Footballer

Born: 12th August 12, 1939;

Died: December 17, 2019.

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. The eldest was Edwin, who played for Falkirk among other clubs; the middle brother was John, a Scottish international and Tottenham player, nicknamed ‘The Ghost,’ who was tragically killed by lightning on a golf course in 1964.

Tommy White 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 1965. Later he was a director of Blackpool FC for 12 years and, briefly, their caretaker manager. He afterwards became a successful hotelier in the resort, owning the Boston Hotel and others.

Although he did not reach the heights that his brother John attained, he did enjoy a creditable career that included representing the British Army and captaining the British Army of the Rhine team, and 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; he upendedi 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 accident in which a car he was driving collided head-on with a lorry near Wallyford, causing him and his passengers, among them his future wife, Irene Kerr, serious injury. As a result he underwent several operations and had embedded glass removed, and was thus unable to play for weeks. Shortly beforehand, 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 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 tragically died, struck by lightning on a golf course as he sought shelter from a storm. He was only 27 at the time, and his star had been shining brightly on the pitch. His death had a hugely adverse impact on Tommy as he was very close to his brother.

Tommy had begun 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 the club. Rovers had a strong team then and he made his debut against Celtic alongside well-known teammates such as Willie McNaught, Andy Leigh, Johnny Urquhart and ex-Hearts star Alfie Conn snr. 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 Herdman two years’ back wages.

While in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, he served in Berlin and Aden as well as in the U.K. 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 Jackie 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 had a brief spell with Crewe. He finished at Fleetwood Town as player/manager, hanging up his boots in 1974.

Thomas White was born in Links Street in Musselburgh’s Fisherrow to Edward and Anne, who also had a younger daughter, Jeanette. Edward was a railway clerk while Anne, whose maiden name was Anderson, came from Hawick. Perhaps her family’s sporting genes percolated the Whites as her brother was the well-known rugby player and professional sprinter, ‘Jock’ Anderson.

The family was initially brought up in a two-bedroom, 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 his 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 going to 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 newspapers. Initially he played for Musselburgh Windsor and then Musselburgh Union, an under-21 side for whom he once scored five goals from his brother John’s crosses. At the same time he completed a joinery apprenticeship with Gibson and Milne, Builders.

He was proud to be one of three Musselburgh footballing brothers who made their mark, and he appreciated his good fortune in life despite such a difficult start.

JACK DAVIDSON