Inverness born right back Andy McCombie started his career at Inverness Thistle in 1893 before moving south of the border to join First Division Sunderland in December 1898. He made his Football League debut at Sheffield Wednesday on 18th February 1899 whilst regular right back Philip Bach was playing for England at Roker Park, Sunderland. In Bach’s absence, McCombie took over at right back in a 1-0 victory. Bach was unable to regain his place, making only two further appearances before he was transferred to Middlesbrough.
McCombie was an ever present in his first full season, with Sunderland finishing third in the League table. The following season McCombie only missed one game as Sunderland finished runners-up, with McCombie and Jimmy Watson teaming up in front of goalkeeper Ned Doig. The three Scottish internationals appeared in a notable total of 109 League and Cup games between February 1900 and February 1904 when McCombie was transferred to Newcastle United. In 1901-02 McCombie missed the final eight games as Sunderland finally claimed the League Championship by a three point margin over Everton, finishing third in their title defence season of 1902-03.
His first international appearance for Scotland came in a 1-0 victory over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park on 9th March 1903. In the next match, against England on 4th April, McCombie was teamed in defence with his Sunderland colleagues, Doig and Watson, in a Scottish victory at Hillsborough.
In 1903, Sunderland were rocked by a financial scandal involving McCombie. Sunderland’s board of Directors gave the player £100 to start up in business, with the view that his benefit game would see him repay the money. McCombie however saw the money as a gift and refused to pay back the club. The Football Association launched an inquiry and agreed with McCombie, stating that it was a “resigning/win/draw bonus” and furthermore the books of Sunderland showed financial irregularities, and so violating the rules of the game. Sunderland were fined £250, with six directors being suspended for two and a half years, and manager Alex Mackie receiving a suspension.
Shortly afterwards, McCombie was transferred to arch-rivals Newcastle United signing for them in February 1904 after 6 goals in 165 appearances. His last goal came against his future employers, a penalty in a 1-1 draw at Roker Park on 1st January 1904. He is reported to have joined Newcastle United for a fee of £700. If correct this would have been a world record transfer fee, exceeding the fee of £520 paid by Sunderland in June 1904 for Alf Common. He was to remain on the payroll at Newcastle until shortly before his death in 1952.
He made his Newcastle debut in a 4-1 victory over Notts County on 13th February 1904. In his first match back at Roker Park for his new employers on 24th December 1904 he scored a first-minute own goal as Sunderland ran out 3-1 victors. In his first full season at St James’ Park he missed only three games as Newcastle claimed the League Championship for the first time by a single point margin over Everton. He capped this with two further appearances for Scotland with a 3-1 victory over Wales at Wrexham on 6th March 1905 and a 1-0 defeat by England on 1st April. In the last match, played at Crystal Palace, he was joined by Newcastle colleagues Andy Aitken, Peter McWilliam and James Howie.
A fortnight after his final Scotland appearance, he was part of the Newcastle United team which was beaten at the Crystal Palace ground 2-0 in the FA Cup Final by Aston Villa. He was to return to Crystal Palace for the 1906 FA Cup Final, when he was again on the losing side as Newcastle went down 1-0 to Everton.
Newcastle claimed the League title for a second time in 1907 with McCombie making 26 appearances. However in Newcastle’s third championship season, 1908-09, McCombie only made one appearance. He remained as a fringe player at St James’ Park until 1910, with his final game being a 4-0 defeat at Aston Villa on 27th April 1910. In his six years at Newcastle, he made a total of 131 first team appearances, never scoring.
After retiring, he remained on Newcastle United’s coaching staff, rising to become the first team trainer by the time he retired in 1950.
NB This superb image was published on a postcard published before the FA Cup Final at The Crystal Palace on 15th April 1905, which Newcastle United lost 2-0 to Aston Villa, with both goals scored in either half by Harry Hampton. This was to be the first of four FA Cup Final appearances in 6 years, although they only managed to win it in 1910.
The team line up, from left to right, is:
Back Row – Andy Aitken, Billy McCracken, Bert Gosnell, Jimmy Howie, Jock Rutherford
Middle Row – Andy McCombie, Peter McWilliam, Ronald Orr
Front Row – Jimmy Lawrence, Jack Carr, Colin Veitch
In reality Billy McCracken, who played some of the games in April 1905 and was still a young player, and Ronald Orr didn’t play in the Final, Alec Gardner and Bill Appleyard, both not pictured, played. Regardless, it’s a beautiful image.
A similar postcard of the Aston Villa team was also published.