Frank Thompson Part 2

Gavan Bergin

“Genius and perseverance until the last gasp”
(The Glasgow Herald, February 1913)

Frank Thompson had great success playing for the Irish international team.
He made his international debut for Ireland in their British Championship match against England, at the Solitude ground in Belfast on February 12th 1910. He was brilliant in that game: he attacked smartly, using his pace and craft to cause havoc in the English defence. They were holding on, though, and seemed certain to reach halftime on level terms until, Frank set off on yet another run, flying forward on the left wing, but now, instead of going straight for the corner when he passed the halfway line, he suddenly swerved infield and sped into the box, where he made a towering jump to win the aerial battle and smash the ball into the net, scoring with what the Sheffield Daily Post called “a perfect header“.
That 43rd minute goal by Frank meant that the half-time score was 1-0 to Ireland. That advantage was the least the Irish team deserved from their first half performance, and when they flew out of the traps at the start of the second half it looked like they would double their lead in no time. Frank did the same thing he did before the break: he ran hard, taking the attack to English defenders. But although they were rattled and shaken, they didn’t roll over and in the end they survived the Ireland onslaught without conceding a second goal.
England fought their way back into the game and their recovery was rewarded when they scored the equalising goal within ten minutes of the second half. At that point England were surely favourites to press on, with Ireland being forced into desperate defending for the remaining 35 minutes of the game. But, immediately after the equaliser, Frank got forward and scurried through towards the box, then played the ball in for Lacey who came agonisingly close to scoring. That move wasn’t quite the last Ireland attack in the match, but as more time passed with the score all square, holding on to the draw became the main aim, so the Irish forwards began to concentrate on staying back to help their defenders. They did a fine job of it too, and when the final whistle sounded Ireland had a very hard earned 1-1 draw. That was the first time Ireland had avoided defeat in their opening British Championship game since 1905.
His impressive debut performance earned Frank a place in Ireland’s next Championship match, against Scotland, at Windsor Park in Belfast on March 19th 1910. Scotland were Championship leaders, having beaten Wales in their first match, and they were favourites to beat Ireland, who they had thrashed 5-0 the year before. But, this time, as the Glasgow Herald reported “Ireland were early on the aggressive side, with Thompson and Renneville leading the charge and giving the Scottish defence plenty to do.” And the first chance of the match came quickly, in the fifth minute, when Ireland’s inside-right, Renneville, played a low, hard cross from the right side of the area that sent the ball whizzing into the crowded goalmouth area, past many a lunging boot as it rolled all the way through the box then skidded out again on the far left side, where Frank nipped in to intercept. Gathering the ball in his stride, he controlled it and in the same movement he took the shot, a sharp daisy-cutter with his left foot that went a whisker wide of the post.
That close call seemed to stir the opposition players into action, as the Glasgow Herald reported: “after Ireland’s near miss, Scotland responded with their first attack of the match from a long goal kick by their keeper Brownlie who punted the ball upfield to Quinn, the inside-forward, who took it and advanced deep into Irish territory until he was fouled a few yards outside the box. From the resulting free kick, Quinn got in a shot on target- but the Irish goalie cleared his lines and played the ball upfield, Thompson obtained and after cleverly dodging the defenders, he sent in a hot shot which the goalkeeper cleared with difficulty.”
Having forced those scoring chances with his tireless running and deft touch on the ball, Frank kept on attacking the Scottish defence, helping Ireland force the pace throughout the opening stages of the match. They dominated the first half, and Scotland were barely hanging on when half time came with the score still at 0-0. The second half started in the same way as the first had ended, with Ireland on the offensive. They had already made a couple of dangerous attacks in the early part of the second half but didn’t manage to break through the Scottish back line until the passage of play in the 54th minute of the game when Frank and the Irish forward line “by clever football made considerable ground, Renneville playing the pass from the right across the goalmouth to Thompson who dashed in with a ready boot to drive the ball into the net, thus registering Ireland’s first goal against Scotland in five years. The young man from Cliftonville had given his team a well deserved lead. At this stage Ireland were playing a winning game, and try as they might Scotland could make no impression on the Irish defence.”
Ireland held on to their lead, and when the final whistle sounded they had won the match 1-0. That victory meant that for the first time ever Ireland went into their third match of the tournament still in contention to win the trophy.
Considering the impact Frank had made in his first two international games, it was a ‘given’ that he would be selected again for Ireland’s last Championship, against Wales, in Wrexham on April 11th 1910. Having already done the business against the English and the Scots, it stood to reason that Frank would put manners on the Welsh, who had lost both their games so far. All Ireland needed was a draw, just one measly point, to win the trophy for the first time, but they blew it. Wales won 4-1. Even though they lost that game Ireland still ended up coming second, and that was their best showing so far in a British Championship.
Frank’s outstanding play in that tournament established him as Ireland’s first choice outside-left, and from then on he was an essential part of the Irish attack. He played in eight of Ireland’s nine international matches over the next few years, maintaining a consistently high standard of performance. Unfortunately Ireland as a team were nowhere near as consistent during that period of time and they had miserably poor Championships in 1911, 1912 and 1913.
However, about Ireland’s 1913 Championship game against England, the Glasgow Herald said: “Ireland were a dashing side, with more stamina than they had ever shown in any international game. They fought all the way and, even after England took the lead in the tenth minute, the Irishmen never looked out of it. They concentrated attacks and got their reward with the equalising goal just before half time. They kept at it in the second half and duly took the lead in the 75th minute. From then on Ireland clung tenaciously to their advantage, thanks in large part to Thompson who was a midfielder, a forward and a defender when the English forwards lost their heads, he showed genius coupled with perseverance until the last gasp.”
That report shows how important Frank was to the Ireland team. But he would have to prove himself again in the tournament the following year.
After their grand victory over England in 1913, there was optimism about Ireland’s chances in the 1914 British Championship. Their first match of the tournament was away to Wales, in Wrexham on January 19th 1914. Ireland handled their task superbly, with a calm professional performance that produced a 2-1 win, which was their first victory in six games against the Welsh. It was an ideal start for Ireland, and gave them cause for confidence going into their next match, which was likely to be the toughest of the lot.
Ireland’s second match of the Championship was against England at Middlesbrough on February 14th 1914. On that day, a crowd of 25,000 witnessed an absolutely top class performance by the Irish team, who took the game to England from the first whistle. Five minutes was all it took for Ireland to score, with a goal by Lacey, and thereafter they battered England like never before. During the first half an hour the Irish attack dominated the play, and in the 36th minute they made another raid down the left which ended with Frank scampering clear to play a perfect cross into the path of Gillespie who stuck the ball in the net for Ireland’s second goal. At half-time it was 2-0 to Ireland, which was no less than they deserved.
After half-time, the pattern of the game was as it had been in the first, with Ireland ascendent and Frank in fine fettle. Twice, early in the second half he got forward and fired powerful long shots, the second of them earning a corner that almost led to a goal for Ireland. It didn’t come on that occasion, but surely it was on its way, and with ten minutes to go in the game, Ireland made another swift left wing attack that ended with Frank playing in Lacey for his second goal. Ireland 3, England 0! And that was how it finished, with “England ignominiously thrashed by the Irishmen” according to the Glasgow Herald.
Frank’s starring role in that thrashing was recognised in the newspaper match reports. The Yorkshire Star, which said: “the English defence was hapless against Thompson, who was too clever for them. He was the best winger on the field.”
Ireland now had two wins from two games and they could win the Championship for the first time if they avoided defeat in their final match of the tournament, against Scotland at Windsor Park in Belfast on March 14th 1914. Ireland started that game well, as reported in the Glasgow Herald: “At first the Irish did the bulk of the pressing and reached an excellent standard. Their forwards brought out the best in the Scottish defence, and were seemingly in the ascendant – but once Scotland settled down they set up a series of clever attacks.”
It was an even contest all the way, and neither side could get a clear chance until the 70th minute when Scotland got forward quickly and scored: a goal that surely broke the hearts of the 31,000 who were packed into Windsor Park and had been desperately hoping for an Irish triumph at last. Now, a goal behind, and with a mere twenty minutes of the match remaining, the situation was grim for Ireland. For the next ten minutes it looked like they’d thrown it all away again Then, in the 80th minute, Frank made a trademark wide run deep into the Scottish half, leaving his marker for dead as he broke towards the corner, then turned and played a terrific cross that sent the ball into the box for the onrushing Irish centre-forward, Young, who took it and scored the equalising goal.1-1!
When the ball went in, “the crowd went almost mad with enthusiasm and excitement,” according to the Glasgow Herald. That reaction was justified by the significance of the goal, which rescued the game and saved the day for Ireland. From the moment of the equaliser, they coolly held on to what they had: the point that gave them a total of five points from three games and on top of the tournament table and confirmed the momentous occasion. Ireland were British Championship winners at last.
The 1914 championship win with Ireland, was of course the biggest achievement of Frank’s international career so far, but at that time there was good reason to think that it would not be the last major trophy he would win with his country. The ‘14 Irish team was packed with very good young players who could make Ireland Championship contenders for years to come. And, while Frank was 28 years old then, he still had a few years left at the top and could play his part in helping the Irish cause.
Unfortunately for Frank and Ireland, they never even got the chance to defend their title the following year, due to the outbreak of war in 1914. The four years of conflict between 1914 and 1918 were snatched from the international careers of every player, and that champion team never played together again. By the time the war was over, Frank was 33 and past his peak. He never played for Ireland again.
He retired from playing at the age of 40. For the last two years of his playing career he had been Clyde FC’s player/manager, and he then became their manager full time. He took over for the 1925/26 season, when they were in Division Two, and his impact on the team was immediately positive. In his first season in charge Clyde were promoted to Division One, and they also won the Glasgow Cup by beating Celtic 2-1 in the final. Frank continued to do a magnificent job for Clyde over the next ten years, keeping them in the top division all that time.
In early 1935 he moved to Ayr United, where he kept up his good work. He guided Ayr to the Division Two championship and promotion to the top flight in 1936. They were still there in 1939, when the Scottish League was suspended due to the Second World War. Frank came home to Ireland. He managed Glentoran until the war ended, then he went back to Ayr with whom he finished his career in football.
He retired having won many trophies including the Irish League twice, the Irish Cup twice, the FA Cup and the British Championship as a player- plus the Glasgow Cup and the Scottish Division Two championship as a manager.
Frank died in 1950.