Signed: May 1896 from Thornliebank
Departed: August 1909 to Johnstone
• 6 caps for Scotland
• 3 caps for the Scottish League
• Over 200 appearances for the club
• Club captain
• Only Saints player to captain Scotland
• 1908 Scottish Cup Runner Up
• 13 years at the club
• Fought in WW1
Thomas Jackson, or Tommy as he was known by the Saints support, was born in 1878 the year after Saints were formed, and after spending more than thirteen years at the club which included six caps for Scotland (a record that stood for more than 70 years) as well as being the only Saints player to ever captain the national team, the right back has a valid claim to be the greatest ever Saints player.
The defender originally hailed from Thornliebank, back then a village that was part of Renfrewshire before county boundaries were moved, and played for his local side named simply after the village, before Saints spotted Jackson’s obvious talent and in the summer of 1896, some eight years before the clubs first ever manager John McCartney was appointed, the club committee persuaded the full back to sign terms with the Paisley side who were of course founder members of the Scottish League with a strong reputation.
Jackson made his debut for Saints on the 15th August 1896 at Ibrox on the opening day of the 1896/97 season, his first of two hundred and forty appearances for the club, but it would get much better for the young defender than the 5-1 defeat that occurred on a miserable afternoon for the Saints support.
Very quickly the press picked up on the quality of Jackson’s play, and his ability to defend without using “great force” suggesting it was his reading of the game that excelled more than any other attribute. Without much hassle, the young full back established himself as a first team regular and one of the most admired players in the country.
By 1902, Jackson had been in such fine form for so many seasons it almost became inevitable he would be capped by Scotland at some level, and the Scottish League were first to select the reliable Saints man by awarding him a cap against the League of Ireland in February of that year. Two years later, the SFA replicated this by selecting the full back for the home internationals in spring 1904, and against Wales at Dens Park on the 12th March that year, Jackson made his full Scotland debut in front of 12,000 supporters during a 1-1 draw, meaning St Mirren had another internationalist on their books, the ninth since 1890.
A fortnight later Jackson travelled with the rest of the Scotland squad to Dublin and appeared once more during another 1-1 draw, this time against Ireland who were of course a unified country back then under British rule. As was the case for over a century though, it was the annual clash with the Auld Enemy that was the pinnacle of the season, and playing against England was as big an honour a Scottish player could get until the national team started taking the Word Cup seriously in the 1970’s.
After appearing for the Scottish League against their English counterparts on the 4th April 1904, five days later Jackson retained his place in the Scotland full side to face England at Parkhead in front of 45,000 spectators, becoming the second of only seven Saints players to do so, following in the footsteps of John Patrick in 1897, with Ian Munro being the last in 1980. Unfortunately, Scotland lost 1-0, but Jackson’s would build further on these three Scotland caps over the next few seasons and could be comforted by the fact it was reported in the press that he was the best defender on show for either side that day.
To celebrate becoming a regular in the Scotland staring XI, Jackson then scored his first ever career goal after eight seasons at Saints later in 1904 when he notched the final strike in a fine 3-0 victory over Rangers at Love Street on the 12th of November, the first of only four he would score in his time at Paisley.
As the Home Championship beckoned again in spring of 1905, Jackson was delighted to be named once more in the national squad, and on the 6th March Scotland travelled to Wrexham for their first fixture in the tournament that year with Jackson making history by being selected as captain, the first and only time this honour has bestowed a St Mirren player, but the Scots lost 3-1 to the Welsh in front of 6,000 spectators.
Unfortunately, Jackson was overlooked for the next two matches against Ireland and England on this occasion in 1905, but he made his third and final appearance for the Scottish League select against the English on the 11th March that year, and this undoubtedly showed the quality of Jackson as Saints had a pretty miserable season finishing tenth of the fourteen club competing in the top division that campaign.
It would be 1907 before Jackson was selected for Scotland again, and the Saints man gained his fifth cap against Wales on the 4th March again in Wrexham, but Scotland lost 1-0 in front of just under 8,000 spectators. Twelve days later, Jackson made his sixth and final appearance for Scotland during a 3-0 win over Ireland at Parkhead, where 26,000 cheered on the Scots.
These six appearances for Scotland by Thomas Jackson was a record for the club until the 24th of May 1980, when Munro gained his seventh and final international cap in that match mentioned above against England. The season after Jackson’s Scotland career ended with Hampden rebuilt, international matches started being played regularly here with crowds immediately surpassing the 100,000 mark, unfortunately Jackson missed this, but his six caps gained during a period where only three international matches were played every calendar year and only two defenders were used is extremely impressive none the less.
1908 also witnessed Saints reaching their first ever Scottish Cup final, following three semi-final defeats in the previous nine seasons. It wasn’t to be a great occasion for the Paisley side or their supporters though and they were thrashed by Celtic 5-1, but despite this Jackson was the only outfield Saints player to receive any praise from the written press in the aftermath, indeed it was reported the score could have been a lot worse had it been not been for the defender and Saints ‘keeper Jimmy Grant.
This would be the penultimate season of Jackson’s St Mirren career, and on the 21st December 1907, he scored the final of his four goals for the club during a 5-2 defeat against Falkirk in a season where perhaps with his considerable powers diminishing, Saints had a wretched season defensively conceding sixty eight times in all competitions despite finishing a respectable seventh of the eighteen clubs.
The 1908/09 season would be the final one of Thomas Jackson’s St Mirren career, and the team again finished seventh in the division, with the defender playing the last of his two hundred and forty appearances for the club on the 24th April 1909 at Clune Park, home of then top-flight Post Glasgow Athletic. On the eve of the following season, thirty-year-old Jackson signed for Johnstone, then a club in the professional ranks and his time at St Mirren was over, a spell crossing three decades and two different centuries.
Jackson had throughout his football career continued to work as a legal clerk which he carried on doing so and remained at the family home after retiring from the game in 1911, where he lived with his widowed Mother, Isabella, and his five sisters. In 1914 when the first World War broke out, Jackson enlisted with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and as part of the 11th Battalion landed at Boulogne-Sur-Mer with the 45th Brigade in the 15th (Scottish) Division during July 1915 for service on the Western Front.
Private Jackson successfully fought in and survived the Battle of Loos between 25th September and 8th October 1915; this was the first-time poisonous gas was used on a battlefield by the Allies and was the biggest attack on the Germans during all of 1915. Despite this, British and French losses were more than double that of Germany who claimed victory. 85,000 died on both sides during the battle but this staggering level of death was nothing compared to what would come next, however.
In the summer of 1916, Jackson’s Battalion then lined up in the bloodiest battle in human history when he was one of three million men who took part in the Somme Offensive, more commonly known as the Battle of the Somme. Incredibly, one million people would be injured or killed during the four months of battle, with soldiers having a one in three chance of not surviving or being wounded significantly enough to have life changing injuries.
A few weeks before this battle ended, sadly Thomas Jackson lost his life on the treacherous mud fields of The Somme on October 20th, 1916. The former Saints hero was one month short of his thirty ninth birthday and had never married. The devastating death toll the following month at the end of this one battle is now estimated to be 1.2 million men and resulted in Britain and France gaining just six miles into German occupied territory.
The following day Saints played out a 0-0 draw with Raith Rovers as the Scottish League continued as though nothing was happening on mainland Europe, and the players wore black arm bands in respect of Private Thomas Jackson, the former Saints and Scotland captain who was the most capped and significant footballer from this country to lose his life during World War I. The Sunday papers the next day described Jackson as the greatest defender ever to pull on St Mirren colours, and over a century later that still might be the case.
Thomas Jackson’s remains are buried in France with his fellow fallen soldiers and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Monument, based not far from where the Somme Offensive took place.