He had made his name in Junior football, helping Burnbank Athletic to the Scottish Junior Cup in 1911. He also appeared for Larkhall Thistle before earning an opportunity in the senior leagues.
His first professional club was Bristol City where he played for two seasons from 1911. He joined Peebles Rovers in 1913 and had a short spell with St. Johnstone before joining Rangers in November 1913.
He made his debut against Hamilton Academical on December 27, 1913 and played a total of nine games in his first season as Rangers finished second to rivals Celtic in Division One.
Cairns was a regular in the Rangers team the following season, missing just one league game and he became captain of the team in 1916 and held the position for 10 years.
He was well ensconced when Rangers reclaimed the Scottish title 1917-18.
Indeed, he was an ever present in the first League title for five years, and scored 11 goals.
Cairns’ second league medal in 1920 was even better in the sense that it was Rangers’ 10thtitle since the formation of the League in 1890 and they won with a record 71 points scoring a century of goals into the bargain.
His direct, no-nonsense style and an overwhelming desire not to lose were the qualities that made Tommy one of the top Rangers of his era.
And when Alan Morton arrived at Ibrox in 1920, the hard-working and persistent Cairns provided the perfect foil for the talented new winger on the left side of Rangers’ attack.
The 1920 triumph was tinged with sadness because the club’s first manager William Wilton had drowned in a boating accident.
His successor was the man Wilton had brought in as trainer some six years earlier, Bill Struth, whose influence can still be felt today.
In a staggering period, Rangers won 14 out of 19 championships up until 1939 and Cairns can be proud that he played a major role in the early part of this astonishing spell of dominance.
Remarkably, Rangers improved on their points tally with 76 as they retained their crown in 1920/21. Cairns scored 14 times, including a strike in a 2-1 win at Celtic Park.
Agonising last-day championship defeats do not just occur in the modern age as Rangers relinquished their crown the following season. A win away to Clyde would have given them the flag but they drew and Celtic’s point at Cappielow with Morton gave them the title by one point.
The agony continued in the Scottish Cup as Cairns led Rangers to Hampden but they lost 1-0 to Morton in the Final.
The Cup had become an obsession with Rangers but the league became their own again. With Cairns at the helm, Rangers won four consecutive titles.
His final Rangers appearance was in a 2-1 win over Queen’s Park on March 1, 1927. Some historians don’t credit him with a league win that season but he played 15 of the 38 matches.
Cairns was also capped at international level, making eight Scotland appearances. He made his international debut in a British Home Championship match against Wales on February 26, 1920 and he scored in a 1-1 draw.
During his international career, he was never on the losing team, winning six games and drawing two. His final international appearance was on April 4, 1925 in a 2-0 win over England at Hampden Park.
His domestic career was far from over as he signed for Bradford City on leaving Ibrox
In his time with Bradford, he made 135 appearances and won a Division Three North medal in 1929. He retired from football in 1932 and later worked as a scout for Arsenal.
A truly great Rangers captain died in 1967.
Born: October 30, 1890, Merryton, Lanarkshire.
League (7)- 1917/18, 1919/20, 1920/21, 1922/23, 1923/24, 1924/25, 1926/27
Caps: 8, Scotland