World War I played a significant part in many St Mirren players lives, but nobody’s football career developed entirely due to joining the military during this period, except for talented inside left forward Jimmy Howieson.
Born in the Gorbals in 1900, the youngster attended Rutherglen Elementary and John Street School in the city, but along with his brothers and sisters during the summer holidays would help his father John in the family pub; The Crammond Bar on Queen Street in the city centre, which is now ‘Drouthy’s’, and incidentally been a public house since 1848.
The youngster had no real interest in playing football due to his spare time being occupied almost exclusively helping his father at the bar, and immediately after leaving school as a 14-year-old started working in the pub full time for around a year, before taking on an apprenticeship in a bid to become a marine engineer at the nearby shipyards.
Two years into his training in late 1917 however, an event occurred that would change the direction of Howieson’s life forever. Following an accident at work which left young Jimmy with smashed and broken fingers, he was discharged from hospital and made his way to the local Navy recruitment office where he enlisted, immediately ending his engineering apprenticeship in the process.
After being involved at the end of World War I with the Royal Navy, for four years Howieson sailed the planet in his new profession and for the first time in his life started playing organised football when he was selected for the Navy side. However, it was an introduction like no other, as he was playing in all sorts of climates, altitudes and weather against different styles of football as young Howieson took on players from Africa, Asia, The West Indies and mainland Europe. Despite being very skilful, this football induction also made Howieson extremely tough and it became a distinct possibility a career as a professional footballer was in the making.
In 1921 when home on leave, Howieson had permission from the Navy to play organised football in Scotland and he appeared for Port Glasgow, with his performances convincing the inside forward he could become a professional footballer prompting the Glaswegian to pay £50 to discharge himself from the armed forces and concentrate almost solely on the game.
Howieson’s first club after this discharge was his local side Rutherglen Glencairn and he made a reputation as a powerful inside forward capable of great runs and shooting, something he retained throughout his career. After only a few months at the Glens, the professional clubs were circling however and Howieson signed for Airdrie in 1922 who at the time had a golden generation of players including the legendary Scottish forward Hughie Gallacher.
This was unchartered water for the Diamonds who would never reach these heights again and the Lanarkshire side would finish runners up in the Scottish league for four consecutive seasons from this point onwards and win the 1924 Scottish Cup, with Howieson a key part of this success in supplying the prolific Gallacher, (90 goals in 110 matches for Airdrie) and securing his first Scottish Cup winners medal in the process.
Surprisingly at the end of that 1924 season Howieson left Airdrie, and with both St Mirren and St Johnstone interested in signing the forward, one of the strangest transfers in Scottish football history occurred when the player decided to split his playing time between Perth and Paisley! For league games Howieson would play for the Muirton Park side but in cup matches he would appear for St Mirren, with no rules back then to stop multiple transfers of a player during the season and no loan system in place. This meant Howieson moved between both clubs eight times in total during the 1924/25 season as the Paisley side were eliminated at the quarter final stage of the Scottish Cup by Celtic after four rounds of matches.
Howieson therefore made his debut for St Mirren on the 24thJanuary 1925 after being transferred a few days beforehand from the Perth club and played his part during a 3-1 victory over Peterhead in a first-round Scottish cup match. He was then immediately transferred back to St Johnstone to continue playing league matches!
This process was repeated against Ayr United, Partick Thistle and Celtic as Saints progressed through the tournament, but unfortunately the Paisley Saints hadn’t considered the prospect of replays in this complicated arrangement and Howieson was absent for both of them against Celtic as their cup dream was ended at Ibrox in the third match between Saints and the Parkhead side after two draws, the 1-0 defeat lingering in the memory of the Paisley support for the next year or so.
At the end of the season, it was generally believed Howieson would transfer to St Mirren permanently given their rise to a top six club at this point, but the Gorbals boy surprised John Cochrane once more by signing for recently promoted Dundee United, a relatively new club at the time with practically no tradition. After five goals in ten matches for the Tannadice club in the first few months of the 1925/26 season Cochrane finally got his man and paid United £1,000 for their star player, with Saints in the great bargaining position of being top of the league and genuine title challengers at this point.
Although Saints magnificent form didn’t last in the league, they still finished fourth and Howieson proved something of a lucky charm for Saints in the Scottish Cup as once again the club progressed through to the quarter final stage after beating Mid Annan, Arbroath and Partick Thistle. Saints avoided Celtic this time at this latter stage but were drawn against that fearsome Airdrie side of the 1920’s, where Howieson of course had so successfully made his name in the Scottish game.
Even the great Lanarkshire side couldn’t prevent Saints progression in the competition however, and a 2-0 win was recorded at Love Street. In fact, nobody could stop Saints in 1926 and Rangers were defeated in the semi-final, leaving Howieson and his team mates the task of avenging the painful 1925 quarter final defeat to Celtic when they faced the Parkhead side in the final.
On the 10th April 1926, Dave McCrae gave Saints the perfect start with an early goal and the first ever national trophy won by St Mirren was secured later in the first half when Howieson knocked in the second to clinch a historic Scottish Cup success for Saints in front of the largest ever domestic attendance recorded for a football match in Scotland at the time.
Sadly, Jimmy’s father, John, passed away a few weeks after this victory from stomach cancer and left the sum of £6,000 in his will, almost half a million pounds today allowing his widow Agnes to take over the running of The Crammond bar immediately afterwards, ably helped once more when possible by her children including Jimmy who never left the bar trade throughout most of his life.
With the Scottish Cup in the trophy cabinet, Saints started the following season superbly once more, winning eight of their first ten league matches and topping the division following a superb 3-1 win over Celtic at Love Street in mid-October 1926, only a fortnight after a 3-2 victory over Rangers. Howieson was key to this start, scoring four times and Saints remained in contention for the title once more until Christmas when like the previous campaign they faltered somewhat and eventually slumped to a very disappointing tenth at the end of the season.
By early 1927, Howieson had scored ten times for Saints that campaign with his last coming on the 3rd January during a 3-1 victory over Morton. This great form was rewarded when the following month Jimmy was picked for the Scotland side and he made his international debut in front of 40,000 spectators at Windsor Park in Belfast, with Alan Morton scoring twice to secure a 2-0 win for the Scots.
However, before the end of the 1926/27 season, Jimmy had been transferred to Hull City for £3,200, considerably Saints biggest fee ever received at the time as it was around £1,000 more than the value of James Hamilton’s move to Rangers in September 1925, and the first transfer for the club over £3,000. Perhaps it was the taste of travelling the world with the navy earlier in his life, but Howieson rarely settled in his playing career with his eighteen-month spell at Saints as long as he spent anywhere at one club in his close to fifteen-year professional career.
After seven goals in thirty matches at Boothferry Park, Howieson was on the move again soon enough and like many Saints and Scottish players from this era decided to try his luck in the USA, who back in 1928 were paying handsome wages despite attracting very small crowds due to the perceived high entry price for spectators.
In the 1928/29 American Soccer League season, Howieson played for the New Bedford Whalers during a very successful campaign for the Massachusetts club who made the play off final after finishing second in the ASL. Howieson scored an impressive seventeen times from forty-three matches but still didn’t hang around very long in his new home and in the summer of 1929 signed for the New York Giants, who were affiliated with the Baseball franchise of the same name.
After three goals in four matches for the Big Apple club, Howieson was back on the boat for England and surprisingly returned to Hull City where he had admitted he couldn’t settle beforehand. Again, it was the knock out competitions where Howieson excelled, and in the 1929 FA Cup his club had progressed to the semi final where they were leading Arsenal 2-0 with just fifteen minutes remaining and the possibility of Jimmy adding an FA Cup medal to his collection of Scottish Cup ones looked good.
The Gunners however scored two late goals to take the tie to a replay and won this before lifting the cup the following month, so it was a case of what might have been for the inside forward. In 1930, Howieson’s much travelled boots were on the move again, this time to Ireland where he played for Shelbourne, winning the Free State League and Leinster Shield during his two seasons with the club.
Following this success, in 1932 Howieson returned to Scotland and signed for his local side Clyde who just happened to be the team he supported all his life, fulfilling one of his football dreams in the process. A short spell at Alloa followed this homecoming, before the inside forward was back playing in Ireland with Glenavon in 1934.
Throughout this time and all his football career, Howieson worked in the pub trade and had been looking for an ideal bar to purchase close to his Gorbals home. In April 1935 opportunity presented itself when Jimmy and his brother John bought the Railway Tavern at 520 Rutherglen Road in the shadow of Shawfield Park (then home of Clyde) and not far from where he was raised. Today, this exact spot is a sadly a junction on New Rutherglen Road and all evidence of the old Gorbals long gone.
Despite running and owning the bar, Jimmy continued to play football at first, signing for Belfast Celtic in 1935 for one last season in a sport Howieson had only discovered he was any good at by pure chance when he signed up to join the navy, where he incidentally remained in the “senior service” until 1942.
Details of Howieson’s whole career are sketchy particularly before he joined Saints and left for America, but he is likely to have played between 400 and 500 matches in professional football scoring around 100 times. Jimmy also won two Scottish Cup medals, the League and Cup of Ireland, was capped for Scotland and played in five different countries. Not bad going for someone who had never played a competitive match at any level until he was 18 years of age.
After football, the two Howieson brothers ran The Railway Tavern for many years and had plentiful visitors wanting to talk to Jimmy about his successful football career or to even get an autograph, although the former Saints man had stayed in the game and was managing Strathclyde Juniors after retiring from the playing side.
Football seemed to run in the Howieson blood, and Jimmy’s nephew Bert Wilson was tipped as the next great thing of Scottish football after being groomed by the former Saints man, but the youngster never did make the professional scene despite much fanfare in the press about his development following the second world war.
Many decades later in 2015, New Zealand international Cameron Howieson signed for the club from Burnley and after being questioned in an interview about the possibility of him being related to Jimmy, discovered he was in fact the great grandson of the 1926 Scottish Cup hero and was playing for Saints almost ninety years later.
Unfortunately, Cameron never met Jimmy who had passed away in 1974 nor did he have anywhere near the same impact on Saints as his great grandfather but the Howieson name will be linked forever with Saints due to the achievements of the Gorbals barman almost a century ago.