John James Commins was born in Athy, County Kildare. As a 17-year-old he came over to England to take up a post with the Brightside and Carbrook Co-Operative Association in Sheffield. It was while later working in Glasgow that he became manager of Mossend Hibs and after six years with that club was appointed Secretary-Manager of Clyde on May 1st, 1912. Commins spent twelve seasons with Clyde before joining Barnsley during the summer of 1926.
At Oakwell he was forced to sell his two best players, Fred Tilson and Eric Brook, to Manchester City in order to keep the club solvent. On May 28th, 1928 Mr Commins resigned his position at Barnsley ‘owing to differences on matters of policy’. He did, however, stay on in Barnsley for a time to run a pub called the ‘Musical Tavern’.
In March 1929 this genial Irishman was appointed Secretary-Manager of Southport and, without incurring any cost, signed ten of the players who were to constitute the backbone of the great 1930-32 sides. He then surprised everyone by leaving to take up a similar position with Barrow in November 1930, just as his plans were coming to fruition. In April 1932 he returned to Ireland to manage Shelbourne where he had no fewer than six past or future Southport players in his charge. On March II th, 1933 he commenced a second term at Haig Avenue, negotiating not only a salary of £400 p.a. but also a percentage of any transfer fees received.
During his second spell he sold Matt Middleton, Bob Griffith, Chris Greene, Jack Diamond, Matt O’Mahony and, finally, Jack Seagrave and Charlie Reed whose dual transfer undoubtedly saved Southport from extinction in February 1936. This period was by no means as successful, the club having to seek re-election two years running. Always a controversial figure, Commins clashed with the Supporters’ Club in September 1933 which led to them ‘going on strike’. He often wore plusfours and, on occasion, would ride his bicycle while supervising the players on their regular training runs. This was doubtless a legacy of the time when, as a youngster, he competed in cycling events all over Great Britain.
Having left Southport at the end of his contract in 1936, he returned to football management in 1945 with a second spell at Barrow but resigned after yet another disagreement with both the board and the supporters. His final appointment was as team manager of Cork United in the League of Ireland, though he did later scout for his old friend Major Buckley at Wolves. At the time of his death in March 1955 he was living in Alma Road, Birkdale.
Profile reproduced with Permission from:
The Sandgrounders: The Complete League History of Southport F. C., by Michael Braham and Geoff Wilde (Palatine Books, 1995). ISBN 978-1-874181-14-9