Connect with us

English Football

Johnny Thomson: The Prince of Goalkeepers

It was a windless Saturday when 80,000 fans gathered at Ibrox Stadium to watch an Old Firm derby on the 5th September 1931. Rangers were attempting to equal Celtic’s unprecedented record of six titles in a row. The Hoops had started the season well and were eager to prevent Rangers domination from continuing. However, it was for much more serious reasons that this game was written into Celtic folklore.

Five minutes after the interval with the match still scoreless, Davie Meiklejohn of Rangers attacked and laid the ball off to Jimmy Fleming on the right. Fleming managed to release a young centre forward by the name of Sam English, who evaded a challenge and progressed to the right-hand corner of the Celtic box. John Thomson, in goal at the Copland Road end, made to come out but hesitated for a moment as English pushed the ball in front of himself.

Then, as the striker prepared to shoot, Thomson dived full-length, knee high from the ground. There was a crack of bone when Thomson collided with the knee of English as the ball went harmlessly wide. His body went limp as he fell with one hand outstretched and blood began to spurt from his temple. Heckles from the crowd went silent as the seriousness of the injury was realised. As Thomson was carried off the pitch the only noise to be heard was a young woman’s scream.

After leaving the stadium, Thomson was taken to the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow. At 5pm, forty five minutes after the accident, he suffered a convulsion and the doctors realised any chance of a recovery were slim. John’s parents and brother managed to reach the hospital at 9.20pm. Five minutes later, their family member died. It was like he’d been waiting for them.

He was known as a lad that was quiet and unassuming. His modest good looks and likeable personality would later have him remembered as the Prince of Goalkeepers.  Thomson had made rapid progress after been signed by Celtic as a schoolboy. The number one shirt was his own by 18 years of age and by his death he was Scotland’s first choice keeper. In all he made 211 appearances for Celtic; an astonishing tally considering he died at 22.

His first major injury scare happened in 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.

Around 30,000 went to his funeral in Cardenden, where he lived as a boy. Many had walked the 55 miles from Glasgow, risking their jobs as they mourned the loss of Scotland’s first sporting martyr.

Sam English was exonerated of any wrongdoing by John’s parents. Despite this, he was mercilessly abused by supporters and two seasons later went south to Liverpool. However, his trauma continued wherever he went and he eventually retired aged 28.

For Johnny Thomson, as the Celtic support called him, he lives on in the heartbeat of Celtic FC as his story is recounted on a daily basis by Parkhead tour guides. His personality lived on too in the memory of his girlfriend, Margaret Finlay, the woman who had screamed.

1 Comment

1 Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

More in English Football