Partick Thistle and Scotland footballer

Born: 04 September, 1925

Died: 05 July, 2017, aged 91.

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JOHN-ARCHIE MacKenzie, who has died at the age of 91 was unique, as the only native Gaelic speaker to be capped at football by Scotland. Thus, this obituary will refer to him in the traditional Gaelic manner as “John-Archie”, rather than as he was known during his years as a dashing winger for Partick Thistle, as “Johnny”.

His father Donald was a seafarer from Skye, his mother, Ann MacKinnon from Tiree, but, John-Archie was a “Weegie”, born in Dennistoun, Glasgow. The MacKenizes moved to his mother's home island of Tiree, but, he proved to be a sickly child. The local doctor diagnosed that the damp sea air of the Inner Hebrides was having a bad effect on the youngster, so the family moved back to smoggy Glasgow, where th five-year-old John-Archie's health dramatically improved. Then, when he went to school, he could speak very little English, having always spoken Gaelic on Tiree.

He still holidayed on Tiree each summer, where the ball skills he was developing in the city were augmented by the accidental fitness regime of running and cycling around the island and along the beaches. Then, when war broke-out and Tiree was invaded by servicemen, the by-now 14-year-old John-Archie became a stand-out in inter-island games involving the three Tiree teams: East, West and Central.

Leaving school in 1943, he took-up an apprenticeship with an engineering firm, where he was soon catching the eye with the works' team, which led to him signing for junior football giants Petershill. He certainly, with his displays for “the Peasie”, caught the eye of legendary Rangers' manager Bill Struth, who asked him not to sign for anyone else. After two months, however, with no further contact from Rangers, he signed for Partick Thistle.

He put pen to paper at Firhill on the Monday, but, on the Friday he was called-up into the Scots Guards, with whom he served to the conclusion of the War and on into peace-time.

On his return to Glasgow, Thistle allowed him to move to Bournemouth, but, within six months, he was back in Glasgow, working in an engineering works in Possilpark and making waves at Firhill.

He made his first-team debut, in August, 1948. It was an inauspicious start, as Queen of the South thrashed Thistle 8-1; however, maintaining their long reputation as the Great Unpredictables, within a month Thistle had beaten the Doonhamers 9-0.

At the end of what was an impressive first season in the senior game, MacKenzie was chosen for the Scotland Tour to North America – one of the few uncapped players to travel. He certainly enjoyed the trip and learned a lot, but, was unfortunately a member of the Scotland team which lost 2-0 to Belfast Celtic on that tour.

Back home, although Thistle were about to embark on a somewhat successful period reaching the League Cup final in 1953, 1956 and 1959, but losing all three final, the team's reputation for unpredictable results told against him. He had to wait in line behind Rangers' Willie Waddell, Hibs' Gordon Smith and Liverpool's Billy Liddell for a full cap. Eventually, in November, 1953, John-Archie was awarded his first cap, in a 3-3 Hampden draw with Wales.

Scotland awarded two new caps that day, to John-Archie and St Mirren's Willie Telfer, who had also been on the 1949 North American Tour. Telfer was criticised for not fouling John Charles as the great Welshman sped away to score the visitors' late equaliser, and never capped again.

John-Archie would go on to win a further eight caps over the next three seasons. These caps included both games in the disastrous 1954 World Cup finals in Switzerland in June, 1954 and the equally-calamitous 7-2 Wembley loss to England in April, 1955. More-memorable was John-Archie's appearance for Scotland against Hungary, in December 1954.

In this match, which Hungary won 4-2, John-Archie so tormented immeiate opponent Gyula Lorant that Hungarian captain, the great Ferenc Puskas described his performance as: “the most-magnificent display of wing play I have ever seen”.

John-Archie continued to play for Thistle until 1960 – although there was a short rift in the relationship, when he played for Fulham for three months in 1958, before he returned to Firhill. He finally left Thistle, after over 400 games, in 1960, to play out his career with Dumbarton, before a final hurrah with Derry City, with whom he won his only medal, an Irish Cup-winners' one, in 1964. His final football commitment was as trainer with Third Lanark during the final days of the club.

He continued to work with his engineering company until formal retirement age, when he moved back to Tiree.

Pre-deceased some years ago by his wife Betty in 2010 and by son Allan two years later, John-Archie lived in an idyllic cottage, overlooking the harbour at Scarnish, looked after by daughter Carol-Ann, who, along with his gand-children Kirsty and Andrew, survives him.

Incredibly fast – he was known as: “The Firhill Flyer”, able to deliver a precision cross, John-Archie, had he played for a more-fashionable team, would have surely won more caps. Many who saw him play are convinced, he would be worth millions today.

He was a very special player, and not merely through his having the Gaelic.