Ye'll No' Believe Who Scored It!

by William Sheridan
Top 12

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JIMMY MCGOWAN

Saturday 22nd March 1952
SFL Division A - game 29
Queen of the South [h] W3-0

Well, hello again Tiger! In our #3 entry he was a goalkeeping clean-sheet hero at Tynecastle – today he's a goal-scoring hero at Firhill. Not that any of these two fine facts define the man in question. Sports writers loved him – they recognised defensive qualities just as well as those displayed by headline-grabbing goal-getters. Perhaps the Sunday Mail got closest to the truth in 1952: “If they commissioned a bust of the player who typifies Partick Thistle’s fighting spirit the model will be Jimmy McGowan.

What Jimmy lacked in footballing finesse, he made up for with the heart of a lion and the tenacity of a “Tiger” – the oft-used moniker with which he was christened in the press. No forward liked playing against him – he was on them like a flash and never gave them a seconds’ peace. Like Tommy Ledgerwood, Jimmy was another late-comer to the Scottish senior game. He signed from Maryhill Juniors in the spring time of 1941, just before his 25th birthday. He impressed manager Donald Turner and immediately made the right back position his very own.

Such was the strength of his impact at Firhill that he was honoured with a full international cap on the 23rd January 1946 – a 2-2 draw with Belgium at Hampden Park in front of almost 50,000. The boy from the juniors had well and truly arrived by this point. At Firhill, Jimmy virtually retained ownership of the No.2 jersey all the way through to the spring time of 1956. He might have been a late starter – but he was also a late finisher. By this time he was just about to turn 40, and only gave it up when the next injury became just that one too many for him to continue effectively at the Premier League level.

His humungous appearances tally finished just shy of the 550 mark – a total further extended by only four others in all of Partick Thistle’s history. I’d have totally loved him, no doubt about it. You’d have loved him too, surely. Heck, maybe there are even one or two readers who actually did love him? Perhaps we can gauge how good he was by the awesome accolade with which he was bestowed in 1954 – Scotland’s player of the year! Football historian David Ross: “Before the Scottish Football Writers Association awards got underway in 1965, the main player award was the one selected by Rex Kingsley of the Sunday Mail. A couple of the 'Rex Statuettes' have been sold at auction in the last few years. Generally the award was made for a calendar year and presented either at the end of that year or early in the next one, with a big ceremony.

How’s this for prestigious company?

1951 – Gordon Smith (Hibernian)
1952 – Willie Thornton (Rangers)
1953 – Bobby Evans (Celtic)
1954 – Jimmy McGowan (Partick Thistle)
1955 – George Young (Rangers)
1956 – Willie McNaught (Raith Rovers)
1957 – Alex Parker (Falkirk)
1958 – Dave Mackay (Heart of Midlothian)
1959 – Harry Haddock (Clyde)
1960 – Willie Toner (Kilmarnock)
1961 – John Cumming (Heart of Midlothian)
1962 – Ian Ure (Dundee)
1963 – unknown
1964 – Charlie Aitken (Motherwell)

And so (before I get any more carried away) to the big match…

On this day, the Doonhamers’ big objective was to register their first away win in the League – and this was their last chance to do so. Thistle, on the other hand, would have no desire to rank as odd man out in their last home game. The 35-year-old Jimmy lined up at right back as usual. The game went to form and status, with two Johnny Mackenzie goals seeing Thistle comfortably ahead by half-time. Ever in the wars for the Thistle cause, Jimmy didn’t appear for the second half – he remained behind on the trainers’ table, receiving treatment for a back injury sustained.

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Our hero returned some ten minutes later than the others and was soon back in the thick of things. There were loud cheers for Tiger when he made a great connection with his right, his forceful effort just whistling past the post at the “town end”, as it was described then. And then – a moment for all at Firhill to treasure – a GOAL from JIMMY McGOWAN! Alex Stott chipped a pass through, Jimmy chested the ball down and “whanged the leather past Henderson with his right foot at penalty-kick speed”.

Back in those days, Newspaper reports never tended to convey much in the way of fan emotion, but I’d like to think that Firhill went daft! There’s certainly an impression that the 12,000 crowd were absolutely rooting for Tiger on the day, “every good bit of play from the lame veteran being cheered” – surely the sign of a long-held affection. Consider for a moment that this goal was eleven years in the coming and we can perhaps get an idea of how well it may have been received.

From boy to man, Jimmy was Thistle through and through, and was famously back on the Firhill terracing as soon as he stopped playing. Whilst one goal from nearly 550 games might not seem like much, it only tells about 0.2% of the Jimmy McGowan story. The story of a man who would be on my shortlist for consideration as THEE all-time greatest Jag.

Publishing date Originally published on 23-Dec-2014 (WAT).
Thistle Archive publishing date Republished here on The Thistle Archive, 24-Dec-2020.
Latest edit date Latest edit version 14-Dec-2020.

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