John Thomson

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:37 pm on 8th December 2005.

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Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 5:37 pm, 8th December 2005

I congratulate Helen Eadie on securing the debate and congratulate the members who have contributed to what I think has been an interesting, informative and worth-while debate.

I, like others, am pleased to be here this evening to contribute to a debate that honours the memory of a young man who achieved much in a career that was cut short tragically and who continues to hold such a special place in the annals of our national game. As Trish Godman said, many of us heard about him at an early age from fathers, grandfathers and other family members who perhaps remembered the tragic day when he died. Fortunately, accidents such as that which befell John Thomson are extremely rare in football. Only two other people have died as a result of injuries received playing top-level football in Scotland: one in 1890 and one in 1909.

The motion recognises the high esteem in which John Thomson was held by Celtic Football Club and its supporters in the mining community in which he was born in Fife and in Scottish football generally—an esteem that is remembered to the present day. His great skill and ability earned him representative honours as well as success at club level and there is no doubt that he would have achieved further success and recognition if he had been able to enjoy a longer career in football.

Bruce Crawford quite rightly told us the interesting story of how John Thomson began his career with Celtic almost accidentally. It is worth adding to that story by pointing out that times certainly have changed, because I understand that Celtic bought John Thomson for just £10.

The motion refers to John Thomson's contribution as a role model for young people in his own and subsequent generations. By all accounts he was a quiet and unassuming young man but, when he took the field, he impressed with his ability, agility and bravery.

None of us had the pleasure of seeing him play, but one man who did was his manager, Willie Maley, who wrote:

"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."

I think that it is excellent that we have sports halls of fame and rolls of honour that enable us to recognise great sporting achievements and let past champions motivate and inspire future generations to participate and excel at their own level. The Scottish Executive has been pleased to support the sporting champions scheme, for example, which assists and encourages the current generation of sportspeople to visit schools to promote the value of a healthy lifestyle, including participation in physical activity and sport.

The motion calls on the SFA to induct John Thomson into the Scottish football hall of fame, but I understand that it is not the SFA that is responsible for deciding on inductees and that, in fact, the hall of fame is administered by the Scottish Football Museum. Nominations are made by the general public and the museum convenes an expert panel of football panellists and former players who reach the final decisions. The criteria that the panel uses to assess nominations include, for example, the person's contribution to Scottish football and the longevity of their career at the top level. It is not just about honours won, as that would of course favour old firm players.

However, although I understand that the hall of fame needs to control the number of people that it inducts and ensure that its inductees are of the highest-possible level and that John Thomson's career was not as long as others—although there are few players who play until the end of their working lives—I think that the longevity that matters in this case is the longevity of his memory, which lingers to this day. For that reason, he should be inducted into the hall of fame.

To reflect a point that one of my colleagues raised earlier, I understand that one of the criteria is that the person must have been born in Scotland. If it were not for that unfortunate requirement, I would also have wanted the induction of Sam English, who was equally a victim of this tragedy.

Regardless of whether John Thomson is inducted, his name and his contribution to Scottish football are unlikely ever to be forgotten. Few players who played in that era are still sung about by the supporters of their club and have their grave visited by their fans. Of course, even fewer are celebrated in a Parliament that did not even exist at the time of their death.

I wish Helen Eadie success in her campaign. Further, I look forward to accompanying her to a football game in the near future.

Meeting closed at 17:42.