The Jack Vernon Story
1947-15.03-West Ham-Jack Vernon Debut
Down the years Albion have had many inspirational leaders, amongst them Jesse Pennington, Bobby McNeal, Freddie Reed, Tommy Glidden, Len Millard and John Wile. However, none were more inspirational that ‘Twinkletoes’ Jack Vernon. With all this seasonal weather around, it made me cast my mind back to the winter of 1947, when the Irish ‘Prodigal son’ first set foot in the Borough of West Bromwich. Of course I remember it well, especially as big ‘Jack’ made his debut just down the road from me at Upton Park in March 1947, just three weeks before I entered the world. Suffice to say I never met him, indeed never saw him play, his Albion career was long over before my blood turned ‘Blue and white’ in May 1954. However, he has long since been an Albion hero, and I feel I have to pay homage to the great man in some small way.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in September 1919, Jack grew up in a community, where Gaelic football very much dominated the sporting scene, and anyone who played Association football, or ‘soccer’ as it was known in Ireland, was frowned upon. Indeed, you either played one, or the other. The general rule being, that if you played in a soccer match, then you were automatically suspended from the Gaelic football association, as Jack revealed in magazine article of November 1949.
He explained, that from an early age, it was Association football that held his interest, and when he decided to take up ‘soccer’, as he called it, he was warned, that he ran the risk of being barred from the Gaelic version of the game. A version, which in fairness, bore no similarity with ‘association football’ at all. Well, Jack was not to be deterred, and he joined junior club Dundella, in his native Belfast. His ‘crime’ as he called it, was complete, and indeed true to their word the Gaelic Football Association barred him ‘for life’ from ever competing in their version of the game again.
1949-50-The late great Jack Vernon-Wilkes
He explained in the article, “My ‘crime’ was to make up the numbers in a ‘soccer’ team. I turned out at inside right, for a junior club, taking part in a summer league match. Unfortunately, I was spotted by officials of the Gaelic Football Association, and they read me the ‘riot act’”
Still being a youngster, they, (the Gaelic Football Authority) gave Jack a chance to redeem himself, but his mind was made up, and his ‘sporting path’ was well and truly chosen. Jack reflected, “That warning, in itself, would have been enough to make me play again, out of sheer bravado. The truth was I liked football, so I defied the authority, played soccer again, and was duly suspended.”
Jack joined Dundella, as an inside right at first, but reverted back to centre half, remaining there for the rest of his career. He was ‘spotted’ by Belfast Celtic, who he joined, and of course, signed for Albion, from them, in February 1947, for a bargain £9,500, on a five year contract. A deal, Secretary Alan Everiss later confirmed, was ‘money well spent’.
A jovial ‘fella’, with a wicked sense of humour. In his junior days, prior to joining ‘the Baggies’ Jack played several times against the great Tommy Lawton, the then custodian of the England ‘slot’ at centre-forward. Lawton frequently travelling to Ireland, to play football, during the war-years. He reflected on his games against the England leader, “I always managed to have a good game, and apparently impressed the officials who were looking on.” “Poor Tommy” he continued, “ He must have found every game, extra strenuous, with every unknown centre-half he met, straining every nerve to stop him.” Jack concluded, with an ‘Irish twinkle’in his eye, “I was rather more successful than the others.”
With ‘The Baggies’, Jack went on to amass 200 first team appearances at the club, scoring one goal, a Christmas Day winner at Hillsborough, against Sheffield Wednesday, in 1948. That was of course. Albion’s promotion season, when ‘Big Jack’ led Albion back to the First Division. This great player, was capped 22 times for his country, 17 times as captain. He also had the great honour of skippering the United Kingdom side that played against Wales in 1951.
When Jacks five year contract expired, true to his word, he returned on a ‘free’ to his native Belfast, to join Crusaders, with whom, he saw out his playing days, retiring in June 1954, to take over his family Butchers business.
Sadly, he passed away 1n 1981, at the early age of 62 years. His legacy, however, remains forever. Big Jack, we salute you.
Laurie Rampling/December 2010