Tommy Leishman was a highly regarded Scottish footballer who enjoyed success as a player and player/coach in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland during the course of a long career in which he played over 350 games, including spells under two of the game’s greatest managers, Bill Shankly at Liverpool and Jock Stein at Hibs.
In Scotland he was part of the St Mirren team which won the Scottish Cup in 1959 and captain of the Hibs team that claimed the Summer Cup in 1964 under Stein, in England he was a member of the Liverpool team which under Shankly won the old 2nd Division title in 1962 while in Northern Ireland he won the Irish League as player/coach with Linfield in 1966 and was Ulster Footballer of the Year. Remarkably he took part-time Linfield to the European Cup quarter final in 1967 where they lost by one goal to Bulgarian champions CSKA Sofia. Altogether he played in nine European fixtures with Linfield and Hibs and was proud to have been selected for a Scotland squad which during a 1959 tour played Jutland, Holland and Portugal although he did not feature in any of the games.
A tough tackling half back with a good touch on the ball and a never-say-die spirit, Tommy was the essence of the invaluable team player, highly thought of by teammates.
His path to professional football began with his school team, Larbert High School then Bothkennar Rovers’ Boys Club, Cowie Juveniles and Camelon Juniors from whom he signed for St Mirren in 1955. Soon afterwards National Service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders beckoned, much of which he served at Stirling Castle as the colonel’s ‘batman’ while representing the regiment at football. He was also stationed for a period at Bury St Edmunds when St Mirren arranged for him to train with Ipswich Town under the eye of manager Alf Ramsey, of World Cup 1966 fame.
Once back in ‘civvy street,’ Tommy combined part-time football with St Mirren and work as a lorry driver for Aitken’s brewery. By 1959 he was an established first team member and played an important role in their Scottish Cup success defeating Aberdeen 3-1 in the final before a crowd of 108,500, the last 100,000-plus crowd at a cup final not involving Rangers or Celtic. His framed winner’s jersey and medal remain prized family possessions.
Later he also featured in a winning ‘Buddies’ team in an Anglo Scottish challenge against Nottingham Forest, that year’s FA Cup winners, with his excellent form earning a call-up to the Scotland tour squad and a move to Liverpool.
He made his debut on 28 December, 1959 two weeks after Shankly was appointed and over the next three years as an almost ever-present played a key role in the ‘Reds’ gaining promotion to the old First Division and building foundations for the glory years ahead. Teammates included future manager Ronnie Moran, Roger Hunt and Ian St John.
After 118 games including top tier appearances, he moved to Hibs in January 1963, making his first team debut shortly after. He also made his European debut that season against Valencia in the quarter final of the Fairs Cup alongside the likes of Ronnie Simpson, Ally MacLeod (later Scotland manager) and Gerry Baker.
The club’s fortunes improved with the appointment of Jock Stein in 1964, winning the Summer Cup against Aberdeen with Tommy captaining the team, but after Stein’s departure a year later, Tommy also left to be player/coach with Linfield in Belfast, the happiest and most fulfilling period in his career.
During his time there he acquired legendary status, admired for his committed playing style and warmly remembered for his coaching success. The links remained, with Tommy being invited to their 125th anniversary celebrations in 2011 and a club director attending his funeral.
His stand-out achievement was reaching the European Cup quarter final where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to CSKA, who in earlier rounds had beaten Olympiacos of Greece and Gornik of Poland, both leading European sides then. The Bulgarians were a top quality team who Inter Milan needed three games to defeat by a single goal in their semi-final to reach the final against Celtic. Tommy remained convinced that had the club not sold goalkeeper Iam McFaul to Newcastle earlier that season, they would have beaten CSKA.
After Linfield he wound down his career with two seasons at Stranraer in the old Scottish 2nd Division.
Tommy, or Tom as he was known to family and friends, was the son of Thomas, a blacksmith and Molly. Along with younger sister Margaret he was brought up in Stenhousemuir where he attended the local primary before going to Larbert High School.
In 1956 he met Carol Woods whom he married in March 1961 in Fallin Church and the couple enjoyed almost 60 years of happy marriage during which they had daughter Kim, living initially in Fallin before moving to Bannockburn in 1984. After football Tommy worked as a tanker driver, mostly with BP at Grangemouth, prior to retiring in 1992.
Family was very important to him, while time spent with grandson Ross was special. Other interests included gardening as well as being a keen golfer, a life member at Stirling Golf Club. He and Carol, who died in 2019, enjoyed foreign travel, particularly to Canada, Florida and Las Vegas.
Latter years were difficult through the loss of Carol and onset of dementia but Tommy will be warmly remembered as a quiet, unassuming absolute gentleman, a caring and loyal friend to many. He is survived by Kim, son in law Greg and grandson Ross.