An appreciation: Tommy Mulgrew

By SFC Media time Mon 01 Feb Club

Club historian David Bull remembers Tommy Mulgrew, who has died aged 86.

When Motherwell-born Tommy Mulgrew joined Third Division Southampton from Newcastle in the summer of 1954, he was a man in a hurry. A hurry to set club records. His first record took him only 15 seconds of the season’s opener at home to Brentford, when he scored the fastest-ever goal at The Dell. 

His second landmark, come Christmas, was less enviable but, as it turned out, undeserved. When he was sent off at Highfield Road, along with Coventry’s Simpson, Tommy became the first Saint to be dismissed, post-war – the first since 1933, in fact. An FA hearing exonerated both players, however. 

Taking over as manager, the following season, Ted Bates set about building a promotion-winning forward-line around inside-left Mulgrew, first converting Derek Reeves to centre-forward; then blooding teenage wingers, Terry Paine and John Sydenham; and finally buying George O’Brien, the icing on a nicely-baked cake, in 1959. Never mind that the team conceded 75 goals in 1959/60; they scored 106 and went up as champions.

Training at The Dell with full-back Ron Davies and George O’Brien (right), the icing on Ted Bates’s cake.

When I last met Tommy in July 2004, it was in his branch library in Northampton, where a room had been set aside for me to reminisce with their regular visitor. Tommy enthused about “the good camaraderie” in the promotion team that knew “no disputes”. There was certainly much mutual admiration among the high-scoring forwards. Tommy rated Reeves as “better than Milburn”, the legend he had played alongside at Newcastle, while O’Brien thought Tommy “an honest player: he knew what he could do and what he couldn’t. You could play with him”. Tommy found Sydenham “the easiest one to play with, because I just used to get the ball and hit it at the corner-flag. John was so fast. Pwsh! And he was off!” 

He liked his other winger, too: Paine was “a smashing lad” and “a classy player”. Terry remains appreciative of Tommy, in his turn – not only as “a good footballer; a good header of the ball,” but as “a lovely guy, full of fun” off the field. Arriving at The Dell as a callow innocent abroad, Terry valued the way that Tommy – a seasoned pro, 10 years his senior – welcomed him to the club and would often take him home for lunch after Friday training. “It was always fish,” Terry remembers, chuckling at his teenage ignorance in not twigging that Tommy and his wife, Betty, were following Catholic custom.  

Tommy demonstrates his heading ability, to bag the Saints’ seventh goal in their 7-1 FA Cup win vs Ipswich in 1961

The goals would keep coming in Division II. In March 1962, Tommy would score twice vs Leeds to bring his Southampton total to 100 goals, a milestone achieved by only 12 other Saints – including, amazingly, that entire 1960 forward-line, bar Sydenham. Then, after 330 games for the Saints, Tommy would leave for three seasons with Fourth Division Aldershot, before winding down in the Hampshire League at Andover. 

He then returned to Northampton, where his English Football League career had begun, and worked as a groundsman for a local steel company. In his retirement, he frequented his local library – and even held audience there.


13 April 1929 - 12 January 2016

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