN 0-9549-1350-7. 


External links

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