Tom McNab
Tom McNab
Tom McNab
● Tom McNab, 1956 (HA)

born in Scotland

Tom McNab was born on Saturday, 15th July, 1933, in Glasgow.

The 5' 10 (10st 7lbs) defender signed for David Meiklejohn's Thistle on Monday, 17th December, 1951, having most recently been with Baillieston Juniors.

Aged 18, he made his debut appearance on Tuesday, 25th December, 1951, in a 3-1 defeat at home to Dundee in the SFL First Division.

Tom scored his only goal for Thistle on Thursday, 1st January, 1953, in a 2-2 draw away to Clyde in the SFL First Division.

He played his last game for the club on Monday, 11th February, 1957, in a 5-1 neutral-venue defeat (after aet) against St Mirren in the Scottish Cup, having appeared as a Jag on 44 occasions.

Tom's club-list included Baillieston Juniors, Partick Thistle, Nottingham Forest, Wrexham, Barrow, East Stirlingshire and Eastern Suburbs (Auckland).

Tom died on Wednesday, 5th April, 2006, in Auckland, aged 72.

Bio Extra

Signing from Ballieston Juniors in late 1951, this 18-year-old left-half did well to be included in the very strong Partick Thistle team of the era, although his Christmas Day debut was rather spoiled by a 3-1 defeat at home to Dundee. Tom would spend most of his time in the excellent reserve sides of the day, but did register 4 first-team League appearances in his first few months, and did very well to be making 15 competitive appearances in 1952-53. Personal highlights that season included a 3-0 win over Celtic in November and a 5-4 win over Hibs the following month, both in the League at Firhill. Tom scored his one and only goal for the club on New Years Day 1953, ensuring the spoils were shared in a 2-2 League draw at Shawfield. In early 1954, whilst completing his national service in the RAF at Newton, Tom had a few months with Nottingham Forest and turned out for their reserves on a number of occasions. Back at Firhill, he continued to spend most of his time in the reserves, although he managed 10 competitive appearances in 1956-57, his final season at the club.

On the recommendation of Jimmy McGowan (whose younger brother, Ally, played there) Wrexham, of Division 3 North, signed Tom in March 1957. In Wales, he made 43 League appearances and scored 5 goals in the process, before moving on to Barrow in the springtime of 1959. His record there was remarkably similar, making 44 League appearances and netting 4 goals in 2 years. Returning to Scotland, Tom signed for East Stirlingshire in the close season of 1961, where he was a near ever-present for three full seasons. If his previous moves down to Wales and England were bold, then his next venture was one step beyond… to a new life in Auckland, New Zealand! Tom emigrated in 1964, and immediately looked to continue his footballing career, signing with Eastern Suburbs, one of the top sides in the country. Tom captained the side to national cup glory in 1965 and would repeat the feat 3 years later. He led the team to the Northern Premier League title in 1966.

In 1967, Tom had a very interesting time of it when he turned out in a couple of high profile games for an Auckland Select. In May, he captained Auckland against the touring Manchester United side, who had just been crowned English First Division champions. Opponents on the day included George Best and Denis Law, as well as recent World Cup winners, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles. 26,000 people were at Carlaw Park, fascinated to see it; Auckland 1 Manchester United 8. The following month, Tom once again represented Auckland as the Scotland tour landed in town. Lining up against him that day was noneother than former Jag, Hugh Tinney. It's a small world. 15,000 were at Newmarket Park to see that one; Auckland XI 0 Scotland XI 4. They bore witness to a hat-trick from Sir Alex Ferguson!

In what is surely one of the most bizarre episodes in a long line of bizarre episodes of our former Jags, Tom would soon become a full internationalist with New Zealand. Nothing unusual about that - he was now a naturalised citizen - but the circumstances beggar belief. Tom gained his first three caps in war-torn Saigon - at the height of the Vietnam War.

Writing in 2013, Ben Stanley interviewed Tom's team-mates, Brian Turner & Ken France, and told the remarkable story external-link.png

The skipper, Tommy McNab, gave his boys the word. Down the tunnel they went, and out into the Vietnam War. To think that New Zealand played an international football tournament - the Viet Nam National Day Tournament - in November 1967, while the country they played in was in the middle of a vicious civil war seems ludicrous today. The invitation from South Vietnam came in early 1967 for the New Zealand football team to play in the Viet Nam National Day Tournament, alongside Australia and six other Asian nations. Everyone could see it for what it was - a total propaganda exercise for the South to show the world they were still a functioning first world nation. Holyoake's government finally gave New Zealand Football the green light to travel and the national coach, Hungarian Juan Schwanner, assembled his team. It was a pretty young unit, with a few old heads thrown in for good measure. McNab, a former Nottingham Forest midfielder, would lead the team, while New Brighton winger Ken France, a former Bolton part-timer who once played England Youth football with Bobby Moore, would be his vice-captain. Rennell, a long-time fixture in Eastern Suburbs backline, was coerced out of retirement, while Hungarian-born forward Istvan 'Steve' Nemet, who had recently moved to Wellington, loomed as the team's best attacking threat.

Training sessions were held at a South Korean army camp just out of the city, with the team bus passing an American army cemetery every day. “You would always see the Americans loading coffins off those big Yankee trucks” France remembered. “Look at that, and try and concentrate on the soccer. It was hard.” The training ground was basic and had its fair share of obstacles. A snake sneaking onto the pitch was one memorable incident - until a Korean soldier stepped on it and shot it in the head with his rifle. Night time was perhaps the most incredible time to be in Saigon. The New Zealand team would often head to the roof of the hotel, and watch as fighter planes, framed against a skyline lit up by flares, would fly over top of them before dropping their ordinates. “They'd disappear and then you'd hear this big 'wkooosh'” Turner said. “They had dropped their bombs and carried on. It was probably about a minute or so away from where we were, but they were areas really close to the city - and people were dying.

Getting on with the tournament itself seemed like the activity that would relax the players. But Cong Hoa Stadium - now the Thong Nhat Stadium located in the southern part of Saigon - had been targeted by the Viet Cong in the past. On October 4, 1965, two bombs exploded there before a game - killing 11 Vietnamese, including four children. Add the constant fire from the artillery battery next door to the stadium, and you had a tough emotional situation to deal with. The locals didn't seem to mind. New Zealand's opening pool game against Australia saw the stadium filled with more than 20,000 fans, even though the pitch was lined with machine gun-wielding soldiers, and the ground swept for mines minutes before kick-off. Though they lost 5-3, the New Zealanders played well, with Nemet, Colin Shaw and Ray Mears all scoring, though a hat-trick by legendary Aussie striker Atti Abonyi would be key. Next up was Singapore - and, with a 3-1 victory - the highlight of the tour. Turner scored once, and Earle Thomas twice to set up a virtual sudden-death final pool game against the hosts.

Dodgy hotel food took its toll on the Kiwis, with seven violently ill only hours before kickoff. Shaw scored to give New Zealand an early lead but, despite the hard work of McNab in the midfield, South Vietnam romped home 5-1. Most of the New Zealanders would be on their way home, bar Taylor. The teenager had caught a severe viral illness, and was rushed to a Saigon hospital. Things looked so bad for Taylor that Schwanner told his team that they weren't likely to ever see their team-mate again. Turner visited his friend, who would spend three weeks in Vietnam after the team left, in the Saigon hospital and will never forget the scene. “People were lying on the floor with no legs, half an arm, blown away by bombs - it was just incredible for a young boy to see” he said. “All of that was there - and we were there to think about football. It was crazy.

English writer George Orwell once wrote that serious sport was “war minus the shooting”. For the two weeks in November 1967, New Zealand football lived those four words to their very definition.


The craziness of 1967 over, Tom was back to relative normality the following year and won his second national cup medal with Eastern Suburbs. The 36-year-old won his 5th and final cap for the country in the summer of 1969, by which time he had taken on a new managerial role with the Suburbs. He became a bit of a club-legend with the Lilywhites, managing the side in their inaugural national league campaign in 1970. They came so close to glory that first season, only losing out to champions Blockhouse Bay on goal average. Putting that disappointment behind them, they became champions of New Zealand in 1971, finishing 3 points clear of Mount Wellington. With the new national League proving to be a tight and competitive affair, Tom had to be content with mid-table finishes in his final two managerial seasons with the club. According to Wikipedia, Tom had a spell with Metro College AFC in 1974 (supposedly as a 43-year-old player?) but contemporary confirmation is elusive at the time of writing (September 2023).

A tradesman, McNab was paralysed in a building site accident soon after he retired from the game, and spent the last 20 years of his life in a wheelchair. He's fondly remembered by New Zealand's footballing community - particularly in Auckland - and to this day a tournament is played in his honour. The Tom McNab Trophy was first played for in 1983 between Counties Manukau and Auckland and is now played for as an inter-club trophy.

(WS/BST)



© The Thistle Archive 2015-2024. All rights reserved. Third-party trademarks and content are the property of their respective owners, and subject to their own copyright terms and conditions. See the website links provided in each case.