Jim Sharkey: Footballer whose potential remained unfulfilled despite his wiry elegance, his ability and his glorious imagination


Click to follow

Jim Sharkey was a footballer of flair and audacity, and if his career had panned out differently he might have been a Celtic hero of the ages.

Sadly, he never fully realised his vast potential and bowed out of Parkhead at the regrettably premature age of 23.

The elegant yet wirily resilient Glaswegian was a centre-forward or inside man blessed with sumptuous ability on the ball, his game a heady cocktail of slick skills, immaculate balance and glorious imagination. Though not pacy, he was a subtle dribbler, artistic passer and explosive shooter, and after joining the Bhoys in 1954 from Rutherglen Glencairn, he scored on his senior debut in a home encounter with Raith Rovers in October 1955, also setting up another goal for Matt McVittie with an extravagant dummy.

There was even better to come that Boxing Day, when Sharkey sparkled and struck twice in a 5-3 Glasgow Cup final replay victory over Rangers at Hampden Park, and fully-fledged stardom was beckoning.

 But then the plot began to go awry. In the following February he was so seriously hurt by a ball blasted into his face at Morton that he suffered black-outs for several months. He continued to play, though, only to be dropped from the team for the 1956 Scottish Cup final against Heart of Midlothian for an alleged misdemeanour involving sherry and, despite making an apology to the club, his star was suddenly in the descent.

Duly in November 1957, having scored eight goals in his 27 League and cup appearances, Sharkey was transferred to top-tier rivals Airdrie, where he was dubbed “The Tully of Broomfield”, a complimentary reference to his similarity in style to Celtic’s revered Charlie Tully. For four years he prospered with the Waysiders, inspiring them briefly to reach second place in the table in October 1958, only to leave in the spring of 1961 after being accused, ludicrously according to many contemporary observers, of not trying in a Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic.

Next he joined Raith but his impetus was dealt a shattering blow when he suffered a broken ankle, with nobody near him, against St Mirren at Love Street in January 1962.

Freed at the end of the season, thereafter he featured briefly for the Northern Irish club Portadown, before serving a succession of English non-League sides including Cambridge United, Wisbech Town, Corby Town, Bury Town, Newmarket Town and Girton United, for whom he was player-manager.

Later he worked as a porter at Pembroke College, Cambridge, though it was back at Parkhead, where he was once poised so tantalisingly on the threshold of success, that Jim Sharkey will be remembered most vividly.

James Sharkey, footballer; born Glasgow 12 February 1934; played for Celtic 1954-57, Airdrie 1957-61, St Mirren 1961-62, Portadown 1962; died 19 October 2014.