Name: Alex Linwood
Date of Birth: 13/03/1920
Place of Birth: Drongan, Scotland
Position: Centre Forward
Signed: October 1938 from Muirskirk
Departed: June 1946 to Middlesbrough (£6,000)
Debut: 19/08/1939 v Queen of the South
Final Match: 04/05/1946 v Raith Rovers
Honours: 1943 Summer Cup, 1 Scotland Cap v England (unofficial)
There is an old blues song written by Albert King called ‘Born under a bad sign’ suggesting that “if it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have none at all” and had Alex Linwood been a different kind of person, then he could have justifiably claimed this was true of himself, however right to the end of his eighty three years he remained humble and thankful for the life he had.
Linwood was born in the tiny Ayrshire settlement of Drumsmudden near Drongan in 1920, a small village community that is now lost to time as its sole function was to house coal miners and their families. Drumsmudden is one of fifty similar villages in Ayrshire alone that suffered this fate having been long abandoned since the pits closed, with Glenbuck probably the most famous of these settlements in football circles due to legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly growing up here and the almost mythical exploits of the Glenbuck Cherrypickers football team, which produced a staggering 50 professional footballers (including seven Scottish internationalists) from a population of 1,000 people until their demise in 1931.
Life would have been difficult in these settlements as mineworkers and their families could only buy their provisions from the company store and everyday there would be an anxious wait and hope for the small population that loved ones returned safe and well from the various pits they were working.
In 1934 at the tender age of just fourteen, Linwood followed the route that every other abled boy in these communities would do and went down the mine for a living; little did he know however how this decision would steer his life and football career for the next twenty years.
With the demise of Glenbuck Cherrypickers, the nearby village of Muirkirk decided to form a Junior team in 1938, and Linwood travelled the twenty miles or so from his Drumsmudden settlement to play for the new side, with scouts from professional clubs located all over Britain watching the team from day one due to the prolific past of this area in producing top class footballers.
Although a centre forward in his school and juvenile days, Linwood was played as an auxiliary outside left for Muirkirk, but after only five matches for his club where he scored by his own admission “a lot of goals” Saints had offered the young forward professional terms and he made the decision to sign for the Paisley side which also stopped the need for him going to go down the mines every day.
Initially young Linwood played for Saints reserve side as the first team forward line which included Jimmy Knox, Bobby Rankin and William McLintock were in fine form at the time, but only five matches into the 1939/40 season everything changed, not only in football but all over Europe and beyond as World War II started following the invasion of Poland by Adolf Hitler and his formidable German war machine.
Any thoughts Linwood had of signing up for the war effort were almost immediately shelved as everyone who had worked down the mines previously were required by law to return to this occupation in order to help fuel the considerable effort required to meet the needs of a country at War. This also meant that Linwood at the age of nineteen could no longer train during the day, but would be available to play for Saints on a Saturday afternoon should he retain his fitness, which for non-smoking and tee-total young Alex was no problem at all.
With the Scottish League officially scrapped after only five matches, the regional Western League was created for professional clubs to keep playing and generating income, with equivalent divisions in the South, East and North of the country.
This meant that Saints no longer played Hearts, Hibs, Dundee or Aberdeen for example, but continued to meet the likes of Celtic, Rangers, Motherwell and Kilmarnock on a regular basis. Due to the splintered nature of these leagues, it was decided by the SFA and Scottish football league that all WWII competitions would be “unofficial” and no player or club records counted towards any individual or collective honours, another decision that would affect Linwood more than most.
With many footballers’ away training for combat, fighting in Europe or redeployed elsewhere in the UK due to their work commitments, this afforded others stationed at home to get first team action and Linwood was soon in the main squad as autumn 1939 dawned and the Nazi’s blitzed everything in their path on mainland Europe.
Linwood took his chance when presented with it, and on the 4th of November 1939 the forward scored his maiden senior goal against Clyde at Love Street; the first of twenty three he managed in his successful debut season which included three hat-tricks. However, with personnel changing on an almost weekly basis, most clubs couldn’t get any consistency and Saints finished tenth out of sixteen clubs, but to prove how sporadic form was, Saints thrashed Queen of the South 6-0 at Love Street with Linwood scoring four times, yet the Doonhamers finished runners up in the league.
The following season had a strange start as Saints were forced to play at Ibrox due to damage caused at the Love Street entrance to the stadium by a stray German bomb looking for the shipyards on the Cart, but Linwood continued to score goals at a phenomenal rate (also playing beside the aforementioned fellow Ayrshire man Bill Shankly who guested for Saints in 1941) reaching twenty seven and twenty two goals in the next two campaigns, but the 1942/43 season would prove to be the pinnacle of Linwood’s Saints career.
The forward had reached fourteen league goals by early January; however he was rendered “unavailable” for the next few months presumably for war purposes (probably stationed at a colliery in England or Wales) but by the late spring Linwood was back in time for the 1943 Summer Cup, which unofficially was the replacement for the Scottish Cup.
Hungry for action, Linwood simply steamrollered the competition scoring thirteen times in the seven matches, including at least one goal in every round. Third Lanark were the first to feel the considerable wrath of Linwood after four months without a match when the forward scored a hat-trick in his first game back playing since January to secure a 6-3 first leg win at Love Street.
Linwood netted once more in the second leg at Cathkin Park to emphatically ensure progress to round two for Saints by an aggregate score of 9-4, but the forward was merely warming up as Dumbarton were beaten 7-4 in round two over both legs, with Linwood scoring all but one of Saints goals, including five in the first tie at Love Street.
The semi-final paired Saints with Renfrewshire rivals Morton at Ibrox on the 26th June 1943, and with the Greenock side boosted by the continued appearance of arguably the best player in the world at the time, Stanley Matthews, as well as his England teammate Tommy Lawton, this imbalance had resulted in a freak 8-0 loss at Cappielow on the first day of 1943. It is fair to say Saints were up against it.
Saints were in a much stronger position now though, and a thrilling 3-3 draw resulted in a replay at Hampden the following week, where Linwood netted twice to defeat Morton 3-2 in another brilliant game of football between the rivals.
This derby victory set Saints up for the final against Rangers at Hampden on the 10th July 1943, and Linwood proved to be the key man once more, scoring the only goal of the match to defeat the Western League champions in front of over 60,000 at the national stadium. It was a stunning upset, and the incredible form of Linwood resulted in his call up to the Scotland match against England, but like everything else during WWII this was not officially counted. Although this fact was probably a relief as a weak and patchwork Scots were thrashed 8-0 in Manchester at Main Road.
Linwood continued to score goals during the war, but his pretty sensational 164 Saints strikes including 11 hat-tricks during this period are not counted officially and simply as a result of being a wartime footballer the forward drops from second top goal scorer in Saints history eclipsing even Jimmy Knox, to just ONE official goal, scored in the the 1945/46 League Cup.
Perhaps Linwood felt his luck would change with the war ending as he no longer had to go back down the pits, but after securing a record £6,000 transfer to Middlesbrough in 1946, legislation was passed in parliament making it compulsory for all miners to return to work in order to boost the recovery of the country, and despite all his new teammates being full time professionals Linwood reverted back to be only available on match day due to this.
Later in his life, Linwood described this hindrance as the reason he couldn’t settle in England, which is completely understandable, and he moved to Hibernian and then Clyde where he was finally officially capped for Scotland in 1949 and scored against Wales which surprisingly was his only appearance for the national team. During all this period, Linwood was still legally required to work down the mine.
The great forward would finish his career at Morton, and scored goals right up until he retired (72 in 101 appearances at Cappielow) aged 35 at the end of the 1954/55 season. As a player the forward was described by the divine authority of all things Scottish football, Bob Crampsey as “Strong, stocky, but curiously elegant”, and is officially credited with 178 goals in his career in 266 appearances, however once his war time record is considered that jumps to a quite remarkable 324 goals in 404 matches.
After football, Linwood lived his last years in Renfrew and was often seen at Love Street watching his adopted team, although in his last known interview given in 2001 to the Clyde match day programme Linwood insisted his first love would always remain his local side, Ayr United who he retained a strong connection with.
In this same interview Linwood considering himself very fortunate to have played football and despite his own career being hindered by World War II there was absolutely no bitterness about this or the fact he was forced to work down a mine, and when asked if he had any unrealised ambition stated:
“No, I played for Scotland and three great Scottish clubs in St. Mirren, Hibs and Clyde. I played with great players like Billy Steel, Willie Woodburn, George Young, Harry Haddock, and Billy Liddell, so I can have no regrets about what I achieved in the game, especially as none of it was planned! I never thought for a minute that I would become a footballer. It just happened! I was very lucky.”
A few years after this interview, Alex Linwood passed aged eighty three on the 26th October 2003 at home in Renfrew. He left behind stories of a fantastic football career and a humbleness rarely seen in the modern game by footballers who have achieved a fraction of the success enjoyed by Linwood, who was an extremely talented young player forced to combine his cherished football career with being a miner, something he didn’t enjoy, but Alex never complained about the hand he was dealt.
We will probably never see the likes of Alex Linwood again, as a man or footballer, so we should do everything possible to celebrate the fact such great people wore the black and white with such pride and excellence.