Recalling a Wembley wizard
BACK in 1932, Alex Jackson was one of the most famous footballers in the country alongside the likes of Dixie Dean of Everton, Arsenal’s Alex James and David Jack and the enigmatic Hughie Gallacher of Chelsea.
With his film-star looks, he attracted a huge fan mail and was the prototype for the likes of George Best and David Beckham. He was a player for the big occasion and always played the game with a smile on his face.
Yet, following a dispute with his club, Chelsea, over money, he turned his back on the first-class game just weeks before his 27th birthday whilst at the peak of his powers.
Born in Renton in 1905, Jackson started his career with his local side Dumbarton in 1922. However, he was soon on his way to America with his brother Walter – a centre-forward with Kilmarnock – to sign for US League club Bethlehem Star, the works side of the huge Bethlehem Steel Corporation.
He remained there for a year and it is said that the company chief was so impressed by the adventurous young Scot that he was prepared to bear the cost of putting him through university.
His manager at Dumbarton, Pat Travers, had by this time moved to Aberdeen and he used his considerable persuasive powers to lure his protégé back to Scotland. Jackson agreed, but only on condition that they signed his brother as well.
Tall for his position at 5ft 10ins, he was a right-winger of the highest quality. Two-footed, he was imbued with both grace and pace and had a sharp eye for a goalscoring opportunity.
He proved an instant hit at Pittodrie and at the age of just 19 he won the first of his 17 Scottish caps when he made his debut against Wales at Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh on February 14, 1925.
The full Scotland side that day, which contained just one player plying his trade south of the border, was: Harper (Hibs); Nelson (Cardiff City), McStay (Celtic); Meiklejohn (Rangers), Morris (Raith Rovers – capt), Bennie (Airdrie); Jackson (Aberdeen), Dunn (Hibs), Gallacher (Airdrie), Cairns (Rangers) and Morton (Rangers). A goal from Meiklejohn and two from Gallacher gave Scotland a 3-1 win and made his debut a memorable one. He played two more games for his country whilst still an Aberdeen player and by the time he scored his first goal in the Blue shirt of Scotland – the match winner in a 1-0 victory over England at Old Trafford in April 1926 – he had been a Huddersfield Town player for almost a year, having joined the Yorkshire club the previous May for the not inconsiderable sum of £5,000. He had also helped Huddersfield win their third successive Football League championship, contributing 16 goals in the process. The year 1928 proved to be a vintage one for Jackson. Huddersfield finished runners-up in both the league and FA Cup and he became the first man ever to score a hat-trick at Wembley as part of the famous Scotland “Wembley Wizards” side which handed out a 5-1 football lesson to their English counterparts in their own backyard. Asked what the secret of the great Wizards’ win was, the great Alex James once said: “I think it was the audacious confidence of Jackson and the fixed determination of Hughie Gallacher that inspired us.” Jackson also hit the winning goal in the second replay of a marathon FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United at Maine Road after previous drawn matches at Old Trafford and Goodison Park. Jackson and Huddersfield returned to Wembley two years later to face Arsenal in the final but once again they came away emptyhanded. The flying Scotsman scored nine of the 11 goals which took his side back to London’s new mecca of football. By the time he left Leeds Road, he had scored 89 goals in just 203 league and Cup appearances. In September 1930, newly-promoted Chelsea, having already signed two Scottish internationalists in Alec Cheyne (£6,500 from Aberdeen) and Hughie Gallacher (£10,000 from Newcastle United), spent a further £8,500 to bring Jackson to Stamford Bridge - on a wage of £8 per week. The three joined fellow Scottish ‘caps’ Andy Wilson and Tommy Law at the First Division newcomers as well as other top-ranking players such as Irishman Sammy Irving and former and future England players Jack Townrow and Jackie Crawford. As so often happens with such a star-studded side, they tended to blow hot and cold. They enjoyed two good cup runs in his two seasons as a Pensioner (as they were nicknamed in those days), reaching the sixth round in the first and the semi-final in the second but league wise they finished midtable only in both. Jackson hit 14 goals in his first season at the Bridge and 15 in the second, which was a great return for a winger. As it transpired, the game he played against Manchester City on April 16, 1932 proved to be the last he ever played for the London club. Fittingly, he scored the goal which secured a 1-1 draw. A total of 29 goals in 77 appearances is a phenomenal record in any era. With his contract under negotiation and with French club Nimes offering to double, and even treble, the wages of a number of Chelsea players, Jackson asked the club for more. The club called his bluff.
He was placed on the transfer list at a fee of £6,000 for what was said, in the spin of the day, to be a breach of club discipline but he made Chelsea pay dearly for their intransigence by signing for Ashton National of the Cheshire League, which was outside the jurisdiction of the Football League.
Although Ashton were able to pay him the money he wanted, £15 per week, the club soon experienced financial difficulties and Jackson generously helped them out by releasing them from their contract. After dalliances with another Non-League club, Margate, who paid him £10 a week plus expenses for ten weeks, and French side OCG Nice, Jackson decided to hang up his boots rather than back down.
He may have made his point but, ultimately, football was the big loser.
His record in internationals was exceptional – in his 17 matches for Scotland he scored eight goals and finished on the losing side just once.
Colleague Hughie Gallacher later gave his version of events, saying:“Any football fan would have agreed that the much-capped winger deserved a lot more. Alex thought he could win the fight. TALL FOR HIS POSITION AT 5FT 10INS, HE WAS A RIGHT-WINGER OF THE HIGHEST QUALITY. TWO-FOOTED, HE WAS IMBUED WITH BOTH GRACE AND PACE
“He refused to believe that a man of his capabilities could be pushed out of soccer... well, he was wrong... which shows again that the clubs always had the upper hand.”
The club may have had the upper hand but they had not countenanced the fact that one of their main assets and star attractions would turn his back on them.
With tremendous foresight, whilst still with Chelsea, Jackson prepared for an uncertain future by becoming the landlord of the Angel and Crown at St Martin’s Lane, in the heart of London’s theatre-land. Not surprisingly, he proved to be a genial host and was always happy to talk football.
When the war began, Jackson, who had a commission in the Territorials, was soon sent overseas.
In 1943, he was serving as a welfare officer to the Eighth Army during the North Africa campaign and was wounded in Libya.
When the fighting finished, he, by now a Major, volunteered for extra service abroad but in November 1946 tragedy struck. Whilst driving on a desert road leading back along the Suez canal to Cairo, he was involved in a road accident which proved fatal.
He left behind a wife, ten-year-old twins and countless wonderful memories.
Alex Jackson was not only a “wizard”, he was a true star.
In today's money, especially in the wake of the post-Neymar money madness, he would have been worth around £60 million – easy.
That puts Alex Jackson’s footballing ability into a modern context.
Impressive: Wembley in 1932