Tommy Leishman, footballer who played for St Mirren, Hibs and Liverpool

Born: 3 September, 1937;

Died: 21, July 2021

Tommy Leishman was a prominent Scottish footballer who enjoyed success as a player and coach during a long career in which he played over 350 games, including spells under two of the game’s iconic managers, Bill Shankly at Liverpool and Jock Stein at Hibs.

Here he played in St Mirren’s Scottish Cup winning team of 1959 and captained the Hibs team that claimed the Summer Cup in 1964 under Stein; in England he was a member of the Liverpool team which under Shankly won the old 2nd Division title in 1962; and in Northern Ireland he won the Irish League as player/coach with Linfield in 1966 and was Ulster Footballer of the Year.

He also led Linfield to the 1967 European Cup quarter final where they lost by one goal to Bulgarian champions C.S.K.A. Sofia, in his own words “a fantastic achievement for part time players on £6 a week”. Although never capped, he was proud to have been selected for a Scotland squad during a 1959 tour of Jutland, Holland and Portugal.

A tough tackling half back with a good touch on the ball, Tommy was the essence of the invaluable team player.

His path to professional football began with his school team, Larbert High School progressing through boys and juvenile teams till signing for St. Mirren in 1955. During National Service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, much of which was spent at Stirling Castle, he played regularly for his regiment as he also did when stationed temporarily at Bury St. Edmunds, where he trained with Ipswich Town under the eye of manager Alf Ramsey, of World Cup 1966 fame.

Once demobbed, Tommy combined part time football for St. Mirren with work as a brewery lorry driver. By 1959 he was an established first team member and played an important role in their Scottish Cup success, defeating Aberdeen 3-1 in the final before a crowd of 108,500, the last 100,000 plus crowd at a Cup Final not involving Rangers or Celtic. That night in Paisley there were joyous scenes as Tommy and teammates received a rapturous welcome when they appeared on the Town Hall balcony with Cup aloft. His framed winner’s jersey and medal remain prized family possessions.

He made his Liverpool debut on 28th December 1959 and over the next three years as a virtual ever present played a key role in the ‘Reds’ gaining promotion to the old First Division, laying foundations for the glory years ahead. Teammates included future manager Ronnie Moran, Roger Hunt and Ian St.John.

After 118 games including top tier appearances, he moved to Hibs in January 1963 where he made his European debut that season against Valencia in the quarter final of the Fairs’ Cup alongside Ronnie Simpson, Ally MacLeod (later Scotland manager) and Gerry Baker.

The club’s fortunes improved with the appointment of Jock Stein in 1964, winning the Summer Cup against Aberdeen with Tommy captaining the team. After Stein’s departure a year later, Tommy also left to be player/coach with Linfield in Belfast, the happiest and most fulfilling period in his career, his attitude captured in his remark,“ You put the blue shirt over your head and you go like the wind.”

There he acquired legendary status, much admired for his committed playing style and coaching ability. The links endured with Tommy being invited to Linfield’s 125th anniversary celebrations in 2011 and a club director attending his funeral.

His stand out achievement was reaching the European Cup quarter final where they lost 3-2 on aggregate to C.S.K.A., who in earlier rounds had beaten Olympiacos of Greece and Gornik of Poland, both leading European sides then. The Bulgarians were a top quality team who Inter Milan needed three games to defeat by a single goal in the semi final to reach the final against Celtic. Tommy remained convinced that had the club not sold goalkeeper Ian McFaul to Newcastle earlier that season, they would have beaten C.S.K.A.

After Linfield he wound down his career with two seasons at Stranraer in the old Scottish 2nd Division.

Tommy, or Tom as he was known to family and friends, was the son of Thomas, a blacksmith and Molly. With younger sister Margaret he was brought up in Stenhousemuir where he attended the local primary before going to Larbert High School.

In 1956 he met Carol Woods whom he married in March 1961 in Fallin Church and the couple enjoyed almost 60 years of happy marriage during which they had daughter Kim. Initially they lived in Fallin before moving to Bannockburn. After football Tommy worked as a tanker driver mostly with BP at Grangemouth prior to retiring in 1992.

Family was very important to him and time spent with grandson Ross was special. Other interests included gardening as well as being a keen golfer, a life member at Stirling Golf Club. He and Carol, who died in 2019, enjoyed foreign travel, particularly to Canada, Florida and Las Vegas.

Latter years were difficult through the loss of Carol and onset of dementia but Tommy will be warmly remembered as a quiet, unassuming complete gentleman, a caring and loyal friend to many. He is survived by Kim, son in law Greg and grandson Ross.