Legendary centre forward Hughie Gallacher was one of the classic inter war footballers, and one of the all time greats of the British game, indeed one of the most outstanding footballers of the 20th century. In 624 senior games, Gallacher scored 463 goals, playing senior League football for Airdrieonians, Newcastle United, Chelsea, Derby County, Notts County, Grimsby Town and Gateshead. Prior to this he also played and scored for then non-league Queen of the South.
Bellshill, Lanarkshire born, he began his football career with junior teams Tannochside Athletic and Hattonrigg Thistle after the end of the First World War, and played with Alex James at Bellshill Academy, and in December 1920 Gallacher was picked for the Scottish junior international against Ireland at Shawfield. As a result he signed for Queen of the South and he made his Queen of the South debut aged 17 against St Cuthbert Wanderers on 29th January 1921. 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”. 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”.
He soon moved back to North Lanarkshire with a transfer to First Division club Airdrieonians. On 19th September 1921 Gallacher made his senior Scottish League debut in the 2-0 defeat to Raith Rovers. The following season Gallacher became a first team main stay as the club finished runners up in the Scottish League. 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 Hibernian 2-0 in the 1924 Scottish Cup Final at Ibrox Park, the only time the club has won the trophy. At Airdrie he’d scored 100 goals in 129 matches when a £6,500 transfer to First Division Newcastle United came in December 1925.
At Newcastle United Gallacher made an immediate impact, scoring two goals in the 3-3 home draw against Everton (Dixie Dean hit an Everton hat-trick) on his Football League debut four days after signing, scoring 15 goals in his first nine matches. His first hat-trick arrived in his third match in a defeat at Liverpool and he scored 4 times in his sixth match in a 5-1 win over Bolton Wanderers, with another treble to beat Manchester City 3-2 before the season end. He ended the season with 23 League goals in 19 matches, 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, scoring all 4 goals in their first match, a 4-0 win over Aston Villa, and his powerful leadership qualities took Newcastle to the League Championship for the first time since 1909, although his criticism of some of the less talented players in the team did not go unnoticed. Hat-tricks followed against Notts County in the FA Cup, and in wins over Everton and Arsenal. Sunderland were still in contention until they were beaten 1-0 at St James’ Park on 19th March before a then record crowd of 67,211. The goalscorer was Gallacher, still widely rated today as Newcastle’s finest ever player despite comparison with the likes of Alan Shearer and Jackie Milburn. He scored 36 League goals in 38 appearances in their Championship season, still the highest number of League goals in one season by a Newcastle player. Whilst at Newcastle United, he scored 143 League and Cup goals in 174 appearances. His strike rate of over 82% is the most prolific in Newcastle United’s history.
A chant reportedly once sung at St James’ Park in relation to Hughie went as follows;
“Do ye ken hughie gallacher the wee Scots lad,
The best centre forward Newcastle ever had,
If he doesn’t score a goal then wu’ll put him on the dole,
and wu’ll send him back to Scotland where he came from.”
Over the next three seasons he continued to punish defences, with all 4 goals in a 4-1 win over Portsmouth in November 1929 and five further hat-tricks as he ended five consecutive seasons as The Toon’s leading goalscorer. However no further trophies followed.
At international level he played 20 times for Scotland and his 23 goals still ranks only behind Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law. He made his Scottish international debut in a 3-1 win over Wales at Tynecastle in February 1925 while with Airdrie playing 18 internationals through to 1930. He was a key member of Scotland’s “Wembley Wizards” team of 1928 while at Newcastle, the Scots famously thrashing England 5-1 at Wembley with Hughie grabbing a brace. Ivan Sharpe, the ex-player and writer, commented on the victory: “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.” He was recalled for his final 2 caps against England at Wembley in April 1934 and at Hampden Park in April 1935 (by then a Derby County player), ending his international career on a winning note as they beat England 2-0 in front of nearly 130,000 spectators. He also scored 6 goals in his 2 matches for The Scottish League while with Airdrie including five in a 7-2 hammering of The Irish League at Cliftonville’s Solitude Ground in Belfast in November 1925.
In May 1930 Gallacher joined David Calderhead’s Chelsea as part of a £25,000 spending spree which also saw the club sign his fellow Scottish forwards Alex Jackson and Alec Cheyne; such was his popularity at Newcastle, when Chelsea visited St James’ Park that season the attendance was a record 68,386 with several thousand more locked out. Gallacher scored 82 goals in 144 matches 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.
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 were drawn against Gallacher’s alma mater 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 beating Arsenal in the Final. Gallacher’s time there was also marred by suspensions for indiscipline including a two-month ban for swearing at a referee, and off-pitch controversies. In 1934 he ended up in the bankruptcy court due to his prolonged and acrimonious divorce. In November 1934 he was sold to Derby County for £2,750.
Still the goals flowed, In his sixth match for Derby he scored all 5 goals in a 5-2 win at Blackburn Rovers with a further hat-trick at Grimsby Town in February 1935. His 40 goals in 55 matches for Derby helped The Rams finish runners up in the League Championship to Sunderland in 1935-36, a finish the club have since surpassed only twice (both times in the 1970’s winning the League under the influence of Brian Clough and Dave Mackay). The following season, he moved to Notts County for £2,000 in September 1936. His impressive 32 goals in 45 appearances with two more hat-tricks helped County to a second-place finish in the Third Division (South) in 1936-37, narrowly missing out on promotion. In January 1938 he returned to top flight action when he moved to Grimsby Town for £1,000, hitting three goals in his 12 matches for The Mariners. He finished up his career joining Third Division (North) club Gateshead for £500 in June 1938, scoring 21 goals in 36 appearances, including 5 goals in a 7-1 in over Rotherham United in September 1938 and a further hat-trick against Carlisle United, up to his retirement in September 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War.