Hughie Gallacher

Football's Pioneers: Hughie Gallacher

Professor Matt Taylor, from De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture, profiles Hughie Gallacher, one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time.
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Scottish international forward Gallacher (1903-1957), was no stranger to controversy. During 1932, he became embroiled in a dispute with the Chelsea directors over wages. Like many players of his day, Gallacher objected to the maximum wage rule, which limited the earning potential of the very best.

He considered the rule ‘unjust to the player of more than average ability’. ‘You do not pay a chorus boy the same salary as a principal’ he was reported to have said.    

The catalyst for Gallacher’s unrest had been an offer from SC Nîmes to take him on, along with Scottish team-mate Tommy Law, as a player-coach in the new French professional league. Both were offered £20 per week, more than double the Football League maximum at the time.

Gallacher was tempted, but when he asked for a £2,000 deposit and a four-year contract from the French club, the offer was withdrawn. Gallacher and Law eventually re-signed for Chelsea but two other prominent Chelsea players, Alec Cheyne and Andy Wilson, did join Nîmes. 

Gallacher was one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time. He began his career at Queen of the South but made his name at Airdrie, where he scored 91 goals in 111 games. At Newcastle United, where he arrived in 1925 for a then club transfer record of £6,500, he amassed 133 goals in 160 appearances.

At Chelsea, he scored 72 times in 132 matches. His goal ratio for Scotland was even more impressive: 24 in 20 appearances, including three hat-tricks and five in one 1929 match against Northern Ireland. 

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Hughie Gallacher
Hughie Gallacher

Hughie Gallacher was considered by many to be one of the best goalscorers of his era.

But with his finishing brilliance came erratic behaviour, both on the pitch and off it. As one football writer put it, Gallacher ‘specialised in losing his cool’. His disciplinary record was problematic, and didn’t improve with age.

In one famous incident, he verbally abused a referee and then, visiting the officials’ changing room with the intention of apologising, found the referee leaning over a steaming bath. Unable to resist the temptation, Hughie pushed the official in and was suspended for two months. 

He featured prominently in one of the most inauspicious overseas performances ever by an English team. At the end of a summer tour in 1929, Newcastle were defeated 4-1 in Budapest by a Hungarian XI. Gallacher was sent off and was accused by the hosts of being drunk on the pitch.

An FA enquiry later accepted Hughie’s explanation that he and his team-mates had been thirsty before the match and so had rinsed their mouths with whisky and water.

However, the controversy of Gallacher’s career shouldn’t overshadow his importance as a player. He captained Newcastle to a league title and was instrumental in Scotland’s famous 5-1 victory over England at Wembley in 1928. Many considered him among the best players of his generation.

For Frank Watt, the man who brought him to Newcastle, Gallacher was simply ‘the greatest player the game has ever known’.

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