HE is a football legend known among fans as the keeper who gave his life rather than concede a goal.
Now, 80 years after his tragic death on the pitch during an Old Firm game, a play commemorating the short life of John Thomson is hitting the stage.
The Celtic goalkeeper’s fearlessness cost him his life when he hit his head off the knee of Rangers’ centre-forward Sam English.
The incident, in 1931, shook the football world to its core and is still remembered at Parkhead today.
Celtic Football Club, in conjunction with Ambassador Theatre Group, has announced that
“The Prince – The Johnny Thomson Story’ will open on September 5 – the exact date of his death.
The play, at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, tells the life story of the Fife footballer who was proclaimed to be
“The Prince Of Goalkeepers.”
Written by Brian McGeachan and Gerard McDade, it is set against the backdrop of Fife and Glasgow in the late 1920s.
Born in Kirkcaldy in 1909, Thomson lived with his parents and his brothers and sisters in Cardenden, Fife.
When he was only 15 he began playing for local side Bowhill Rovers and was soon picked up by Celtic when he was 17.
His reputation as a
“courageous’ and sometimes
“reckless’ goalkeeper was soon cemented when he broke his jaw, fractured many ribs, damaged his collar bone and lost two teeth in a game against Airdrie in 1930.
But it was during a game the following year against Rangers at Ibrox that Thomson met his fate, watched by his fiance, Margaret Finlay.
In the second half Thomson and Rangers player Sam English both went for the ball at the same time.
Thomson’s head collided with English’s knee, fracturing his skull and rupturing an artery in his right temple.
He was taken off the field in a stretcher and later died at the city’s Victoria Hospital.
Around 40,000 people attended his funeral at Bowhill Cemetery with many walking all the way from Glasgow to Fife to pay their respects.
His enduring reputation as an
“icon and legend’ – even eight decades after his death – prompted Brian and Gerard to write the play.
Gerard said the play would appeal to all audiences and not just football fans.
“I think it’s a relevant story for the 21st century.
“If Johnny had been born in this era and playing today he would have had an agent, been involved in sponsorship deals and no doubt, given his looks, be adorning the posters of boys and girls alike.
“He would have had the clout of a Beckham, albeit a reluctant celebrity.”
“We have just been trying to get into his football boots so to speak. He was a Fife country boy coming to the big city.
“It is not just a Celtic history, it’s also a social history of Glasgow in the 1920s. “
Gerard said the events of September 5, 1931 were a double tragedy.
“It’s also the tragedy of Sam English. His career was effectively over as although he finished top scorer in the country with a record that still stands to this day that season, he had to move away because of the controversy.
“Wherever he went, even when he played down south, he would hear cries of murderer and killer. “
Gerard said that when they approached the King’s about staging the play, the only opening night on offer was September 5.
“So it was like it was it was meant to be. “
Celtic manager Neil Lennon said:
“Celtic Football Club is all about history and heroes. Johnny Thomson is an enduring part of that history and a genuine hero to millions. “
Gerard, a writer, broadcaster and stand-up comedian, recently published Celtic – The Supersonic 70s.
Brian, who is also a writer, had the original idea for the play and approached Gerard because of his experience in writing about Celtic.
Casting for the play is due to start this week.