Football‎ > ‎

Alex Jackson: A free-lance footballer

posted 4 Oct 2019, 06:20 by Roy McDonald   [ updated 4 Oct 2019, 06:20 ]

In an earlier article, I featured the occasion of the record attendance at Hope Street, for the F.A. Cup Preliminary round match against Ashton National, in September 1932. Supporters crowded into the ground keen to see Ashton’s star player, the former Huddersfield and Chelsea player, Alec Jackson.

In this feature, I look, in more detail, at the man they had come to see. This feature was included in the programme for the Prescot Cables v Widnes game on 24th September 2019.

Alexander Skinner Jackson's rise to fame was meteoric. He was born in 1905, at Renton, a small town North West of Glasgow, and in 1922, joined Dumbarton from his junior team Renton Victoria, for the princely sum of a new leather football. The following year he visited Pennsylvania with his elder brother, Wattie, who was also a competent footballer. The brothers joined the Bethlehem Steels team in the American Soccer League, and Alec soon eclipsed his elder brother as a star player in the team.

After a year away, Alec returned to Scotland and played, again, for Dumbarton, but it was not long before he was signed by Aberdeen. His play for the Dons brought him almost immediate International honours. (In 1928, he would become the first player to score a hat trick at Wembley, as a member of the Scotland side which trounced England, 5–1.)

At the beginning of the 1925/26 season Huddersfield Town won the race to sign the mercurial young Scot, ahead of Bolton, Everton, Aston Villa, Sunderland and Liverpool. Alec enjoyed a successful time with the Yorkshire club, - in his five years there they won the league in his first season, and also finished second, twice, and reached two FA Cup finals. He even released a cup final record, discussing Huddersfield’s chances in the 1930 FA Cup Final against Arsenal!

Then, in a portent of more recent times, Chelsea tried to buy their way to success, and in September 1930, they paid a fee in the region of £8,500 to Huddersfield to secure the transfer of “football’s number one personality boy”. Though proving an enormous attraction at Stamford Bridge, he rarely revealed his best form for The Pensioners.

In April 1932, Chelsea dropped a bombshell announcing that they had decided not to re-engage Jackson, and had placed him on the open-to-transfer list with fee of £6,000 on his head. It was widely considered that this was a punishment following a disciplinary issue in an away game at Manchester City, late in the season. However, a French team, Nimes, had made Jackson (and several other players) a very lucrative offer. Alec had threatened to accept it unless Chelsea broke the wage cap in operation at the time. Chelsea refused and placed him on the transfer list.

Despite being a the peak of his career, and aged just 26, the high transfer fee meant that no club was prepared to take on the star, but it, effectively, left Alec as a free agent to go anywhere he pleased, as long as it was outside the jurisdiction of the Football League.

Aware of his situation, Mr. Robert Hartley, the ambitious chairman of the Ashton National Club made an audacious bid to sign the Scottish international. The problem was they didn’t know how to contact him! They had read in the newspapers that he had been injured at Aldershot, where he was in camp with the London Territorials. Taking a chance, the club sent a telegram addressed to “Lieut. Jackson, Territorial Training Camp, Aldershot”, asking him to telephone the Snipe Inn, Audenshaw, at ten o'clock that night, to discuss terms. Jackson made the call and a meeting was arranged in London, the following day, where he agreed to join the Cheshire League side.

In newspaper articles at the time, Jackson explained his reasons. Chelsea held his transfer at fee of £6,000, and if he wanted to return to League football the fee still held good. He was the landlord of a pub in London’s Covent Garden, had interests in a hotel in nearby Leicester Square and wrote a syndicated newspaper column. He made no secret of the fact that his motivation was financial, “My income will easily top anything I have had before. It will quite likely make me the highest paid footballer in the country. I shall be paid far more than it is possible for any man in the Football League to be paid. The League maximum is £8 a week and I hope to get three or four times as much as that.”

“This experiment of mine is, largely, as a result of a desire to make money, but I am just as anxious make some kind of protest against the transfer scheme which makes it possible for Chelsea to order me out telling me they do not want me to play for them this season and to put me on the transfer list at a price which nobody will pay. I cannot play in the Football League until it is settled, but I have got to live, so I have accepted this contract. I have always disagreed with the fixing of a maximum wage for the professional footballer. By all means maintain a minimum wage in all jobs, but to limit the pay a man may demand is an aggressive scheme designed for the sole benefit of the clubs. If a star footballer attracts a big gate, he should be paid for his attractions. Nowadays, he is a public entertainer like a theatre artist. In this offer I see a chance of testing my theories.”

"l have agreed to play for Ashton National for four weeks. It is an experiment for both parties. The club see possibilities in exploiting a star player as an attraction, just as League cricket clubs have done. For my own part, I stand or fall by my own value. I shall get what I am worth, no more and no less.  If this four-week contract proves the idea to be sound, the club and I are going to arrange future terms on the basis that I get what I am worth. I am in strict training, and I shall give the crowd value for their money.“

He said, “Business in London prevents me from training with the Ashton team, but thanks to the efforts of friends who are willing to pace me with motor-cars all round Richmond Park, I shall manage to be 100 per cent fit for my first game.”

The signing created considerable interest in non-league football circles, and the “box office” appeal of a star player did, indeed, boost attendances at Ashton’s games, and also benefited their opponents when Ashton played away – for example, the record attendance at Prescot Cables for the FA Cup tie. By playing in the FA Cup for Ashton, Jackson had immediately decreased his potential value for another league club, as being “cup-tied” they would only be able to call on him for League games. One can only imagine the reaction this would’ve had in the Chelsea boardroom!

The early signs of success and increased gate receipts were sufficiently encouraging that both parties quickly agreed to extend the arrangement to the end of the season.

By mid-October, Jackson was writing in his newspaper column, “I have never enjoyed football so much as I have since my audacious adventure of this August. The men who control my new club are genuine sportsmen, and have treated me generously. L am receiving thrice the maximum wage of an English league player. My comrades are good players. We possess an abundance of the right sort of team spirit.”

However, in February 1933, with National sitting in second place in the Cheshire League, the directors at Ashton informed Alec that the agreed contract, guaranteeing him 10% of the gate, or a minimum of £15 a week, plus expenses, was beyond the sound finances of the club. Jackson's reply was immediate. “I could not allow them to be out of pocket over me. I decided to rip up the contract. They have been very sporting to me, and have treated me very well, so I thought it was the best thing to do to help save them.”

It seems that once the novelty wore off, and with Jackson missing a number of games through a series of injuries, attendances at National Park had started to slide. The Ashton National manager lambasted the Ashton public for their failure “to repay us for our enterprise in signing such a famous player”.

However, there would be no reconciliation with Chelsea and Jackson joined Margate in the Kent League, who paid him £10 a week, plus expenses, for the remainder of the season, although another injury cut short his time there.

In the summer of 1933, and with Chelsea still seeking £4,000 for his registration he signed for OGC Nice for one season before moving on to Le Touquet, and giving up on football altogether at the age of only 28. The man who had been dubbed the best player in football a mere three years earlier may have made his point about the worth of star players, but, ultimately football lost one of it’s brightest stars far too soon.

During the Second World War Jackson, who still had a commission in the Territorials, fought in the Eighth Army in North Africa, and after being injured in Libya, he became Garrison Adjutant at Abbassia Barracks, Cairo, where, in a soccer match against a Springbok eleven he played righthalf, at the age of 37. The Garrison won 13—3.

After becoming a welfare officer in an Eighth Army rest camp in Italy, he harboured ambitions to promote a footballing tour of the UK with an Eighth Army football side. “An Eighth Army side would be a big attraction back home," he said. “Sportsmen everywhere would consider it an opportunity to pay tribute to the boys out here, while war charities would benefit enormously”.

At the end of the war, and by now, a Major, he extended his stay in Africa, and was assigned to the Suez Zone. In November 1946, he was driving a truck near the Suez Canal, when he lost control and overturned, suffering serious head injuries.

Aged just 41, Alec Jackson died in a Cairo hospital three days later. He left a wife and 10 year old twins.