A cold wind blows around the vast deserted dark stadium. The only sound to be heard comes from the scuttling litter being blown hither and thither under the seats across the concrete terraces. No one sees the pale figure in the goalmouth standing guard for an attack that will never come. John Thomson, the ghost between the posts.
John Thomson was born in the Fife mining village of Cardenden on January 28th 1909. When he left school he did what most men in this community did, he worked down the pit. Outside of work he played football for local side Wellesley Juniors and he gained a reputation for being an excellent goalkeeper. Celtic were alerted to his talent and he signed for the club at the age of 17. £10 secured his services and it was surely the best £10 the club ever spent. At 18 he made his first team debut in a 2-1 win at Dundee and he went on to become the first choice goalkeeper at the club.
He wasn’t the tallest of keepers being around 5ft 10in but he was a superbly athletic one and was renown for his bravery. That same bravery would cost him his life at the tender age of just 22.
John’s talent was backed up by hard evidence. In his short career he won two Scottish Cup medals with Celtic, in 1927 against East Fife 3-1 and in 1931 against Motherwell 4-2. He was also picked for the national team and won four caps for Scotland and four for the Scottish League side.
Sadly his promising career came to an abrupt and cruel end at Ibrox on Saturday, September 5th 1931. 80,000 witnessed it and not a one would ever forget the tragedy that unfolded that day. Rangers v Celtic one of the greatest derbies in the history of football has always been a passionate affair and it was young John Thomson’s final day of his life. Early in the second half of the game the Rangers centre forward Sam English broke through the Celtic defence and moved swiftly towards the goal. Thomson was off his line in a flash and raced out to block the imminent shot. There was a sickening collision and both men fell to the floor. English got up but the young keeper lay prone on the turf. He was obviously badly hurt and was hurriedly placed on a stretcher. One report said that as he was being taken from the pitch he managed to raise himself up and looked back towards his goal before collapsing back unconscious. A hush fell upon the huge crowd as he was carried down the tunnel but one piercing scream rang out from the main stand when John’s wife of a couple months saw her stricken husband. He was taken to the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow. At 9:25pm that night John Thomson died.
Sam English was cleared of any blame in the incident, it was purely a tragic accident. In the collision as Thomson bravely dived at the attackers feet the knee of English struck a mortal blow to the goalkeepers head. It was the first old firm derby that English had played in and it was only his 7th game for the club. He was never the same man again and throughout his career he was taunted by fans who blamed him for the death of the keeper. The fact is he was blameless, it was a shocking accidental collision with no malice intended. Sam English was 23 at the time of the accident and he retired from the game 5yrs later. He died on April 27th 1967 aged 58.
The funeral of John Thomson was attended by over 30,000 people, , including thousands who had travelled from Glasgow, some of them had even walked the 55 miles to the Fife village. His coffin was carried by his Celtic team mates. Rangers players and officials were also there to pay their respects to the keeper.
He will never be forgotten by the Celtic supporters and his name lives on. Even today nearly 80yrs after his death, his grave is visited by the fans and green and white tributes are placed on the monument. Many thanks to the excellent website www.kerrydalestreet.com for their info.
Come all you Glasgow Celtic Stand up and play the game For between your posts There stands a ghost Johnny Thomson is his name