Position Inside Forward
A distinguished, if sometimes underrated component of the Hibernian side which became the first British team to compete in the European Cup, Preston first broke into the feted Famous Five side in 1954; just as the club’s post-war trophy-laden dominance was coming to an end.
Tommy Preston never hid the fact that he was born and raised in Longstone – Hearts territory – and as a boy kicking a ball around the playground of Longstone Primary, his dreams of football glory had him in a maroon rather than a green and white strip.
The young Tommy was dux at Longstone, going on to Boroughmuir High School, but, while ’Muir has more of a rugby pedigree, the teenaged Preston continued to favour the round ball, playing with distinction for Juniper Thistle, with whom he won the Scottish Under-18 Youth Cup, then Edinburgh Thistle.
He did his national service in the Royal Air Force, before, back in civvy street, he was spotted by Hugh Shaw, the great Hibs manager, who signed him in October 1953. As was so often the case back then, Tommy was farmed out to Newtongrange Star.
Back at Easter Road, he made his first-team debut against Celtic in the League, towards the end of season 1953/54. It was not an auspicious occasion, the Hoops leaving Easter Road with a 3-0 win, on 17 April, 1954, a victory which clinched the League Championship.
Preston had been flung in at the deep end, his immediate opponent that day being the great Bobby Evans. The following season saw the break-up of the great league-winning Hibs team, and in particular the legendary Famous Five. During the campaign, Preston would find himself lining up alongside the fabled quintet or filling in when one was absent.
During the 1954/55 League Cup campaign, he scored the first of an eventual 50 Hibs goals, against East Fife. With Bobby Johnstone gone, and injuries reducing the impact of the remaining four, there were opportunities for the younger Hibs players to fill the gaps. A few were tried and failed, but, gradually, Preston began to impress.
Primarily an inside forward, he was willing to play anywhere for the club, even performing with distinction as a replacement for Lawrie Reilly as the great striker sat out a lengthy spell of injury. Preston was a member of the Hibs XI which was the first British team to compete in the European Cup, in season 1955/56, playing in the opening tie, against Rot-Weiss Essen and playing a full part in Hibs’ run to that season’s semi-final.
He was a member of the Hibs side that lost to Clyde in the 1958 Scottish Cup final. In fact, it was a Preston goal that put Hibs ahead in the semi-final against Rangers. The Ibrox side fought back from 2-0 down to force a replay, but Hibs would not be denied, winning the replay and going on to face Clyde in the final. This, however, would be yet another tale of Scottish Cup heartbreak for Hibs; they had to play virtually the whole game with ten and a bit men, after an early injury to Andy Aitken.
Hibs continued to feature in Europe as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, with Preston earning his place in Easter Road folklore with a goal in each leg as they beat Barcelona in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1960/61. His goal put Hibs 3-2 in front at Camp Nou, a match which ended 4-4. Back at Easter Road, he equalised at 2-2 in a great Hibs fight-back to win 3-2, courtesy of Bobby Kinloch’s late and controversial penalty.
Tommy Preston had a knack of scoring against big European teams playing in green and white. He also netted against Valencia in a 2-1 win under the Easter Road floodlights in 1963.
Tommy Preston had a knack of scoring against big European teams for Hibs, such as the game against Valencia in 1963
Preston was an under-rated player, never being touted for representative honours. He was a great club man, becoming one of the senior professionals at the club and encouraging the youngsters such as Pat Stanton who were signed. His return of 50 goals in 313 games is not great, but he had his moments.
Any Hibs player who can score a hat-trick in an Edinburgh Derby, as Preston did in 1957, in the first derby played under the Tynecastle floodlights, is assured of an honoured place in Hibs folklore. He also, in an 11-1 win over Airdrie in season 1959/60, hit the net four times. It was alleged that he lacked pace, but, his football brain worked at express speed; he timed his runs to perfection and he established a great understanding with Joe Baker during the England centre forward’s time at Hibs.
Preston served the club for more than a decade, Jock Stein releasing him at the end of the 1963/64 season, before running down his senior career with a disappointing season at St Mirren.
After football he entered the licenced trade, taking charge of the Travellers Rest at the bus station, the Loch Inn at Lochend and, latterly, the Annfield in Newhaven. During this period he was married to Cath, but the marriage failed. He found new happiness with Janet, with whom he ran the Annfield which was then run by her sons. He enjoyed bowls and dominoes and was an active member of the Hibernian Former Players Association and a frequent visitor to Easter Road to watch the club which had taken him to its heart.
Preston sadly passed away in 2015, with Chairman Rod Petrie leading the tributes: “Tommy Preston was a true Hibernian great and he will be dearly missed by everyone at Easter Road.
“He remained a regular in the Director’s Box at Easter Road until the past few weeks, and his presence was always something to be enjoyed. Our sincere condolences go to Tommy’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
A much loved and respected member of the Hibernian family, Tommy will be missed by everybody at Easter Road. His memory marches on…
Full name Thomas Baxter Preston
Date of birth 3rd October 1932
Place of birth Longstone, Edinburgh, Scotland