Obituary: Tommy White, Scottish footballer and hotelier
Tommy White, who has died aged 80, was a well-known Scottish footballer of the 1960s, the youngest of three brothers from Musselburgh who were all professional players. Eldest was Edwin who played for Falkirk among other clubs, while middle brother was Scottish international and Spurs player John, nicknamed “The Ghost”, tragically killed by lightning on a golf course in 1964.
Tommy was a man of many clubs on both sides of the Border, an all-action rumbustious goalscoring centre forward best known here for his spell with Hearts from 1963 to ’65.
Later he was a Director of Blackpool for 12 years and briefly their caretaker manager.
When finished with football he became a successful hotelier there, owning The Boston Hotel and others.
Although he did not reach the heights of brother John, he did enjoy a creditable career that included representing the British Army and captaining the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) team, which could have yielded more success but for circumstances.
His excellent form in his first few months at Tynecastle alerted the national selectors, who picked him for the annual trial match in March 1964 for the Scottish League against a Scotland XI at Ibrox, where he acquitted himself well.
Coincidentally, it pitted him against John in the senior side, which did not prevent him upending his brother only minutes into the game, prompting centre half Ron Yeats to ask John, “What do they feed your brother on?!”
Weeks later he was involved in a serious car accident in which a car he was driving collided head on with a lorry near Wallyford, causing him and his passengers, one of whom was future wife Irene Kerr, serious injury. As a result he underwent several operations and had embedded glass removed, resulting in him being unable to play for weeks.
Shortly before that Hearts manager Tommy Walker had been sounded out by selectors about White’s fitness for the upcoming international against England but he had no alternative in the circumstances other than to declare him unfit despite White’s pleas to the contrary. Unfortunately, the opportunity to represent his country never arose again.
Next, only months later, John died, struck by lightning on a golf course at Hendon as he sought shelter from an ongoing storm, aged only 27 at a time when his star was shining brightly on the pitch. This had a hugely negative impact on Tommy as he was very close to his brother.
He began his senior career with Raith Rovers in 1958, signed by manager Bert Herdman for a fee of £20 at about the same time as the legendary Jim Baxter joined. Rovers had a strong team then and he made his debut against Celtic alongside such well-known teammates as Willie McNaught, Andy Leigh, Johnny Urquhart and ex Hearts star Alfie Conn. His spell with them, during which he played 30 games in midfield and scored 11 goals, was interrupted by National Service, on completion of which he was pleasantly surprised to receive from manager Herdman two years back wages.
While in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, he served in Berlin and Aden, as well as in the UK. In September 1961 he played for the British Army side against Aberdeen at Pittodrie and later captained the BAOR team in a match against the German Navy at Wilhelmshaven.
In 1962 he signed for Jacky Cox’s St Mirren, for whom he played centre forward, his preferred position, scoring 20 goals before Hearts signed him for £8,000 in 1963.
There he struck up a high-scoring combination with Willie Wallace, with newspapers calling him “goal a game White”. He was unlucky not to claim a League title when Kilmarnock pipped Hearts on goal average in 1965. After some 60 games and 48 goals he was off to Aberdeen in 1965 for a season under Eddie Turnbull, before going south to Crystal Palace for a couple of years. Next, Stan Mortensen signed him for Blackpool, where he spent two years prior to joining Bury and thereafter a brief spell with Crewe, finishing at Fleetwood Town as player/manager, hanging up his boots in 1974.
Thomas White was born in Links Street in Musselburgh’s Fisherrow to parents Edward and Anne, who also had a younger daughter, Jeanette. His father was a railway clerk while his mother, whose maiden name was Anderson, came from Hawick. Perhaps her family’s sporting genes percolated the Whites as her brother was well known rugby player and professional sprinter “Jock” Anderson.
The family was initially brought up in a two-bedroomed ground floor flat with an outside toilet and from a young age Tommy and brothers played football endlessly on an ash pitch at the foot of the street. Sadly, Tommy’s father, who suffered from a heart condition, died aged 35 in 1945, leaving Anne to bring up a family of four, working as school dinner lady and part-time waitress. In the early 1950s the family moved to a newly built council house in Delta Crescent in the town.
Tommy attended Fisherrow Primary School before Musselburgh Grammar, where he played rugby, inspired by watching his uncle Jock play at Murrayfield for a Scotland XV in a win against the New Zealand Army.
As his brothers progressed in their football careers and attracted local press interest, Tommy switched to football, also keen to see his name in the papers.
Initially he played for Musselburgh Windsor and then Musselburgh Union, an under-21 side for whom he once scored five goals from John’s crosses. At the same time he complete a joinery apprenticeship with Gibson and Milne, Builders.
He was proud to be one of three Musseburgh footballing brothers who made their mark and appreciated his good fortune in life, despite a difficult start.