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1931-09-05: Rangers 0-0 Celtic, League Division 1
|Match Pictures | Matches: 1931 - 1932 | John Thomson | 1931 Pictures|
In Memoriam to John ThomsonA fuller review of the life and tragic death of John Thomson can be found on the player's homepage:
The match itself is not important. During the game a tragic accident led to the untimely death of John Thomson, a young and well-respected Celtic goalkeeper.
The impact from the event led to mourning and soul-searching within Scottish society beyond the scope of a mere football game.
John ThomsonOn 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 ruptured 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 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. 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.
The death of a footballer in his prime is thankfully rare, and even rarer on the field of play. Even after this length of time, John Thomson's untimely death at the age of just 22 remains one of football's great tragedies. A young goalkeeper, already the first choice for his club and country, with a long and distinguished career seemingly ahead of him, dead as a result of an accident during a game.
Thomson was renowned for his bravery and fearlessness, and his dive at the feet of the Rangers forward Sam English as the player went to shoot was visible evidence of those virtues. As English shot, John Thomson's head took the full impact of the Rangers player's knee, leaving the goalkeeper unconscious and his head bleeding.
As the keeper was being stretchered off, a section of the home support were unaware of the seriousness of the injury and cheered until they were silenced by one of the Rangers players.
Thomson's death stunned football, and was particularly hard felt by everyone connected to Celtic. He has never been forgotten.
Sam EnglishSam English, the Rangers man whose knee connected with John Thomson that led to the accidental death, was haunted by the death for the rest of his life. Sadly, even in England where he played for Liverpool amongst others, opposition fans used to scream abuse at him taunting him. He was an innocent man who played a hard game, but the incident was an accident.
The irony is that prior to the match it was not expected that Sam English would even play in the match, the Glasgow Herald commenting: "Many people will learn with regret that Sam English, the Ibrox centre-forward, is unfit to play." But the unfortunate English did play.
Jim Thomson (John's brother) said: "Nobody in the family ever questioned that it was a complete accident. They were both going for the ball. I felt very, very sorry for Sam English. John had been injured a few times before because he always went straight for the ball. I had asked him the previous time he was injured if he wasn't going to stop going in like that. He said he should, but it was the ball he was after. He didn't see anyone else or anything else."
Impact on Scottish SocietySome of the reactions to his fatal injury also led to an outbreak of Scottish introspection which put sectarianism firmly in the dock, but overwhelmingly the national mood was one of grief. Note though, John Thomson was actually not a Catholic himself but a member of a small but strictly practising Protestant sect.
Thomson was an icon of his age: the quiet, teetotal lad from the Fife pits who had come to Celtic Park at 17 and was already a sensation as Scotland's goalkeeper by the age of 21. He was well missed by all in Scotland who had the good fortune to get to know him.
Dawson, Gray, R McCauley, Meiklejohn, Simpson, Brown, Fleming, Marshall, English, McPhail, Morton
J Thomson, Cook, McGonigle, Wilson, McStay, Geatons, R Thomson, A Thomson, McGrory, Scarff, Napier
Referee: William Graham Holburn
- Match Report (see below)
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