Obituary: Jackie (John) McGugan, footballer

Jackie (John) McGugan: Footballer who was part of the St Mirren team that won the Scottish Cup in 1959
Jackie (John) McGugan: Footballer who was part of the St Mirren team that won the Scottish Cup in 1959
Have your say

Born: 12 June, 1939, in Airdrie. Died: 15 November, 2015, in Cambridge, aged 76

Jackie McGugan played an important part in St Mirren’s Scottish Cup win of 1959. Only 19, he played in all Saints’ games in that campaign, a “steady, no-nonsense centre half,” as contemporary reports described him. A 10-0 demolition of non-league Peebles Rovers in their first tie earned Jackie and teammates a £5 bonus as it was fixed at “ten shillings” (50p) a goal, in what was the first game under the new Love Street lights.

Wins against Motherwell and Dunfermline set them up for a semi-final tie against more fancied Celtic. Some 75,000 fans at Hampden watched as the “Buddies” served up an imperious display to win convincingly 4-0. Jackie was credited with “having a needle sharp eye for open space”, as he probed for openings.

Saints fans rallied their team with renditions of “When the Saints go marching in” to such effect that Jackie was quoted later as saying: “I felt my heart was bursting out my jersey.”

Some 108,500 fans were present at the final when Aberdeen were beaten 3-1. This was to be the last 100,000-plus cup final attendance not involving a member of the Old Firm.

A Tommy Bryceland goal before half-time gave Saints the lead while second-half goals from Ally Miller and Gerry Baker sealed the win with the Dons netting a consolation goal near the end.

Skipper David Lapsley was carried off shoulder-high at the end as their opponents applauded sportingly. Bedlam reigned later that night in Jail Square in Paisley as the team fought to make their way from their bus with the cup into the Town Hall through tightly packed crowds of ecstatic fans amid an almighty downpour.

A local journalist, George Carruth, recalled how during this scenario he had been accidentally kicked in the face by “Jackie McGugan’s legs dangling from the open roof of the bus” and how he hoped “the mark would remain on him till his dying day”, as he was so proud of the team.

Davie Macrae, a hero of Saints’ previous Cup-winning team of 1926, opened a special bottle of whisky he had been gifted after that win which he had vowed not to open till the success was repeated. That 1959 team became legends in Paisley with Davie Hay, later Celtic and Scotland “great”, recalling what “a thrill it had been for him as a ten-year-old to be invited on to the Love Street pitch for a kickabout with Jackie McGugan and Gerry Baker”.

Jackie had made his debut for the “Buddies” in a League Cup tie against Clyde early that season and was an ever-present thereafter. Impressive displays resulted in his being selected for Scotland’s summer tour at the end of the season when they played friendlies against Jutland, Holland and Portugal.

He played in a non-cap international against Jutland in Aarhus, Denmark, alongside players such as Denis Law, Bertie Auld, John White and Alex Scott, but none of the Scots shone as they struggled to draw 3-3, with Jackie’s “scythe-like tackles” being commented on in one report.

For the remaining tour games, regular incumbent Celtic’s Bobby Evans was restored at centre half.

Jackie’s good form the following season attracted interest from bigger clubs, with Newcastle United and Rangers apparently among them. He was keen to go full-time and put in a transfer request in the aftermath of a bad defeat by Arbroath.

In July 1960 Leeds United signed him but he only managed one first-team game there due to injuries and the good form of a young Jack Charlton at centre half.

From Elland Road, he joined Tranmere Rovers for a couple of seasons, then came back up north to play for Ayr United for two years and Morton for a handful of games before returning south to sign for Southern League team Cambridge City.

He played for City from 1964 to 1970, remaining in Cambridge from then on. After that, he played for local amateur team, Fulbourn, for a few years.

Born and brought up in Airdrie, one of a family of six, he attended the local academy before joining well-known junior team Pollok, signing for St Mirren in 1956 as part-time player while doing a blacksmith’s apprenticeship.

In 1960 he married Janette Trainor, and although they later divorced, they remained on good terms.

While playing in Cambridge he worked as a painter and decorator, before moving into the licensed trade, running pubs such as The Alma, The Grapes and The Ship in the city.

Since 1992, he worked as a porter at St John’s College, Cambridge University up till a month before his death. There he was held in high and affectionate regard as daughter Susan commented: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the tributes we’ve received from all sorts of people at the university: students, colleagues and academic staff. He loved his job there and had a great rapport with the students. My dad was very much ‘a people person’, quite a colourful character with a massive sense of humour. He had time for everyone and was particularly adored by his nephews and nieces.’’

On 3 January 2009, Jackie and other former Saints players were welcomed back to Love Street on the occasion of their last game at the old ground and introduced to the crowd to great applause. The minute’s silence at St Mirren’s game on Friday was partly dedicated to Jackie’s memory, and Cambridge City are to accord him a minute’s silence prior to their next home game.

Jackie is survived by daughters Grace and Susan, son John and five grandchildren. His funeral will take place on 3 December.