It was with great regret that the club learned of the death of Jim Townsend, a former captain, who passed away on Monday 19 October 2020 at Windsor, Ontario, Canada. This stylish and cultured playmaker would probably have become a regular in the Scottish International team, but for injury problems which he encountered at the peak of his career.
James Clabby Townsend was born at his parents’ home in Bruce Street, Greenock, on 2 February 1945. He was a noted footballer from an early age and several clubs watched his progress with St. Columba’s School; Woodhall Boys Club; and Port Glasgow Rovers. It was St.Johnstone who eventually gave the teenage prospect his big chance, securing Jim in September 1961, initially on a provisional contract.
Jim made his debut for Saints near the end of season 1961-62, just as the Perth side was relegated from the old First Division. However, the following season, when Jim had developed into a key-man in midfield, Saints won the Second Division Championship. Back in the top league, he was capped at Youth and U23 level and Jim’s strong and creative play attracted Middlesbrough.
A fee of £20,000 took Jim to the English Second Division side in February 1964. After 67 games, Jim was available for transfer, Middlesbrough having been forced to restructure following relegation to the Third Division at the end of season 1965-66. Accordingly, the midfielder came back to St.Johnstone in August 1966 for a fee of £7,000.
Jim was again the driving force of the Perth team and John Harvey thought that he would be an ideal man to run the Hearts’ midfield. As a result, the 5’8” playmaker was signed by Heart of Midlothian on 27 April 1967 for £20,000. His skillful and assertive approach earned a place in the Scottish FA squad which undertook a World Tour in the summer of 1967 during which Jim made eight appearances.
From 1966-67 until 1972-73, Jim scored a total of 13 goals in 185 appearances for Hearts. Unfortunately, his first full season was disrupted by niggling leg and back injuries, but Jim did assist the maroons to the Scottish Cup Final in 1968. He then played in a disappointing 3-1 defeat against Dunfermline Athletic.
The following season, Jim was appointed captain, but the campaign was again decimated for the classy playmaker when he suffered a fractured ankle in October 1968 against Falkirk. Although it took seven months to regain full fitness, Jim returned to the first team and helped Hearts to reach the Texaco Cup Final in 1971. Hearts lost over two legs to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Jim gradually lost his regular midfield place to Tommy Murray or Jim Brown.
As a result, in October 1972, he went to Greenock Morton as player-coach. Jim was captain for a spell and then in May 1976 he travelled to Ontario, Canada to play for London City. Jim re-joined Morton in August that year and finally went back to Canada to become head coach of Windsor Wheels in the summer of 1977. Jim had played 88 games for Morton, during a difficult period when Scottish football was being re-shaped, but he had made a significant contribution in the development of young players.
Because he held the ball and took responsibility in midfield, Jim Townsend suffered many injuries, otherwise he undoubtedly would have reached the very top in the game.
Our sincere condolences are extended to his family and friends.
Written by David Speed