Re­call­ing a Wem­b­ley wiz­ard

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

Alex Jack­son

Im­pres­sive: Wem­b­ley in 1932

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