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Jimmy Stephen

Former Scotland football captain;

Born: August 23, 1922; Died: November 6, 2012.

JIMMY Stephen, who has died aged 90, was Scotland's oldest-surviving former football internationalist. Born in Johnshaven, Kincardineshire, he never played club football in Scotland, being taken almost straight from school to the ground staff at Bradford (Park Avenue) in 1938. By the time the Second World War broke out, he was challenging for a regular first team place and was one of that unfortunate generation who saw their career blighted by the war.

At Bradford he struck up a friendship with the great Len Shackelton. Contemporaries in age, they came through the ranks together and remained friends until Shackelton's death in 2000.

Stephen made four appearances for Scotland in wartime internationals, his first in the 2-6 Wembley thrashing by England in February, 1944, when, due to a mix-up in bookings, he and Shackelton, who was in the England party, had to share a hotel room in London.

After his unofficial war-time caps, when the Home International Championships resumed in the autumn of 1946, Stephen made his official Scotland debut against Wales at Wrexham's Racecourse Ground on October 19, 1946.

In addition, Stephen, who had never before led a side, was given the captaincy on his debut. This was by no means a unique honour in Scottish football, but no debutant has subsequently been asked to lead the side. The experience was not a good one; Scotland lost 3-1, with the team, and in particular the Anglo-Scots, being savaged by the unhappy travelling press corps from Glasgow.

Stephen gave way to George Young of Rangers for the next Scotland game, but he was recalled after a two-year, five-international gap, for the Welsh visit to Hampden on November 12, 1947. Once again he was on the losing side, and once again he was slated by the Glasgow press pack – it was the end of his Scotland career.

The effect of the war on Stephen's time at Bradford (Park Avenue) is obvious; he was with the club for 10 years, but played in barely 100 official games. Then, in 1949, Portsmouth paid a, for the time, big transfer fee to take him to the south coast and in his first season he helped Pompey win the English First Division Championship.

He spent six seasons at Fratton Park, at a time when Pompey were an established First Division side. The team was awash with internationalists – fellow Scotland caps Alex Wilson, Jimmy Scoular and Jackie Henderson were team-mates, along with high-scoring centre forward Dougie Reid, a man strangely overlooked by the Scottish selectors. The Portsmouth teams in which Stephen played also included English internationalists such as the legendary Jimmy Dickinson, Jack Froggat, Peter Harris and Len Phillips and Irish international goalkeeper Norman Uprichard.

Stephen was immensely popular with the Pompey faithful, but with the great Rangers pairing of George Young and Sammy Cox entrenched in the national side's numbers two and three shirts, his Scotland days were over.

In 1955, by now a veteran, and with his mobility compromised by a botched cartilage operation, he moved into non-league football with Yeovil Town, before returning to Hampshire to play out his career with Newport on the Isle of Wight, then Waterlooville, as player-coach.

Management didn't appeal, he lacked the necessary hardness to deal with players, so he left football for a career as a timber salesman, remaining in that business until his retirement.

He was diagnosed with cancer in December, but, prior to this blow, was still a keen student of football and involved in the charity fund-raising activities of the Portsmouth Former Players Association, a body which has raised over £1 million for charity over the years, while enjoying his regular visits to Fratton to cheer on Pompey with his daughter Lesley.

She remembers: "Up until his illness hitting him in December, he had lived in his own flat, since my stepmother died a couple of years ago. He was still interested in football on the TV and had strong opinions on the game today.

"Earlier this year he was invited to attend one of the Buckingham Palace garden parties, which was the first recognition of any kind he had since his two caps; but he wasn't fit to travel and reluctantly had to refuse."

He was twice-married, first to Mary, with whom he had two children, Robert and Lesley. The marriage ended in divorce and Jimmy re-married Joan, who died in 2009, after a long illness. Mary survives him along with Robert, Lesley and grandchildren Alex, Nicholas, Suzanne and James.

His name may not mean much to today's football fans and his career was seriously blighted by the Second World War, but, as the last man to captain Scotland on his debut and the holder of the title of Scotland's oldest living former internationalist – which now passes to former Celtic and Clyde player Hugh Long – we should remember Jimmy Stephen.

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