James Neil
James Neil
James Neil
● James Neil, 1914 (HA)

born in Scotland

James Henderson (later renamed as James Neil) was born on Friday, 20th December, 1889, in Hutchesontown, Glasgow.

The 5' 9 (11st 9lbs) goalkeeper temporarily transferred to George Easton's Thistle on Tuesday, 28th December, 1915, from his parent club, Portsmouth.

Aged 26, he made his debut appearance on Saturday, 1st January, 1916, in a 1-0 win at home to Third Lanark in the Scottish Football League.

In doing so, James joined the goalies' clean-sheet debutant's club.

He registered the last of his 13 clean-sheets on Saturday, 2nd December, 1916, in a 0-0 draw away to Ayr United in the Scottish Football League.

He played his last game for the club on Saturday, 20th March, 1920, in a 2-0 defeat away to St Mirren in the Scottish Football League, having appeared as a Jag on 37 occasions.

His club-list included Queen's Park Ivy, Townhead, Glasgow Perthshire, Portsmouth, Partick Thistle, Morton and Kilmarnock.

James died on Saturday, 17th June, 1944, in Parkhead, Glasgow, aged 54.

Bio Extra

James was the son of Agnes Henderson, a sewing machinist, who seems to have been a single mother. The 1891 census tells that the two shared a house with Agnes Neil, James's Great Aunt. On the 2nd March 1900, his mother married a William Lawson but, by the 1901 census, the 11-year-old James was living separately with his Great Aunt, Agnes Neil. James seems to have carried this confused family background with him, for when he first appears in press reports as a footballer he's referred to as James Lawson, then a mixture of James Neil/James Lawson, before settling on James Neil throughout his life.

A bit of a late developer, James played in the juvenile grade into his early 20s. He began with Queen's Park Ivy before switching to Townhead for at least two full seasons, followed by a two-season stint with Glasgow Perthshire, where his reputation as a capable custodian grew. It was obvious that he would make the step up to the senior grade by then, several caps from the Glasgow Junior FA having bolstered his CV. James was said to be β€œsolidly built” and that he'd β€œtake a bit of shifting”. Press reports were favourable to the extent that he was touted as a Rangers capture when Herbert Lock was injured, albeit that particular move never came off. In May 1914, the Daily Record reported that 3rd tier Portsmouth (Southern League Division 1) continued to try and secure the signature of James, but that he was reluctant to make such a dramatic switch.

A representative of the Hampshire club was despatched to Firhill on 23rd May 1914, where Glasgow Perthshire would defeat Cambuslang Rangers by two goals to nil, thus securing their first-ever Glasgow Junior Cup trophy. It was a joyous occasion for the Perthshire contingent amongst the 12,000 in attendance, for several times they had been beaten finalists hitherto; at last they had pulled it off. James was superb on the day, keeping a clean-sheet and being praised for both his β€œanticipation” and his β€œfielding” which were said to be β€œof the highest order”.

The Portsmouth deal was finally done in the coming weeks, and it's likely that the double swoop of both James and his team-mate, William Robertson, helped to sway his decision. James played a full season at Pompey, but the war seems to have put an end to his time there. With 'first-class competitive' football being suspended and many young men signing up for the army, things became somewhat chaotic in the English game. By the end of the year, James was back in Glasgow and Partick Thistle was the first club to give him a game, written permission from Portsmouth having been secured.

After putting in 36 appearances in the calendar year of 1916, James footballing activity ground to a sudden halt. He would spend almost the entirety of 1917 as a soldier, fighting the war in France, only taking his leave at Christmas whereupon he stopped in at Firhill to watch his mates play. Whilst it must have been tempting to don the (football) boots, he refrained, and enjoyed his well-earned break! In February 1918, news came through that James had been awarded the Croix de Guerre, commonly bestowed on foreign military forces allied to France. The medal was awarded to those who have been β€œmentioned in dispatches”, meaning a heroic deed or deeds were performed meriting a citation from an individual's headquarters unit.

James returned from the front in the springtime 1918, this time injured, and with a smashed ankle to contend with. By August 1918, his condition had improved to the extent that he was able to participate in a 5-a-side tournament at the Rangers sports day on August 3rd. Our hero managed to fit in a solitary first eleven appearance one week later, turning out in a pre-season charity match at Fir Park; Motherwell 2 Partick Thistle 1. The war really does really seem to have hampered his career as a Jag though, and James registered only 3 more appearances in the first team, all in season 1919-20, when Rab Bernard was established as the new number 1. In August 1920, James signed for Morton where he would make only 3 League appearances, and moved on to Kilmarnock a year later where he was back playing regularly again, making 29 League appearances in 1921-22, his final season as a footballer in the senior game.

James remained a bachelor and was employed as a locomotive work labourer. In the summer of 1944, the debilitating effects of pulmonary tuberculosis led to his admittance to the Belvidere Hospital at Parkhead, where he succumbed to the disease, aged only 54. His half-brother, Alexander Lawson of Port Glasgow, signed the death register entry.
On account of his service during WWI, James is included in our feature piece, The Partick Thistle returned β†’.


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