A pocket sized footballing phenomenon of natural skill and boundless determination, in 624 senior games, Hughie Gallacher scored 463 times in a goal drenched career of terrorising opposing defences.
He is the Scotland national football team’s most prolific goal scorer averaging more than a goal per game, 23 goals from his 20 internationals. Gallacher was one of the Wembley Wizards who beat England 5-1 at Wembley Stadium in 1928. He was the last man to captain Newcastle United to be champions of England.
Hughie Gallacher was born in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire in 1903. He started "biffing a twopenny ball" almost as soon as he could walk. When schooling at Bellshill Academy he was a close friend of Alex James. The two went on to become the most revered Scottish footballers of their generation.
James: "Hugh and I hit it off right from the start. We scrapped together and dogged (truanted from school) together. The two of us would do anything for a game."
Gallacher: "We used to kick anything we could lay our hands on."
James: "The snag was finding the ball. They were scarce as gold to us. So we used to spend three ha’pence for a sheet of paper with verse printed on it and go round from door to door trying to collect pennies." This was to buy a tanner ball for the two school boys to practice with.
Gallacher was also keen on boxing. He trained at a gym in Hamilton and was never afraid to spar against a bigger opponent. Two of his friends went on to be pro boxers:-
* Johnny Brown, British welterweight champion
* Tommy Milligan, British and European welterweight and middleweight champion
Boxing helped toughen Gallacher for the near relentless punishment meted out by defenders unable to match his footballing skill.
Gallacher and James offered their services to junior league side, Bellshill Athletic. Some bright spark in their wisdom dismissed the two footballing maestros as, ’far too small’. They were though allowed to push the club hamper for away matches to and from the station. They were paid half a crown for their efforts.
Gallacher had been down the Hattonrig Pit at the age of 15, working 10-hour shifts. Aged 16 he left Lanarkshire junior league side Tannochside Athletic to join Hattonrigg Thistle. However fate played a part in his next move up the football ladder. As a spectator he attended to watch Bellshill Athletic play St Mirren juniors. In an episode resembling a tale from “Oor Wullie”, Bellshill were a man short and Gallacher was asked to play. After hitting his side’s goal in the 1-1 draw he was asked to join the club as a player.
Willie Bell, Club Secretary for Bellshill Athletic, recalled one game against Vale of Clyde that was to symbolise Gallacher’s career. Three times Gallacher was carried off the pitch. Three times he returned to the pitch to score.
Queen of the South
In December 1920, Hughie Gallacher was picked for the Scottish junior side to play against Ireland at Shawfield in Glasgow. Gallacher’s fine header gave Scotland an equaliser with two minutes remaining in the 1-1 draw. Among those at the game was James Jolly, secretary of Queen of the South.
Jolly approached Gallacher after the game and offered him a trial at Queens with the prospect of a £30 signing on fee and £5 per week plus expenses should he do well in the trial. At the time Queens were in their second season after formation and cup games aside played only local fixtures. However professional football was professional football and that was good enough for young Gallacher.
"It was heaven with all the trimmings. To be paid for playing soccer! I just could not believe it," said Gallacher of signing for the Doonhamers.
Rejecting the opportunity of an international trial game at Methil, Hughie Gallacher made his Queen of the South debut aged 17 against St Cuthbert Wanderers on 29 January 1921. Gallacher’s name on the team sheet replaced Ian Dickson
who was on his way to Aston Villa. Even then it was clear that Gallacher was on first name terms with the ball - he scored four goals in a 7-0 victory. The Herald and Courier wrote after the game, "Gallacher was the pick of the front line. He is only a young player but knows all that is required of him in the centre. He gathers the ball to perfection and possesses a first time shot of a deadly nature. His four goals were all well taken and it was not his fault that he did not have more". Perceptive words. The contract was waiting for Gallacher after the game.
At 5’ 5", Gallacher had neither height nor weight. However, as he would show time after time in the years ahead, the weapons that he had in his armoury were simply out of this world. Utterly fearless bravery was routine in Gallacher’s game. He had the intuition, guile and ball control of a magician. He was superb at unnerving big defenders by dropping off deep into space in front of them before turning and running menacingly with the ball. He skipped and swerved effortlessly past opponents with his dribbling runs. His goal threat was terrifying, packing ferocious and precise shooting with either foot and being very handy with his head despite his diminutive appearance. If that wasn’t enough, Gallacher had an astonishing ability to score ’impossible’ goals. When not scoring himself he laid on chances for team mates with incisive passing. Tremendous at shielding, Gallacher’s manner of hunching over the ball made it a near impossibility to dispossess him without knocking him over risking a free kick. He also harried and scavenged. Gallacher practised and practised and was always looking to add to his extensive repertoire of tricks - "A proud boast of mine was that there was no one in the game more conscientious in training than I". Gallacher’s natural skill combined with his unquenchable determination made for a cosmic cocktail.
Gallacher’s next game was his senior debut, a Scottish Cup second round tie against Nithsdale Wanderers. Queens lost 3-1.
In the 5-2 victory over Dumbarton the Herald and Courier gushed of Gallacher, "From the first kick until the last, he showed exceptional dash and had the unusual record of scoring all five goals. He was continuously the source of great danger and showed no mercy with his rocket shooting".
Gallacher then hit four against a Glasgow Railway Select and another four against a Queens Park XI. His next goal was in the 3-1 defeat to Airdrie Reserves with the Herald and Courier covering another Gallacher virtuoso performance, "Gray’s beautiful cross enabled Gallacher to score one of the bravest goals imaginable. Although Gallacher had his back to goal and with a defender bearing down on him, he quickly saw the danger and scored with an overhead kick. A goal that would have been impossible for most players and the cheering continued when the game was in motion again". Gallacher’s eye-catching performance would later hit Queens hard.
Gallacher scored against Hawick Royal Albert. In the Southern Counties Charity Cup Final against Nithsdale Wanderers, Gallacher scored the game’s only goal.
Gallacher’s time at Palmerston proved to be short. A holiday in Dumfries turned sour when he took ill with double pneumonia. For a few days he was on the danger-list in Dumfries Infirmary and his parents were summoned. Doctors perceived that he would never play football again. He was layed up for five weeks. "It seemed my brief tilt at fame was finished".
While in Bellshill convalescing he was approached by officials of Airdrieonians. They had seen his talent in the recent challenge game and other matches in which they watched him.
"It was not a happy-looking day I can assure you. It was raining heavily. I was reading a newspaper when my mother announced that some gentlemen wanted to have a chat with me."
While the visit was unexpected he was interested in the opportunity it presented. At this time if a player was not playing league football at any time then he was free to sign for whoever offered a contract. He set off with the officials expecting to go to Airdrie’s ground. Instead he arrived at an undertaker’s near Airdrie Cross. In this unlikeliest of locations on 9 May 1921 Hughie Gallacher signed a playing contract for Airdrieonians surrounded by coffins, wreaths and the like.
In his nine Queens games Gallacher hit 19 goals. Gallacher however returned many times to play in and referee charity games. He was also among the jubilant crowd who watched Queens win in their 1929-30 season ending 2-1 Charity Cup final win against Mid-Annandale.
Gallacher moved back to North Lanarkshire with the transfer to Airdrieonians. On September 19th 1921 Gallacher made his senior Scottish League debut in the 2-0 defeat to Raith Rovers. Gallacher was selected for the first team 15 times that season and hit seven goals. He also helped Airdrie reserves to the Second XI Cup. However it was the following season when Airdrie really gave Gallacher the chance to show the dynamite in his genes.
Gallacher became a first team main stay as the previously unheralded Airdrie finished second. The next season Airdrie finished second again with Gallacher hitting five in the 6-1 win over Clyde that briefly had Airdrie top of the league. Silverware arrived when Airdrie beat Hibs 2-0 in the Scottish Cup final, the club’s first and only major trophy to date. Gallacher weighed in on the victorious the cup run with six goals. Joining Gallacher in a highly potent strike force was Bob McPhail, subsequently Rangers record goal scorer until over taken by Ally McCoist in 1997. However it was another internationalist forward who scored the Airdrie cup final winning goals, Willie Russell. Hibs were outclassed on the day. Airdrie’s Bob Bennie at left half dictated the game. Airdrie were 2-0 up after 37 minutes and never looked back.
Even the Hibs official accounts described a one sided game: "And from the first minute, Airdrie had no difficulty. The impression was that at half-time Airdrie had already won it".
Gallacher: "The Airdrie lot set about Hibs straight from the start."
McPhail: "The terror-like attitude of Gallacher caused havoc with the Hibs defenders. He and Russell were easily our best forwards".
On March 1st 1924 in the 2-0 victory against Northern Ireland Gallacher was awarded his first international cap.
In 1924-25 Airdrie had their third straight second place league finish. Gallacher was credited with 35 goals. The power of their home form was staggering. From 22nd September 1922 until 5th December 1925, Airdrie were unbeaten when playing on their own park.
In November 1925 Gallacher hit five in the Scottish League 7-3 victory over the Irish League. Two weeks later Gallacher served notice to English defenders on what they could look forward to in the future. Gallacher hit both goals in the 2-0 win against the English League.
Unsurprisingly there was constant speculation that a number of English clubs were out to sign him. Airdrie fans became incensed. With pyrophobia not in their vocabulary they threatened to burn the wooden stand down if Gallacher was sold. However his last game for the club was on December 5th 1925 in the 2-1 defeat to Morton, ironically the game that marked the end of the 3+ years unbeaten home record. After this, Gallacher was on his way to Newcastle United. Thankfully at Broomfield the matchboxes remained in the pockets of the supporters.
In 129 games for Airdrie Gallacher hit 100 goals including 91 strikes in his 111 league games.
Gallacher signed for Newcastle on December 8th 1925. Their desperation for their new centre forward meant that they were willing to pay £6,500 to capture him. The fee was only £50 less than the world record paid to Burnley for Bob Kelly - Kelly had debuted for nearby Sunderland three days earlier on the day of Gallacher’s last game for Airdrie.
(Gallacher leading out Newcastle at Highbury, 2/10/26. The game ended 2-2. Newcastle won 6-1 at home against Arsenal later in the season)
In Gallacher’s career he was never the type to have issues with low self-esteem. Neither was he backwards in coming forwards. From the moment he walked into the Newcastle dressing room, he was a dominant figure. Men 10 years older and a foot taller were made fully aware that they were privileged to be playing in the same team. Opposing goallies always talked fondly of him. "He was the greatest centre forward I ever saw," said legendary keeper, Frank Swift.
Gallacher made an immediate impact at Newcastle scoring two goals on his debut four days after signing in the 3-3 home draw against Everton (Bill ’Dixie’ Dean hit an Everton hat trick). Gallacher scored 15 goals in his first nine games. He finished the season with 23 league goals in 19 games, ending up as the club’s top scorer despite signing halfway through the season.
The following season, 1926-27, 23 year old Gallacher was given the captaincy. With Newcastle mounting a strong championship challenge, arch rivals Sunderland were also serious title contenders. Playing for Sunderland was another prolific goal machine who like Gallacher had started his professional career at Queen of South – Dave Halliday
. As club players the two men led something of a parallel existence.
Gallacher and Halliday
were born 14 months apart just after the turn of the century and both started their professional careers with then non league Queens (Gallacher joined QoS the season after Halliday
had left Palmerston). After Queens each enjoyed prolific goal scoring in Scotland’s top division with a provincial club. Both played in a Scottish Cup final, with Gallacher’s Airdrie lifting the trophy in 1924. The season after Gallacher and Airdrie were knocked out 3-1 in a visit to Dens Park– the third Dundee goal was scored by Dave Halliday
. It was that season when Halliday
made it to Hampden where Dundee went down 2-1 to Celtic. Gallacher and Halliday
both moved to North East clubs in England’s top flight in 1925 - both are the most prolific goal grabbers per game in the history of the relevant club (Gallacher at Newcastle, Halliday
at Sunderland). Both men are in the exclusive list of 28 players to have scored over 200 goals in England’s top division. In late 1929 Halliday
transferred to Arsenal in London and was followed a few months later by Gallacher joining a London club – Chelsea. Both men spent the rest of their playing careers in England before at the end of 1937 Halliday
became the first of the two to hang up his boots.
Of the many times the two greats lined up against each other, few games carried the significance of the game on March 19 1927, before a then St James’ Park record crowd of 67,211. When the sides had met earlier in the season, critically for Newcastle, Gallacher was unavailable for selection. Sunderland won the October fixture 2-0 with goals from Halliday
and the morbidly named Billy Death killing Newcastle that day.
Describing the March 19th game as a championship decider would be an exaggeration. The game though would have a huge bearing on the destiny of the title. On this occasion it was Gallacher who came out on top with his 32nd minute goal being the only one of the game. Still widely regarded as Newcastle’s finest ever player, captain Gallacher lifted the English League championship trophy that season, Newcastle’s first since 1909 and their last to date. Sunderland finished third. Gallacher scored 36 league goals in 38 appearances in the championship-winning season, still the highest number of league goals in a season by one Newcastle player.
Gallacher scored consistently at Newcastle. In the 1927-28 season he scored 21 league goals in 32 appearances. In the 1928-29 season he scored 24 league goals in 33 appearances. In the 1929-30 season he scored 29 league goals in 38 appearances.
From the very first match he played in England he was a marked man with defenders acting on instructions to stop him scoring at all costs. One teammate described how Gallacher would sit in the dressing room with pieces of flesh hanging from his legs and his socks and boots soaked in blood.
Gallacher’s perceived lack of protection from referees often saw him in trouble with football’s authorities. On Christmas Eve, 1927, Newcastle played hosts to Huddersfield. Newcastle lost the game despite Gallacher hitting a double. Near full time with the score level, Gallacher was twice in quick succession bundled down in the box.
"Look here referee, didn’t you see that?” said Gallacher.
"No penalty", referee Bert Fogg dismissively replied.
"Everyone but you saw it", responded Gallacher in disgust.
"I’m reporting you", replied the unsympathetic Mr. Fogg.
The ´discussion´ then continued after the game all way to the referee’s changing room. A heated Gallacher, never verbally challenged, said to the referee, "Fogg is you’re name and you’ve been in a fog all day!” It was later alleged by a "friend" that Gallacher pushed the referee into the bath although Gallacher never admitted to this in public. The footballing authorities failed to see the humour in Gallacher’s wit - he was given a two month ban.
Hughie Gallacher would never be looked upon as the Peter Mandelson of his day. From his outspoken comments Gallacher’s relationship with United’s directors was never healthy despite his value as a player. Gallacher went on a tour of France with his international compatriots and whilst he was away Newcastle agreed to sell him to Chelsea. He was furious that United had done the dirty on him and later said. "Why Newcastle wanted to let me go I never found out, but with such an attitude, I was bound to leave the club. Better sooner than later". The fee involved was £10,000. With Gallacher seen as a deiti, the shocked Newcastle fans were incensed as the Airdrie fans had been before them. However, the directors had their way despite the public revolt.
Whilst at Newcastle United, he scored 143 league and cup goals in 174 appearances, a strike rate of over 82% making Hughie Gallacher the most prolific striker in Newcastle United history. To put things into perspective, only Andy Cole gets close with 81%. The likes of Jackie Milburn (50%), Malcolm MacDonald (53%) and Alan Shearer (50%) don’t get anywhere near.
(Three of the Chelsea Scots; Alec Cheyne, Hughie Gallacher and Andy Wilson)
Gallacher joined Chelsea as part of a £25,000 spending spree which also saw the club sign his fellow Scottish international forwards Alex Jackson and Alec Cheyne. Already at Chelsea was another Queens legend, Willie Ferguson.
Chelsea’s manager was the only player to have gained a Scotland cap playing for 19th century Dumfries club, Queen of the South Wanderers - David Calderhead
. Such was Gallacher’s popularity at Newcastle, when Chelsea visited St James’ Park, the home of Newcastle United, that season the attendance was a still record 68,386 with several thousand more locked out. Gallacher marked his debut with a double strike and scored 81 goals in 144 games and was Chelsea’s top scorer in each of his four seasons in West London. The team sometimes clicked, such as in a 6-2 win over Manchester United and a 5-0 win over Sunderland but trophies remained elusive.
(Despite a diminutive appearance Gallacher was not to be under estimated in the air. This picture is against Arsenal)
The FA Cup was to be the closest the club came to silverware. In 1932, the team secured impressive wins over Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday, and was drawn against Gallacher’s ex club, Newcastle United, in the semi-finals. Tommy Lang
inspired Newcastle to a 2-0 lead, before Gallacher pulled one back for Chelsea. The Blues laid siege to the United goal in the second half, but were unable to make a breakthrough and the Geordies went on to lift the trophy.
In November 1934 Hughie Gallacher was transferred to Derby County F.C. for £2,750.
Even at the age of 32 Gallacher was one of the finest centre forwards ever to wear a Derby County jersey. Gallacher was taken under the wing of fellow Scotsmen Dally Duncan and an old Newcastle United friend, Jimmy Boyd, and was said to have been as good as gold during his Baseball Ground days. His 38 goals in 51 league games helped Derby finish second in the league to Sunderland in 1935-36, a finish the club have surpassed only twice (both times in the 1970s under the influence of Brian Clough and Dave Mackay). Gallacher hit 40 goals in his 55 games for Derby.
The following season he moved to Notts County F.C. for £2,000. His impressive 32 goals in 45 games helped County to a second place finish in England’s third division.
In January 1938 he returned to the top division with Grimsby Town F.C. for £1,000. Gallacher hit three goals in his 12 games. Grimsby finished the season in 10th place in England’s top flight just ahead of each of Liverpool, Aston Villa, Leeds & Manchester United.
Later in 1938, Gateshead FC, a modest team languishing in the bottom division of England’s Football League, paid £500 for him. "It’s grand to be back on Tyneside," said an emotional Hughie, when he climbed off the train. Crowds at the Gateshead ground soared to 20,000 a week. He hit 18 goals for the club. However Gallacher retired from professional football following the UK declaring war against Nazi Germany.
He continued to play in charity games until the age of 52. Even then he drew this comment from Jackie Milburn summing up the Gallacher genius:-
"I only once played with the great Hughie and that was in a charity match when he was 52 years of age. He took a cross from the wing, jammed it against the goal post with his head, and dropped it over the line - who else could do a thing like that?"
Only two players, Denis Law and Kenny Dalglish with 30 each, have scored more goals for the full Scotland international team than Hughie Gallacher’s 23. Gallacher has the most prolific international strike rate of any Scot averaging 1.15 goals per game with 23 goals coming from only 20 caps. Law took 55 games for his 30 goals (0.55 goals per game), Dalglish took 102 games for his 30 (0.29 goals per game) and Lawrie Reilly had 38 games returning 22 goals (0.58). To put into a more modern context, James McFadden in his first 42 Scotland internationals hit 14 goals giving him a strike rate of 0.33 goals per game.
The best known international game in which Hughie Gallacher played was while he was at Newcastle in 1928. The Scots team from that day has since gone down in folklore as the ’Wembley Wizards’. An entire feature could be written on this one game alone so to merely quote press articles of the time:-
(31st March 1928. Jimmy McMullan leads out the Scots, Wembley 1928. Behind him is Jimmy Gibson and then Hughie Gallacher in front of the keeper, Jack Harkness. After Harkness is Alex James in his trademark baggy shorts.)
* "It was not so much defeat that England suffered as humiliation. There was a period in second half when the football verged on the ludicrous; the Scottish players were taking and giving their passes at a walking pace, underlining with rather cruel emphasis the ease with which they could draw the English defence out of position. There were times when the Scottish forwards seemed to be indulging in the artistic pleasure of playing with the mouse rather than killing it outright."
* “From this point up to the end of one’s memory of the game resolves itself into a picture of the Scots playing a leisurely and elaborate game of passing among themselves, and of the Englishmen running about aimlessly and now and again touching the ball”
* “At times they simply toyed with their bigger and burlier opponents. The ball was manoeuvred from man to man with astonishing adroitness on a rain sodden pitch. Naturally the big Scottish section of the 80,000 crowd were jubilant. During one period of marked Scottish ascendancy in the second half they didn’t know whether to cheer or laugh. They were uproariously amused one minute, the next they were cheering themselves hoarse.”
* “Scotland, by over indulgence in the pleasant pastime of making the English defence look supremely silly, cheated themselves out of a sixth and possibly a seventh goal, and just on time England scored in the only way that looked possible for them – direct from a free kick”.
It was a historic day in the story of Wembley Stadium. In a booklet published by the stadium owners in 1945, the story is told like this:-
"English football fans shudder when the year 1928 is mentioned. The traditional enemy, Scotland came to Wembley and gave the Sassenachs a first class lesson in the art of playing football. So much so that, to this day, that Scottish team is still spoken of as ‘The Wembley Wizards.’ All Scotland seemed to come to town for that match, and the fans actually brought their own scaling ladders to make sure of getting into the stadium. As a result of this, Wembley afterwards became a barbed wire fortress.”
Ivan Sharpe was another in the English press to give an appreciative report:-
"England were not merely beaten. They were bewildered – run to a standstill, made to appear utterly inferior by a team whose play was as cultured and beautiful as I ever expect to see." More than 30 years later he was still saying he had never seen a performance like it.
The Scotland goal scorers in the 5-1 win that day were Alex Jackson with three and Alex James with two. Hughie Gallacher and Alex James surprisingly only played six games together for Scotland. Scotland won all of the six with 23 goals for and only seven against. Gallacher and James between them scored 12 of the 23 goals. All four Alex James goals for Scotland had Gallacher also in the team line up.
In Gallacher’s 20 full internationals, Scotland won 17, drew 1 and lost only 2. Scotland never lost a full international when Gallacher scored. At all levels Gallacher represented Scotland 30 times hitting 46 goals. An original inductee in 2004, he was the only ex Queen of the South player in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame until he was joined by Andy Goram in 2010.
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