Obituary: Thomas Baxter Preston, footballer

Obit pic - Thomas Preston
Obit pic - Thomas Preston
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Born: 3 October, 1932, in Edinburgh. Died: 16 April, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 82.

Tommy Preston, who has died at the age of 82, was a boy from the “wrong” side of Edinburgh, who became a Hibs legend and one of the most respcted members of the Hibs family.

Hibernian FC player who scored a hat-trick in the 1957 Edinburgh Derby. Picture: Jane Barlow

Hibernian FC player who scored a hat-trick in the 1957 Edinburgh Derby. Picture: Jane Barlow

He never hid the fact that he was born and raised in Longstone – Hearts territory – and as a boy kicking a ball around the playground of Longstone Primary, his dreams of football glory had him in a maroon rather than a green and white strip.

The young Tommy was dux at Longstone, going on to Boroughmuir High School, but, while ’Muir has more of a rugby pedigree, the teenaged Preston continued to favour the round ball, playing with distinction for Juniper Thistle, with whom he won the Scottish Under-18 Youth Cup, then Edinburgh Thistle.

He did his national service in the Royal Air Force, before, back in civvy street, he was spotted by Hugh Shaw, the great Hibs manager, who signed him in October 1953. As was so often the case back then, Tommy was farmed out to Newtongrange Star.

Back at Easter Road, he made his first-team debut against Celtic in the League, towards the end of season 1953-54. It was not an auspicious occasion, the Hoops leaving Easter Road with a 3-0 win, on 17 April, 1954, a victory which clinched the League Championship. Preston had been flung in at the deep end, his immediate opponent that day being the great Bobby Evans.

The following season saw the break-up of the great league-winning Hibs team, and in particular the legendary Famous Five. During the campaign, Preston would find himself lining up alongside the fabled quintet or filling in when one was absent. During the 1954-55 League Cup campaign, he scored the first of an eventual 50 Hibs goals, against East Fife.

With Bobby Johnstone gone, and injuries reducing the impact of the remaining four, there were opportunities for the younger Hibs players to fill the gaps. A few were tried and failed, but, gradually, Preston began to impress.

Primarily an inside forward (midfielder to today’s youngsters), he was willing to play anywhere for the club, even performing with distinction as a replacement for Lawrie Reilly as the great striker sat out a lengthy spell of injury.

Preston was a member of the Hibs XI which was the first British team to compete in the European Cup, in season 1955-56, playing in the opening tie, against Rot-Weiss Essen and playing a full part in Hibs’ run to that season’s semi-final.

He was a member of the Hibs side that lost to Clyde in the 1958 Scottish Cup final. In fact, it was a Preston goal that put Hibs ahead in the semi-final against Rangers. The Ibrox side fought back from 2-0 down to force a replay, but Hibs would not be denied, winning the replay and going on to face Clyde in the final.

This, however, would be yet another tale of Scottish Cup heartbreak for Hibs; they had to play virtually the whole game with ten and a bit men, after an early injury to Andy Aitken.

Hibs continued to feature in Europe as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, with Preston earning his place in Easter Road folklore with a goal in each leg as they beat Barcelona in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1960-61.

His goal put Hibs 3-2 in front at Camp Nou, a match which ended 4-4.

Back at Easter Road, he equalised at 2-2 in a great Hibs fight-back to win 3-2, courtesy of Bobby Kinloch’s late and controversial penalty. Preston was an under-rated player, never being touted for representative honours. He was a great club man, becoming one of the senior professionals at the club and encouraging the youngsters such as Pat Stanton who were signed.

His return of 50 goals in 313 games is not great, but he had his moments. Any Hibs player who can score a hat-trick in an Edinburgh Derby, as Preston did in 1957, in the first derby played under the Tynecastle floodlights, is assured of an honoured place in Hibs folklore.

He also, in an 11-1 win over Airdrie in season 1959-60, hit the net four times.

It was alleged that he lacked pace, but, his football brain worked at express speed; he timed his runs to perfection and he established a great understanding with Joe Baker during the England centre forward’s time at Hibs.

He served the club for more than a decade, Jock Stein releasing him at the end of the 1963-64 season, before running down his senior career with a disappointing season at St Mirren.

After football he entered the licenced trade. At that time he was married to Cath, but the marriage failed. He found new happiness with Janet, with whom he ran the Annfield, in Newhaven, which is still run by her sons today.

He enjoyed bowls and dominoes and was, until recently, an active member of the Hibernian Former Players Association and a frequent visitor to Easter Road to watch the club which had taken him to its heart.