Leaving Newbattle School, aged 14, at the height of the Second World War, Jackie played briefly for Newtongrange Bluebell in the juvenile leagues, and in his mid-teens he was turning out for Newtongrange Star.
His promise was clear – whilst doing his National Service in post-war Italy, his performances for the British Army in Italy’s football team persuaded US Trietina, then one of the leading clubs in Serie A, to offer him the then massive sum of £3500 to play for them.
The Italian sun, however, couldn’t compare with football back in “Nitton”, where his Star team-mates were stars in the making. The name Neilson was on the same junior team lines as those of Bobby Johnstone, plus those of two future Tynecastle legends – Freddie Glidden and “King” Willie Bauld. Jackie, at that time a full back, was competing for a place in his final year with Star with another future Scottish internationalist, Mike Haughney.
In 1949, Jackie swapped Newtongrange for Paisley – although, he continued to live and work in Midlothian.
Saint Mirren in the 1950s had a few stars, but several, such as Neilson, were very good but perhaps not “great”. That might be unfair to Jackie, he did manage to win four Scottish League “caps” – the 1950s equivalent of today’s Scotland caps won in “challenge games”. In 1956 he won a Scotland B cap in the 2-2 Dens Park draw with England.
In the 1955-56 season he was a member of the St Mirren team beaten by Aberdeen in the League Cup final. However, in 1959, Jackie would have his revenge when, in what is still considered one of the classic Scottish Cup finals, he and his team-mates produced a wonderful display to beat Aberdeen 3-1.
Jackie’s medal was a bauble of which he was immensely proud. He played on into the 1960s, pulling on the famous black and white stripes on nearly 400 occasions. He had offers to move to Newcastle and Preston, but Paisley was as far from “Nitton” as he was prepared to travel.
A knee injury forced premature retirement, aged just 31. He returned to Newtongrange, to live out his life, with plenty of good memories of his footballing days. One of his most-cherished ones was of one of his true handful (he scored five in total) of St Mirren goals. This came on August 30, 1958, when he beat Frank Haffey with what he described as a “Barnes Wallis” goal – the ball bounced over the Celtic keeper – in a 6-3 St Mirren win in a League Cup sectional game.
Jackie was pre-deceased by his wife Isa and is survived by son Stephen, daughter Jacqueline, two grand-children and two great-grandchildren.