Scottish footballer James “Jimmy” McGill, who played more than 350 league games in England, has died aged 68. After starting his career at Arsenal, he went on to play for Huddersfield Town, Hull City, Halifax Town and had loan spells in the USA and Australia before winding up his career with non-league Frickley Athletic.
The most successful and fulfilling part of his career was spent with Huddersfield Town where he played with distinction between 1967 and 1971. He was an important and ever-present member of the team that won the old 2nd Division title in 1970 to earn promotion to the top tier.
Huddersfield-born prime minister Harold Wilson was the first to congratulate them with a telegram saying: “Heartiest congratulations… Town are now back where they belong.”
In their first season in the old 1st Division, McGill played in every game bar one. Although of slight physique, about 5’ 8” and under 11 stones, he was a combative midfielder renowned for his hard tackling which made him a favourite of the “Terriers” fans who nicknamed him “Chopper” and dedicated a terracing chant to him.
However, teammate Trevor Cherry, later to star with Leeds United and to become England captain, maintained there was more to his game.
“He was also very good at creating goal-scoring opportunities for Frank Worthington and others. Jimmy was a first-class teammate who never knew when he was beaten. And off the pitch he was a great guy, popular with everyone.”
However, in the team’s second season in the top league McGill asked for a £10 a week wage increase which was refused and 11 games into the season he was transferred to Hull City, then of the old 2nd Division, for £55,000. He was the first of the promoted team to leave but was soon followed by others with the inevitable decline in Town’s fortunes.
His career with Hull, which spanned 147 matches, was also satisfying and his all-action style soon endeared him to the fans there too.
One of his highlights was being part of the Hull team in the Anglo Italian Cup which in 1973 beat the mighty Lazio 2-1 at Boothferry Park. The Italians not only boasted five internationalists but a year later would go on to win the Serie A title.
After Hull, he moved on to Halifax Town, then in the old 3rd Division, but his time there was marred by a difficult relationship with manager Alan Ball Sr.
This led to his being loaned out twice – first in 1976 to San Diego in the USA for six months, where he played against Bobby Moore, Rodney Marsh and George Best, his all-time favourite player.
And in 1977, he went to Melbourne team George Cross, with whom he won the state league and cup double. After that he had a final season with non-league Frickley Athletic, where one of his teammates was a certain Charles Green.
Initially he was brought up in a “single end” in Scaraway Street in Glasgow’s Partick before the family moved to Westray Street in Milton. Sporting genes ran in the family as his father William had been a navy boxing champion during the war.
Once he left school at 15, he undertook a welding apprenticeship in the Glasgow shipyards while playing as an amateur with Possilpark YMCA, then a prolific nursery club for the senior game and a springboard for many top players including Kenny Dalglish, Eddie Kelly, Bobby Russell and Alex Forsyth.
Along with teammate John Corr he signed for Arsenal as an 18-year-old but found it difficult to establish himself in the first team due to the presence of Frank McLintock who along with Ian Ure and George Graham, formed a trio of Scots there.
To his credit, he did manage 12 first-team games, unwittingly becoming a part of Arsenal history on his first team debut vs Leeds on 4 May, 1966. That was Highbury’s lowest league attendance – 4,554.
It was end of season, a bitterly cold day. Fans were saving themselves for the upcoming World Cup and there was a live TV broadcast of Liverpool V Borussia Dortmund in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. By the summer of 1967 when it became clear he would not dislodge McLintock, he was transferred to Huddersfield Town for £10,000 where he went on to flourish under manager Ian Greaves, a former “Busby Babe”, who McGill rated as his best ever manager.
Once retired from the game, he resumed working as a welder and lived in Huddersfield. Once his marriage, which produced two sons, ended, he formed a relationship with Ann Valentine with whom he lived for more than 30 years till the time of his death. She is the daughter of rugby league legend and Scottish rugby union international Dave Valentine.
Ann recalled how he still followed the game keenly, mostly on TV, and how he would comment: “The way the game is now and the way I played, I don’t think I’d have lasted 90 minutes very often, they seem to have taken tackling out of it.”
She added: “Jimmy loved the life of being a professional footballer 100 per cent, despite the knee problems he had throughout his career caused by cortisone injections at Arsenal.”
He remained attached to his Glasgow roots and team, Rangers, and visited the city regularly over the years. His time in England did nothing to diminish his pride in being Scottish but instead underpinned it, with all three of his English-born sons, one with Ann, being brought up “as Scottish”.
He was one of a generation of Scottish players relatively unsung here who forged successful careers in England but were eclipsed in the public eye by such celebrated fellow Scots as Denis Law, Dave Mackay, Billy Bremner and Alan Gilzean.
After several years’ illness, he died in hospital in Leeds shortly after admission. He is survived by Ann, his brother and sister and three sons.