Trust Curator Tom Wright details the career and life of 2017 Hibernian Hall of Fame inductee Tommy Preston.
The long serving Tommy Preston was born in the Longstone area of Edinburgh on 23rd October 1932. Raised as a Hearts supporter, he was taken to nearby Tynecastle at an early age by his father who unfortunately was killed at Normandy in 1944 when Tommy was just eleven. He was a pupil at the local primary school before moving on to Boroughmuir Secondary, the same school that the legendary Lawrie Reilly had attended just a few years before.
Preston first played organised football with a local BB company before moving on to Juniper Thistle. It was while playing with the under-18 Lothian Amateur side that he was first spotted by the then Hibs director Wilson Terris who lived locally and recommended to Hibs manager Hugh Shaw.
Now training two nights a week at Easter Road, on a Saturday Preston would turn out for Edinburgh Thistle under the watchful eye of the legendary Hibs groundsman Harry Reading. He would later joke that after signing for Hibs he was shunned by his Hearts supporting friends in “Longstane” as he called it, but never for a minute did he regret joining the club, and he would always look back at his time at Easter Road with great affection.
While undergoing his national service with the RAF he was farmed out to the Junior side Newtongrange Star, but immediately on his demob he became a full time Hibs player, the contract actually signed before he left for the forces and kept in a drawer, an act that was strictly frowned upon by the authorities.
Immediately settling in to the full time routine at Easter Road, after just over a dozen games and four goals for the reserves, Preston made his first team debut at inside right on Saturday 17th April 1954 in a game against Celtic at Easter Road. He lined up alongside his favourite all-time Hibernian player Bobby Johnstone who was replacing the injured Gordon Smith on the right wing. With Reilly still recovering from the effects of Pleurisy, fellow debutant Jimmy Thomson was at centre forward facing the future Hibs manager Jock Stein. In an extremely tough baptism, both youngsters acquitted themselves well enough but could do little to prevent Celtic winning 3-0 to secure their first league championship since 1938. Preston would later relate that he had gone to the ground only as a spectator and had been stunned to be informed by manager Hugh Shaw that he would be playing that afternoon.
Preston was then included in the Hibernian party that left on a four game close season tour of Germany and Czechoslovakia. Reilly’s continuing absence gave Preston the opportunity to establish himself in the first team the following season at centre forward, a position he had never previously filled. However, after scoring nine goals in the first seven games, on Reilly’s eventual return to first team action, such had been Preston’s impact in the side that a place just had to be found for him and with the experienced Eddie Turnbull dropping back to wing half Preston took over at inside left.
In the first league game of the 1954/55 season, he scored Hibs equalising goal in a 1-1 draw at Ibrox playing in direct opposition to the legendary Rangers and Scotland centre half Willie Woodburn. It would turn out to be Woodburn’s last ever appearance for the Ibrox side. In midweek, he would receive a life ban by a disciplinary panel as the result of an assault on a Stirling Albion player several weeks before.
NICKNAMED 'PERFECT-PASS-PRESTON' BY HIS TEAMMATES BECAUSE OF HIS DEFT TOUCH, INCISIVE FOOTBALL BRAIN AND FANTASTIC PASSING ABILITY, THE VERSATILE PRESTON CONSIDERED HIMSELF MORE OF A CREATOR OF GOALS THAN GOALSCORER.
Nicknamed ‘Perfect-Pass-Preston’ by his teammates because of his deft touch, incisive football brain and fantastic passing ability, the versatile Preston considered himself more a creator of goals than goalscorer. This however didn’t prevent him from scoring many important goals for the club including four in Hibs record 11-1 away victory against Airdrie in 1959 and another couple a few weeks later in a 10-2 win against Partick Thistle at Firhill.
His most important goals however would probably be when he managed to score in both legs of Hibernian’s famous Fairs Cup victory over Barcelona during season 1960/61, a result that sent shock waves around the country and beyond. At that time, Hibs were languishing mid-table in the Scottish First Division, while the mighty Barcelona, who were then considered to be one of the best teams in the world, had just ended Real Madrid’s five year dominance of the European Cup. Preston would later say that as far as he was concerned, the 4-4 draw at the Nou Camp when Hibs had been leading 4-2 until just minutes from the end, was a far better result than the eventual 3-2 victory in an incident packed and controversial game at Easter Road.
His personal favourite goals however would be reserved for a game in Gorgie to inaugurate the opening of the Hearts floodlights in 1957 when he scored a hat-trick in Hibs’ 4-2 victory, the very young Joe Baker scoring the other and his first goal for the club. The former Hearts supporter Preston would later claim that there had been no better place to score a hat-trick than at Tynecastle.
Although international honours eluded him, he was named as travelling reserve for Scotland’s first ever under-23 game against England at Shawfield in February 1955. Selected to face the England’s under-23s at Hillsborough the following February, a Hibs Scottish Cup tie against Raith Rovers at Easter Road that same evening prevented him from taking his place in the Scottish side.
It was not only on the football field that Preston took the eye. It was around this time that his good looks saw him commissioned for a series of fashion articles in The Scotsman newspaper as a part time male model, featuring the latest styles at the C&A ‘Pageant of Fashion’ at the Waverley Market in Edinburgh. It is not known what comments his involvement drew from his teammates in the Easter Road dressing room.
He was a member of the unfancied Hibs side that not only defeated odds on favourites Hearts 4-3 in a Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle in 1958, Joe Baker famously scoring all four goals, but also in the final itself where they would lose 1-0 to Clyde. Yet another memorable highlight was Hibs Scottish Cup victory over Peebles Rovers at Easter Road in 1961. Although he was the only one of the Hibs forwards not to score that afternoon, he helped to set up several of Joe Baker’s nine goals in Hibs 15-1 victory as the centre forward tried desperately to better brother Gerry’s ten against Glasgow University in the same competition the previous season.
After Eddie Turnbull’s surprise resignation in 1963, the experienced Preston was installed as acting trainer with the promise of the job on a permanent basis on his retirement. However, after over ten years at Easter Road, he would be among the players freed by the new Hibs manager Jock Stein at the end of the following season. His last first team appearance for Hibs was at left half in a 3-1 defeat at Aberdeen on Saturday 28th March 1964, Neil Martin scoring Hibs solitary goal.
Signed by St Mirren as a player-coach with the added responsibility of training the youngsters in the evenings, one of his protégées the young future Scotland player Archie Gemmill, a fall out with the chairman hastened his end at Love Street after just one league game for the Paisley side.
Disillusioned, Preston would turn his back on a game he had graced with distinction to become a travelling salesman. Later, he would enter the pub trade as a host at several hostelries around the town including the Travellers Rest in the city centre and Tommy Younger’s in Leith Walk, before taking over the Annfield bar in Newhaven with his partner Janet.
A member of the Hibernian Former Players Association, latterly Tommy was to be found at Easter Road on most match days as a guest of the club.
In an Easter Road career spanning the years 1953-1964, the versatile player occupied several positions in the side, most notably inside left or left half, scoring 35 goals in 228 league appearances and 50 goals in all competitions from 316 games.
He died on 16th April 2015 aged 82. In 2017, Tommy Preston was inducted into the Hibernian Hall of Fame, an event hosted at The George Hotel in Edinburgh.
Written by Tom Wright