Hutchesontown born inside left Jimmy Croal had joined Rangers in 1905 and while there had loan spells at Ayr, Alloa and Dunfermline, before joining Falkirk in November 1910 for £10. At Falkirk his form excelled and he won The Scottish Cup with them in 1913 had broke into the Scotland international team, for whom he won 3 caps over the next year after making his debut against Ireland in March 1913, his last cap being a 3-1 win over England at Hampden in April 1914 in front of 105,000 spectators (as well as playing 3 times for The Scottish League in 1913 and 1914). In the summer of 1914 Chelsea bought Croal for £2000 and he made his Football League debut that September at Tottenham Hotspur, scoring 7 goals in 33 games that season before World War One forced the suspension of peacetime football.
Private R33246 Croal joined the British Army in the summer of 1916 and was subsequently posted to the 11th (Service) Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, one of Kitchener’s new army units that had been raised in Winchester in September 1914. Part of 59th Brigade in 20th (Light) Division, the battalion had been on the Western Front since July 1915 and were involved in heavy fighting at Delville Wood, Guillemont, Flers, Morval and the Le Transloy Ridge during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The following year saw the take part in the advance to the Hindenburg Line before they moved north to the Ypres Salient. During the Third Battle of Ypres, the battalion took part in subsidiary battles at Langemark and Polygon Wood. They were then involved in the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. However, by March 1918 the Falkirk Herald reported that the now-Corporal Croal was in Britain undertaking a course of instruction.
Croal is known to have played a number of wartime games for Chelsea during 1917, however, the London County Council Record of Service 1914-18states that he served 11 months overseas during the First World War. Full details of Cpl Croal’s service are currently unclear, however, by the time he was demobilised in 1919, he was an acting sergeant.
He resumed with Chelsea after the War having played again for Falkirk on loan during the conflict, as well as for Chelsea in between periods as a soldier in the trenches, playing for them until January 1922, whereupon after a loan spell at Dunfermline Athletic in 1921 he signed for near neighbours Fulham in March 1922 after 26 goals in 130 games for The Pensioners. He scored 6 times in 36 appearances for The Cottagers and played his last game in March 1924 before retiring aged 38.
NB the hairline suggests this photograph could have been taken before the War although published in 1921.