Belfast born Billy McCracken began his football career with Broadway Thistle and joined Distillery in December 1899, winning the Irish League and Cup double with them in 1902-03. He signed for Newcastle United for £30 in May 1904 and would go on to become a club legend, playing for them from September 1904, when he made his Football League debut against Arsenal, to his departure from St James’ Park to become Hull City’s manager in February 1923.
He had already won the first of 16 international caps for Ireland, a 3-0 win over Wales in February 1902 in what would be a 21 year international career. He scored once for his country in a 1-0 win over Wales in March 1904. He won 5 Irish League caps from 1902 to 1904 and also later played for The Football League in 1914 and 1918. He also played in 2 Victory Internationals in the Spring of 1919 in addition to his 16 caps for Ireland.
He helped Newcastle win three League titles in 1905, 1907 and 1909, and to win the FA Cup in 1910, being additionally a losing finalist in 1908 and 1911. McCracken was so adept at catching the opposing teams forwards offside that he forced a change in the rules of the game, forming the basis of the modern offside law. In total he played 434 games for Newcastle, scoring 8 goals (all penalties), and played his final first team match in February 1923 already aged 40, winning his final Irish international cap the following month in a 1-0 home defeat against Scotland.
After leaving Newcastle he went on to be appointed Hull City manager in February 1923 and he took them to the FA Cup semi-final in 1930. He left the club a year later in May 1931. He later had a season in charge of Gateshead in 1932-33 before managing Millwall from May 1933 to March 1936. He later went on to manage Aldershot from February 1937 to December 1949, he also later scouted for Newcastle United and Watford. He even lived to just short of his 96th birthday!
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.