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  • On this day in history: Celtic great, Alec Thomson born in 1901

    On this day in history: Celtic great, Alec Thomson born in 1901

    By: Joe Sullivan on 14 Jun, 2019 09:38

  • ALEC Thomson led the way from Fife to Paradise in 1922, a route that would be followed four years later by his namesake, John. While the latter became known as ‘the prince of goalkeepers’, the former was an inside-forward who produced an impressive century of goals during 12 years with Celtic, though his fame is less well-known.

    That is understandable, of course, given the tragic circumstances of John Thomson’s untimely death in 1931, an event that Alec Thomson was witness to, given that he was in the Celtic team that fateful day.

    Alec Thomson was a player who provided a skilful touch to the Celtic team and was the provider of many Jimmy McGrory goals over the years. He was also a consistent performer, and was very rarely out of the team when fit. In the 1920s and ‘30s, Celtic didn’t enjoy as much success as they had in the first two decades of the 20th Century, and the great sides that Willie Maley had built in those early years were never replicated, though there were many great players who wore the Hoops with distinction during this period. Alec Thomson was one of those players.

    In James Handley’s book, The Celtic Story, he described how, when Tommy McInally moved to Sunderland in 1928, ‘Thomson assumed the mantle of Tommy McInally. He had always been a brainy player, but now he became schemer-in-chief and was early being acclaimed as the best inside-forward in the business.’

    He did not perhaps the flair or flamboyant personality of other Celts, such as McInally, which perhaps explains why a player who made 451 appearances for the club and who scored 100 goals in not more widely regarded or revered, but Alec Thomson’s contribution to Celtic is one worthy of praise.


    Starting his football career at Glencraig Celtic, Alec Thomson moved to Wellesley Juniors and that club proved to be a fruitful hunting ground for the Hoops in the 1920s and ‘30s, with a number of players coming to the club from there and proving their worth in the East End of Glasgow. Alec Thomson was the first to arrive at the club, signing for Celtic on October 9, 1922. Celtic’s next signing from the same club proved to be equally successful when John Thomson joined the club in 1926. In 1930, Celtic recruited centre-forward Frank O’Donnell from Wellesley and two years later he was joined by his younger brother, Hugh, another Wellesley graduate. Joe Cowan was another Wellesley Juniors graduate, signed for Celtic after scoring 12 goals in five games for the Fife side, but he would only make one appearance for the Hoops. That came in a league game against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in January 1931, when he scored in a 1-1 draw.


    The new inside-right made his debut as a 21-year-old against Clyde in the league on November 4, 1922 when a 10,000 crowd at Shawfield saw Celtic take both points thanks to a goal from Jean McFarlane in a 1-0 win. Alec Thomson played in a further eight games sporadically that season but missed out on Celtic’s victorious Scottish Cup run that culminated in a 1-0 win over Hibernian. He did, however, net his first goal for the Hoops near the end of that season when Hearts visited Celtic Park on April 7. It was the new Bhoy who opened the scoring after just 10 minutes, and Joe Cassidy made it 2-0 for Celtic 15 minutes later. Hearts reduced the deficit in the second half, but Celtic held on to win the match.


    Alec Thomson’s first medal as a Celtic player came in the ‘Patsy Gallacher final’ of 1925 when the Irishman conjured up an extraordinary goal to help bring the cup back to Paradise. Jimmy McGrory provided the winning goal with three minutes of the match remaining. Alec Thomson would add further Scottish Cup medals in 1927 (3-1 win over East Fife), 1931 (4-2 win over Motherwell) and 1933, (1-0 win over Motherwell). To add to those four Scottish Cup wins, he also helped lift the league title in season 1925/26 as Hoops won the championship. Thomson played in 37 of the 38 league games played that term with the only game he missed coming after the title was won – the second-last game of the campaign when Celtic beat Hamilton Accies 3-1 at Douglas Park. He scored 19 goals that season, including 15 in the league, an impressive contribution to the team’s overall league total of 97 goals. Not surprisingly, Jimmy McGrory was top scorer with a total of 42 goals, while Tommy McInally netted 22 and Adam McLean scored 20.


    Alec Thomson spent 12 years at Celtic and only won the league on one occasion. He had left the club by the time another title arrived in 1936, and Celtic didn’t manage to achieve the level of consistency to lift the title, although they enjoyed better success in the Scottish Cup. However, Alec Thomson, like his contemporaries, suffered the greatest devastation of all with the death of their friend and team-mate, John Thomson in 1931. Like Alec Thomson, John was a Fifer and fellow graduate of Wellesley Juniors, and even by the age of 22, had already carved out a reputation as a goalkeeper of grace, agility and bravery. He had been part of the team which had lifted the Scottish Cup the previous season with the victory over Motherwell, and was part of the Celtic party which toured North America that summer. His loss was one that affected everyone at the club, as did the death of Peter Scarff two years later, another great talent who sadly passed away at a very young age.


    Alec Thomson’s last appearance for Celtic came in the penultimate game of the 1933/34 season when Celtic played host to Hamilton Accies. The Hoops were out of the running for the league title and would finish third, 19 points behind winners, Rangers. They had also exited the Scottish Cup in the fourth round, losing to St Mirren at Love Street. The game against Hamilton, on April 23, 1934, saw Celtic produce a superb display of attacking football, beating the Lanarkshire side 5-1, with Frank O’Donnell and Johnny Crum both scoring doubles, and John Divers adding a goal. Thomson, whose last goal for Celtic came in a 4-2 victory over Airdrie at Celtic Park on December 2, 1933, which also proved to be his 100th for the Hoops, returned to Fife and joined Dunfermline where he remained for three years before retiring at the age of 36.


    Alec Thomson was one of three players of that surname who plied their trade for Celtic in the 1920s and early ‘30s. John Thomson joined Celtic four years after Alec and made his debut in February 1927 against Dundee. He was brave and fearless, while also being graceful and agile, and he was already Celtic’s first-choice keeper - and Scotland’s - by the time of his death in 1931. The third of the Thomsons was Bertie, an outside-right who played for the club between1929-33. He made his debut against Cowdenbeath in November 1929 and went on to make 131 appearances for the club, scoring 30 goals. His finest moment came in the replay of the 1931 Scottish Cup final against Motherwell, when he scored two goals in the 4-2 victory.

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