Tom Morrison

Name: Tom Morrison
Date of Birth: 21/01/1904
Place of Birth: Glasgow, Scotland
Nationality: Scottish
Position: Right Half
Signed: 02/09/1924 from Troon
Debut: 06/09/1924 v Dundee H (2-1 win)
Final Match: 28/01/1928 v Hamilton A (2-1 win)
Departed: 09/02/1928 to Liverpool (£4,100)
Apps: 149
Goals: 12
Honours: 1926 Scottish Cup

1 Scotland Cap,
12 unofficial Scotland Caps, 5 goals
Record Transfer Fee Received

The story of Tom Morrison centred around his undoubted fantastic football ability, but off the field of play the wing half was something of an enigma and his life includes a great deal of mystery including at least two instances of him going missing for several months and a period of crime.

Thomas Kelly Morrison to give him his full name, is reported to have been born in the coal mining village of Coylton in Ayrshire and although he undoubtedly lived here later in his life, having scoured the national databases it is likely the wing half’s actual birthplace is Glasgow on the 21st January 1904, and his family relocated to Ayrshire after this.

After playing with Troon Juniors, Saints manager John Cochrane signed Morrison in September 1924 and the 20-year-old would be next great wing/centre half to appear for the club following on from Edward McBain, Robert Robertson and more recently Charlie Pringle. Over the next year or so, Cochrane would add Alan Gebbie and John Millar to his half back line, and this would become one of the finest midfield structures in the history of the club.

The young wing half was used sparingly by Cochrane at first, but the following season Morrison’s potential began to show as Saints made a stunning start to the season losing just once in the opening fourteen matches and topping the division until Christmas. During this outstanding beginning to the campaign Morrison scored his first goal for the club when he hit the winner at Brockville on the 22nd August 1925 to secure a 1-0 victory over Falkirk.

Saints of course would win the Scottish Cup at the end of this season, but the great cup run almost ended at the second-round stage with Morrison centre of the drama when during a howling winters day at second tier Arbroath in February 1926, he missed a second half penalty which resulted in the Red Lichties hitting the inside of Saints post only seconds later during a counter attack. Fortunately, no damage was done, and the match finished 0-0 with the wing half influential in the replay at Love Street a few days later when a 3-0 win was recorded.

This was the closest Saints came to being eliminated during this historic cup achievement and on the 10th April 1926 the impressive half back line of Miller, Gebbie and young Morrison were instrumental once mire as Celtic were beaten 2-0 by a superb St Mirren performance and at the age of just twenty two Morrison was a cup winner, which at the time was higher profile than even winning the league.

The following season was another historic one for Morrison as his form for Saints improved even further when he grabbed seven goals from his wing half position meaning the international selection committee were looking at him very closely. In March 1927 he was called up to the national team for the crucial Home Championship match at Hampden against England on the 2nd April 1927, and in front of the second largest ever recorded crowd for a football match anywhere in the world at the time of 111,214, Morrison made his Scotland debut in a 2-1 defeat to the Auld Enemy.

The following month, the SFA had organised a lengthy summer tour of Canada with the Scotland squad and Morrison was once more selected, appearing in twelve games between the 26th of May and 15th July 1927 and scoring on five occasions. However, these matches were against regional select sides and classed as ‘unofficial’ therefore Morrison does not have a legitimate claim to be both Saints all-time top cap holder and goal scorer, despite pulling on the national strip on thirteen occasions and scoring five times. Officially Morrison has only one cap!

The rise of Morrison continued unabated in 1927/28, and once more he was a key figure in Saints challenging at the top of the division, scoring three times although he would sometimes drop to defence during this period. English heavyweights Liverpool had seen enough of the brilliant twenty-four-year-old however, and in February 1928 they secured the signature of Morrison by spending a whopping £4,100 take him south, the biggest transfer fee ever received by the club by quite a distance and one record that would stand for eighteen years.

Morrison was a regular at Anfield for many years, playing over 200 times for the English giants but his career appeared to derail in 1934, and on August 22nd he was suspended without pay by the club for a breach of discipline, the first sign that something was not all well with the wing half.

A few months later, Morrison was back playing regularly for Liverpool but following a match at Huddersfield on the 11th November 1934, he was taken ill shortly after his return to Merseyside and rushed to a nursing home (before the formation of the NHS) where he was operated on for appendicitis. Thankfully, the operation was a success but the following month the half back indicated he was ready to quit football at the end of the season aged just thirty and take a coaching role abroad, preferably in the Canary Islands.

This move did not transpire, but with Morrison idle as he was recovering from the operation, he appears to have gone off the rails and Liverpool suspended him twice for fourteen days without pay in early 1935, with the first time being after his failure to turn up for a reserve fixture on the 9th February during his rehabilitation. By then Morrison had taken the decision to travel to London and watch Sunderland take on Spurs at White Hart Lane the previous day, with the Black Cats of course managed by his former mentor and Saints boss John Cochrane. Liverpool then added a second suspension without pay when Morrison failed to show up for training following this initial 14-day period.

In fact, Morrison had failed to return home completely from this visit to the English capital in early February, and by the 4th of March real concern was growing for the wellbeing of the Scottish international with his wife concerned that he had suffered memory loss or physical reaction during his recovery from the appendix operation. Mrs Morrison had even travelled to London to search the Euston area where he was last spotted but had failed to find any trace of her husband.

It is of course unfathomable this could happen today to a Scottish international playing for Liverpool, but the Anfield side showed little sympathy and reported Morrison to the FA on the 13th March, with still no word on the safety of the wing half. Whatever happened remains a mystery, but Morrison finally did return home in mid-April, and immediately placed on the transfer list by Liverpool. Unsurprisingly, nobody decided to take a chance of the AWOL wing half and Morrison remained out of favour with the Reds until his old mentor John Cochrane came calling in November 1935 and brought him to Sunderland.

Morrison went straight into the first team at Roker Park and was a pivotal part of Sunderland going onto the win the English top-flight that season which makes what happens next even stranger. During pre-season, Morrison once more disappeared from home which was now in the North East of England, but this time there was no trace of him in the months that followed.

Whatever was happening with Morrison’s personal life or mental health is unknown, but seven months later in December 1936 he was recognised in Cambridge and arrested as he was wanted by magistrates in Sunderland for the crime of absconding from his wife and leaving the state (Public Assistance Committee) to support his children.

At court, it transpired that Morrison had travelled to Cambridgeshire during the summer of 1936 under the name ‘Jack Anderson’ and was picking fruit to make money. He had approached local football side Gamlingay for a trial, who unknown to them were evaluating a Scottish Internationalist who only one month prior to this had won an English Championship medal!

Again, this would be ridiculous in modern times, but with no TV and the press publishing very few pictures of footballers, not many would have known a player outside the town or city he played in other than megastars of the era such as Stanley Mathews. Unsurprisingly, the amateur side were extremely impressed with the seemingly unknown Scotsman and promoted him immediately to the first team where he stayed for four months before being apprehended by the authorities.

The charges against Morrison were withdrawn by the judge as the player agreed to pay his wife for back paid and ongoing support as well as repay the money used by the state to support his family during this absconded period and finally also the fees for the court case costs, which was all possible due to the £49 owed to him by Sunderland.

Unfortunately, this was not the last time Morrison would be in court over the next few years, and following his release by Sunderland in 1937, the wing half returned to Scotland in the summer signing for Ayr United in June where he now lived in the village of Coylton. Before his career at Somerset could even take off however, Morrison was at Kilmarnock Sherriff Court on burglary charges in August of that year.

The Scottish International pleaded guilty to two charges of theft by housebreaking and another of attempted housebreaking in various cottages throughout Ayrshire during the summer after Morrison had posed as the nephew of a proprietor and salesman. It appears Morrison had taken to drink also and having missed the start of pre-season with Ayr United as he was in jail pending this court case, the club had suspended Morrison without pay for 14 days. The judge ordered the former Saints man to pay a fine of £10 or face jail for sixty further days.

It is unknown what happened immediately following this but considering Ayr United cancelled his contract shortly afterwards, clearly the board of directors at Somerset Park were not impressed with their star players behaviour.

Morrison next surfaced in Ireland in 1939, playing for Drumcondra FC, and once again he was in court but this time acting against his own club! The wing half had suffered a career ending injury playing for the Dublin club against Bray Unknows at Tolka Park a few months beforehand, and it was decided by the Drumcondra board that Morrison would receive no further wages from his employer.

On this occasion, Morrison could leave the court with his head held high however as the judge awarded in his favour, and Drumcondra would need to pay the former Saints man 30 shillings per week until he was able to work again. With that news, Morrison appears to have disappeared completely from all records, however on 20th January 1983 a Thomas Kelly Morrison died in Newcastle aged eighty-two, which fits the details of the Saints legend and is also close to Sunderland where he is known to lived for a period, therefore there is a good chance this is our man.

The story of Tom Morrison is shrouded in mystery. It is easy speculate that he fell out with his wife and ran from his responsibilities finding comfort in only alcohol, however as little attention would have been paid to his mental wellbeing in the 1930’s, it would be extremely harsh to be judgemental about his conduct.

What is evident however without doubt that Tom Morrison was a brilliant footballer; capped by Scotland, won the Scottish Cup with Saints, the top division in England with Sunderland, and transferred for a huge amount to Liverpool making Saints a small fortune in the process. He was an integral part of Saints success during the 1920’s and should be remembered for this as much as his off-field story.

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