A Rangers title winner, WW2 soldier, Mexican league player, and had a daughter who worked with Margaret Thatcher


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Tom McKillop was born in Dreghorn, Ayrshire on October 27th 1917, one of twin boys. Sadly, his twin William did not survive long, so he grew up as youngest of 4 siblings. His football career started with his local team Dreghorn Juniors, where he was good enough to become a regular in their defence at just 16 years of age. His performances alerted senior clubs, and in 1935 he was signed by Bill Struth for Rangers.

The great Davie Meiklejohn was now in the twilight of his career, and Struth had high hopes the Ayrshire youngster possessed all the qualities to one day become a similar fixture in the team. And it wasn't long before he was given his debut. With a Glasgow Cup final against Celtic the following week, Struth decided to rest his first choice centre half Jimmy Simpson on October 5th 1935 in an Ibrox league game against Dunfermline, pitching the 17 year old into the first team in the centre of the defence but with the experience of Meiklejohn guiding him. Rangers cruised to a 6-2 victory, McKillop doing well enough to earn praise, but obviously still well short of being a genuine challenger for a regular place. Struth's team selections paid off though, when Rangers then won 2-0 in the Old Firm final. Young McKillop only made one more start in 1935/36, in a draw against Queens Park. He spent most of the season in the reserves, learning his trade at the most successful club in the country. Rangers gave up their title to Celtic, and the legendary Meiklejohn retired a Scottish Cup winner.

Season 1936/37 was to be when Tom McKillop put that learning to good use. He started one game in August, but it was in December Struth turned to him after a combination of mixed results and injuries, and he grabbed it. His first 2 starts back in the defence saw convincing wins over Falkirk and Hibs, and Struth kept faith in the 19 year old for the New Year derby. In front of almost 95,000 at Ibrox a half back line of McKillop, Simpson and Brown shut out the Celtic attack as an Alex Venters strike won the points. McKillop was a virtual ever present till the end of the season, scoring his first goal in a 4-1 win at Fir Park, and earning his first league medal with 17 starts as Rangers romped to their 23rd title.

1937/38 saw McKillop play in 29 league games, but Rangers were blighted by inconsistency, finishing a disappointing third. He did win a Glasgow Cup medal, however, playing in the final win over Third Lanark. He did, however, become a Scottish international player when selected against Holland in May 1938, his only cap.
The following season started badly, but ended in triumph. An early season visit to Parkhead saw McKillop line up alongside a young centre half called Willie Woodburn in a horrendous 6-2 defeat, but he gained revenge at New Year when he played in the famous 2-1 win in front of the all time Ibrox attendance of over 118,000. The season ended with a second league medal as Rangers coasted 11 points clear.

The final league game of 1938/39 against Aberdeen was to be the last "official" league game of his Rangers career. McKillop missed the start of the following season, which saw the league halted after a handful of games as War was declared. He played 34 games under the temporary format put in place in 1939/40, winning the Glasgow Cup final against Queens Park, the War Emergency Cup final against Dundee United (in front of 90,000 at Hampden), and the Western League championship.

In 1940, Tom McKillop enlisted in the Army which meant a few guest appearances in Royal Blue, but these stopped when he was stationed down south. In between his active service, he guested for a number of English teams, with most appearances for little Cowes FC, the nearest football club to him when he was stationed on the Isle of Wight. He captained them for a season, and such was the impact he made, that when he was moved to new surroundings the club fans and officials held a collection that raised £7 10s.

After the war, he made 2 last Rangers appearances in December 1945, his 124th and last game being a 3-0 win at Falkirk at right back in a defence featuring Jock Shaw, Willie Woodburn and Scot Symon.

In May 1946, William Raeside, the Scottish coach of Mexican first division club Asturias FC, had come home to recruit players. The three he targeted were approaching the end of their careers and were all able to negotiate free transfers. Jackie Milne was player-manager of Dumbarton after a career with Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal (where he was part of the team that won the Football League in 1937/38) and Middlesbrough. Jimmy Hickie was an established defender with Clyde, winning the Scottish Cup in 1939. And the third was Tom McKillop.

After a rush to get passports and negotiate their release from their clubs, they duly set off for Mexico in June 1946, flying from Prestwick via New York in an era when transatlantic air travel was a rare luxury. They were immediately pitched into the Asturias side for a cup-tie. Asturias was a mid-table Mexican side when they joined league and there was to be no fairy tale season as their league position hardly changed, finishing ninth in 1946/47. Still, it was a great experience and the three were preparing for the second year of their contracts when the club's Spanish and American owners suddenly withdrew their support. The players were effectively abandoned and had to return home.

Nonetheless, they all spoke of it as a wonderful experience, away from the shortages of post-war Britain. They lodged with a Scottish couple in the Lomas district of Mexico City, and found that food was plentiful, while the city was booming. The football took some getting used to - there were stories of mass fights and appalling refereeing - but they fitted in well.

There was to be one more football adventure before McKillop hung up his boots. On returning to the UK, after a brief spell, back in Scotland, he accepted a contract from Welsh club Rhyl. Although not greatly successful, he enjoyed the town so much that after retiring he remained a resident, and even returned to the club for a spell as manager.

If being a title winning Rangers player, a War veteran, a first Scot to play in Mexico and a manager in Wales wasn't enough, Tom McKillop had one more claim to fame. His daughter Liz, who was born in Kilwinning in 1947 but raised in Wales, became one of the top Civil Servants in Britain. She worked closely with Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, playing an important role in Government Communications during the Falklands war. She then moved to the Scottish Office where she helped create the Government response to the Dunblane shootings, before resigning soon after the 1997 election when uneasy at the direction of the new Labour regime.

Tom McKillop died in Bromley in February 1984, aged 66. A life worth remembering.


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Phew Tom McKillop was a busy man by all accounts nearly as busy as yourself, thanks for a really interesting read and the detailed knowledge about Tom McKillop.

Mason Boyne

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The best bit about these threads is reading the headline and trying to guess , “ who is he talking about this time?” Superp stuff .


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Thank you.
These posts are bery much appreciated, always interesting and informative.
I've heard Dreghorn in Ayrshire is staunch, despite a certain female politician coming from there..:p
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