Thomas Baxter

Preston, former footballer

Born: 03 October, 1932

Died: 16 April, 2015

TAM Preston, who died, aged 82, one day before the 62nd anniversary of his Hibs' debut was a member of that elusive third type of footballer. He was never a "great player", like the Famous Five with whom he played in his early Hibernian career. He was, perhaps, an "average player", but, in reality he was a member of that elusive group, a "fans' favourite"; a guy who "played for the jersey".

He could not boast of international caps; the solitary domestic medal he won was as a runner-up, in the 1958 Scottish Cup final, but, Tam Preston was loved and respected by the Hibs fans. He really did bring Sunshine on Leith.

However, whisper it not around Easgter Road, but, Preston's boyhood footballing dreams had him wearing maroon. He was a boyhood Hearts fan, growing up in Longstone, a part of the capital where, if they don't paint the kerbstones maroon, Hearts are the major influence.

He was dux at Longstone Primary, went on to Boroughmuir High School, but, while that is mainly a rugby-playing school, the young Preston, while there, was showing a gift for the round ball, with Juniper Thistle, with whom he won a Scottish Under-18 Youth Cup, then with Edinburgh Thistle.

National Service with the Royal Air Force put his football ambitions on hold, but, in short order after doing his bit for King and Country, Hibs's boss Hugh Shaw swooped, signing him in October, 1953. Tam was immediately farmed-out to Newtongrange Star, for toughening-up, before being handed his Hibs debut, at Easter Road, against Celtic, on 17 April, 1954.

Celtic won that match 3-0, to clinch the League Championship, but, when the new season kicked-off in August of that year, Preston was a contender for a first-team place. However, he had to wait in line, only playing occasionally at first, during that final season of the Famous Five.

Bobby Johnstone's departure for Manchester City, and a series of injuries to Lawrie Reilly, enabled Preston to gradually establish himself. He did a good turn as a goal-scorer, filling-in for Reilly, and, in 1957, in the game against Hearts which hanselled-in the Tynecastle floodlights, he scored a hat-trick - always a good means of winning the hearts of the Hibs' fans.

He wore the number six shirt in the Hibs v Rot-Weiss Essen match in September, 1955, the first European Cup clash to feature a British club, going on to play his part in Hibs' progress to the semi-final of tht first European Cup campaign.

Preston scored the opening goal in the first game between Hibs and Rangers in the semi-final of the 1958 Scottish Cup. Rangers battled back to force a replay, but, Hibs carried the day and went into the final against Clyde as favourites.

Unfortunately for the Edinburgh side, an early injury to Andy Aitken was too-much of a handicap to overcome and, like so-many Hibs players, Preston left Hampden with a runners-up badge.

Gordon Smith, Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond followed Johnstone out of the exit door at Easter Road and, with their replacements failing to match the legends they were replacing, Hibs slumped and the balance of football power in the capital switched to Gorgie.

But, Preston remained, to become one of the senior professionals at the club, encouraging the new youngsters such as Pat Stanton and Peter Cormack, before, in 1964, he left Hibs to spend one season with St Mirren, before retiring.

There were still some highs along the way. The Hibs team of the time were frequent flyers in Europe, with Preston right at the epicentre of one of their greatest wins, when he scored in both legs as Hibs beat Barcelona over two legs in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup quarter-final in 1960-61.

He scored the go-ahead goal as Hibs went 4-2 up at Camp Nou, before being pegged-back to 4-4. Then, in the second leg at Easter Road, after Barca had gone 2-0 up, he ran onto a Joe Baker pass to equalise and set things up for the dramatic finale of Bobby Kinloch's winning penalty, which sparked-off heated protests from the multi-national Catalans. These strikes were among the most-vital of the 50 goals he scored for Hibs

Hibs, under Jock Stein, won the Summer Cup in Preston's final season,1963-64, but, he played no part in that triumph, his 313th and final Hibs game was against Aberdeen, in the League, in March, 1964.

Like so-many former footballers of his era, Tam entered the licenced trade, running various pubs, before finishing his time behind the bar in the Annefield in Newhaven. That pub is today run by the sons of Janet, his long-time partner.

Tam enjoyed games of bowls and dominoes. He was until his final months, a regular attender at Easter Road and active in the Hibs Former Players Association.

Okay, Tam Preston wasn't the fastest across the ground, but, he saw things early on the park, and, he had the respect of team mates and opponents alike.