Legends - Hughie Gallacher

Hughie Gallacher began his pro career with then non-league Queen of the South, A pocket sized natural footballing phenomenon of boundless skill and unquenchable determination, in 624 senior games he scored 463 times in a goal drenched career of terrorising opposing defences. His football talent exhausted the superlatives available in the dictionary to reporters of the day. He averaged 1.2 goals per game as a full Scotland internationalist with 24 goals from 20 matches. Gallacher was one of the Wembley Wizards who beat England 5-1 at Wembley Stadium in 1928. He was the last man to captain Newcastle United to be champions of England and was man of the match in the 1924 Scottish Cup Final giving Airdrieonians their only major trophy to date.

Early years

Hughie Gallacher was born in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire on 2 February 1903. "I started biffing a twopenny ball on the school playground," he said of his earliest footballing memories. When schooling at Bellshill Academy he was a close friend of Alex James who was born in the adjoining village of Mossend. The two went on to become the most revered Scottish footballers of their generation.

James: "Hugh and I hit it off right from the start. We scrapped together and dogged [truanted from school] together. The two of us would do anything for a game."

Gallacher: "We used to kick anything we could lay our hands on."

James: "The snag was finding the ball. They were scarce as gold to us. So we used to spend three ha’pence for a sheet of paper with verse printed on it and go round from door to door trying to collect pennies." This was to buy a tanner ball for the two school boys to play with and play with and play with. The schoolboys were honing skills together that would take them both to the very top of the game.

Gallacher was also keen on boxing. He trained at a gym in Hamilton and was never afraid to spar against a bigger opponent. Two of his friends went on to be pro boxers:

* Johnny Brown, British welterweight champion

* Tommy Milligan, British and European welterweight and middleweight champion

Boxing helped toughen Gallacher for the near relentless punishment meted out by defenders unable to match his footballing skill. He was also toughened by his work. During World War I Gallacher worked at Mossend in munition factories. When the war ended like most men from Bellshill he worked down the coalpit.

Gallacher and James offered their services to junior league side, Bellshill Athletic. Some bright spark in their wisdom dismissed the two footballing maestros as, ’far too small’. They were though allowed to push the club hamper for away matches to and from the station. They were paid half a crown for their efforts.

Gallacher had been down the Hattonrig Pit at the age of 15, working 10-hour shifts. Aged 16 he left Lanarkshire junior league side Tannochside Athletic to join Hattonrigg Thistle. However fate played a part in his next move up the football ladder. As a spectator he attended to watch Bellshill Athletic play St Mirren juniors. In an episode resembling a tale from “Oor Wullie”, Bellshill were a man short and Gallacher was asked to play. After hitting his side’s goal in the 1-1 draw he was asked to join the club as a player.

Willie Bell, Club Secretary for Bellshill Athletic, recalled one game against Vale of Clyde that was to symbolise Gallacher’s career. Three times Gallacher was carried off the pitch injured. Three times he returned to the pitch to score.

Queen of the South

In December 1920, Hughie Gallacher was picked for the Scottish junior side to play against Ireland at Shawfield in Glasgow. 17 year old Gallacher’s fine header gave Scotland an equaliser with two minutes remaining in the 1-1 draw. Among those at the game was James Jolly, secretary of Queen of the South. The game was the same day as his Gallacher's wedding which Hughie rushed to attend after the final whistle as best man.

Jolly approached Gallacher a few days after the game and offered him a trial at QoS with the prospect of a £30 signing on fee and £5 per week plus expenses should he do well in the trial. "It was heaven with all the trimmings. To be paid for playing soccer! I just could not believe it," Gallacher said.

At the time QoS were in their second season after formation. The played in cup games and local competitions and also in friendlies games against the 'A' team (ie the reserve side), of the senior league clubs. However professional football was professional football hence QoS was good enough for young Gallacher. At QoS he was now only one step below first class football. He later said, "I had to travel on a Monday and return home on a Monday or Tuesday. That seemed good to me. Five pounds, even after the war years, was better than a shift down the pit for a meagre wage."

Rejecting the opportunity of an international trial game at Methil, Hughie Gallacher made his Queen of the South debut aged 17 against St Cuthbert Wanderers on 29 January 1921. Gallacher’s name on the team sheet replaced Ian Dickson who was on his way to Aston Villa. Even then it was clear that Gallacher was on first name terms with the ball - he scored four goals in a 7-0 victory helped by Saints arriving minus their goalkeeper and a local player stepping in instead. Almost 1 500 fans watched his debut. The Standard reported, "Gallacher created a favourable impression. A young player of dashing type." 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". The contract was waiting for Gallacher after the game.

At 5’ 5", Gallacher had neither height nor weight. However, as he would show time after time in the years ahead, the weapons that he had in his armoury were simply out of this world. Utterly fearless bravery was routine in Gallacher’s game. He had the intuition, guile and ball control of a magician. He was superb at unnerving big defenders by dropping off deep into space in front of them before turning and running menacingly with the ball. He skipped and swerved effortlessly past opponents with his dribbling runs. His goal threat was terrifying, packing ferocious and precise shooting with either foot and excellent spring making him very handy with his head despite his diminutive appearance. If that wasn’t enough, Gallacher had an astonishing ability to score ’impossible’ goals. When not scoring himself he laid on chances for team mates with incisive passes, flicks and touches. Tremendous at shielding, Gallacher’s manner of hunching over the ball made it a near impossibility to dispossess him without knocking him over risking a free kick. He also harried and scavenged for the team. Gallacher practised and practised and was always looking to add to his extensive repertoire of tricks - "A proud boast of mine was that there was no one in the game more conscientious in training than I". Gallacher’s natural skill combined with his unquenchable determination made for a cosmic cocktail.

Gallacher’s next game was his senior debut, a Scottish Cup second round tie against Nithsdale Wanderers. QoS lost 3-1 but Gallacher's goal was his first goal in senior competition. 5 000 fans were in attendance. "Gallacher, who was the best of the line, played well thoughout," said one press report.

In the 5-2 victory over Dumbarton 'A' 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." This was against a defence that included players experienced in league football. Another press report said, "The Palmerston wizard had matters all his own way and his lightning methods when out for goals, shooting with deadly accuracy with either foot, or butting in with his head as the opportunity offered, won him additional favour among the Palmerston supporters."

Gallacher then hit four against a Glasgow Railway Select and another four against a Queen's Park Hampden XI (the reserve side of the club at the time in the Scottish top flight). His next goal was in the 3-1 defeat to Airdrieonians Reserves with the Herald and Courier covering another Gallacher virtuoso performance, "Gray’s beautiful cross enabled Gallacher to score one of the bravest goals imaginable. Although Gallacher had his back to goal and with a defender bearing down on him, he quickly saw the danger and scored with an overhead kick. A goal that would have been impossible for most players and the cheering continued when the game was in motion again".

The Standard was similarly effusive: "A long pass from Gallacher to Gray let the winger off and, beating Watson, he carried the ball practically to the goal-line. A beautiful centre from the winger found Gallacher with his back to goal, but with a wonderful overhead kick he screwed the ball past [Willie] Fotheringham into the net". Gallacher’s eye-catching performance would later hit QoS hard.

Gallacher scored against Royal Albert. In the Southern Counties Charity Cup Final against Nithsdale Wanderers, Gallacher scored the game’s only goal.

Gallacher’s time at Palmerston proved to be short. St Mirren's Johnny Cochrane spent all of the two hour train journey back to Glasgow trying to persuade Gallacher he should sign for the Paisley outfit. Gallacher asked for time to consider things. However fate intervened. A holiday in Dumfries turned sour when he took ill with double pneumonia. For a few days he was on the danger-list in Dumfries Infirmary and his parents were summoned. Doctors perceived that he would never play football again. He was layed up for five weeks. "It seemed my brief tilt at fame was finished".

While in Bellshill convalescing he was approached by officials of Airdrieonians. They had seen his talent in the recent challenge game he played against their reserves and in other matches in which they watched him.

"It was not a happy-looking day I can assure you. It was raining heavily. I was reading a newspaper when my mother announced that some gentlemen wanted to have a chat with me."

While the visit was unexpected he was interested in the opportunity it presented. At this time if a player was not playing league football at any time then he was free to sign for whoever offered a contract. He set off with the officials expecting to go to Airdrie’s ground. Instead he arrived at an undertaker’s near Airdrie Cross. In this unlikeliest of locations on 9 May 1921 Hughie Gallacher signed a playing contract for Airdrieonians surrounded by coffins and wreaths.

In his nine QoS games Gallacher hit 19 goals. Gallacher however returned many times to play in and referee charity games. He was also among the jubilant crowd who watched QoS win in their 1929-30 season ending 2-1 Charity Cup final win against Mid-Annandale.


Gallacher moved back to North Lanarkshire with the transfer to Airdrieonians. On September 19th 1921 Gallacher made his senior Scottish League debut in the 2-0 home defeat to Raith Rovers. Gallacher was selected for the first team 15 times that season and hit seven goals. He also helped Airdrie reserves to the Second XI Cup scoring for fun in reserve football. In November he scored against Clydebank to claim his first strike in senior league football. At the turn of the year he was given a spell in the first team. In January 1922 he scored his first hat-trick in a 4-1 defeat of St Mirren. Media reaction was positive; "Airdrie folk appear to have a relish for Gallacher as a trier and one who gets among the opposing defence."

In season 1922/23 Gallacher was initially in and out of the side before becoming a first team main stay as the previously unheralded Airdrie finished second. His third in the March 4-1 defeat of Motherwell was a back heel into the net of a cross that came from the right. He ended the season with 20 appearances and as Airdrie's first choice centre forward.

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 Hibs 2-0 in the Scottish Cup final, the club’s first and only major trophy to date. Gallacher weighed in on the victorious the cup run with six goals. Joining Gallacher in a highly potent strike force was Bob McPhail, subsequently Rangers record goal scorer until over taken by Ally McCoist in 1997. McPhail later said that Airdrie side was as good as any of the great Rangers teams he later played for. However it was another internationalist forward who scored the Airdrie cup final winning goals, Willie Russell. Hibs were completely outclassed on the day with their invertebrate performance contrasting with the zeal and dash of the Airdie players. Airdrie’s Bob Bennie at left half dictated the game. Airdrie were ahead after 4 minutes and never looked back scoring their second after 37 mins. In Airdrie's cup winning eleven players, seven gained full Scotland caps at some point in their careers; Jock Ewart (GK), Jock McDougall (CB), Bob Bennie (LH), James Reid (RW), Willie Russell (IR), Hughie Gallacher (CF) and Bob McPhail (IL).

Even the Hibs official accounts described a one sided game: "And from the first minute, Airdrie had no difficulty. The impression was that at half-time Airdrie had already won it". Hibs had beaten Rangers en route to their second successive Scottish Cup Final defeat. They had lost to Celtic the season before with same eleven players representing them in two successive Scottish Cup finals losses.

Gallacher was a pre-match doubt with an ankle injury but said afterwards, "The Airdrie lot set about Hibs straight from the start."

McPhail: "The terror-like attitude of Gallacher caused havoc with the Hibs defenders. He and Russell were easily our best forwards".

In 1924-25 Airdrie had their third straight second place league finish. Gallacher was credited with 35 goals. The power of their home form was staggering. From 22nd September 1922 until 5th December 1925, Airdrie were unbeaten when playing on their own park in a run lasting 67 league and cup games.

Unsurprisingly there was constant speculation of a big money move South; exponentially so with his international performances terrorising defences at all levels he played at including against English international sides. Airdrie fans became incensed. With pyrophobia not in their vocabulary, they threatened to burn the wooden stand down if Gallacher was sold. However his last game for the club was on December 5th 1925 in the 2-1 defeat to Morton, ironically the game that marked the end of the 3+ years unbeaten home record. After this, Gallacher was on his way. Everton, Sunderland, Arsenal and Chelsea were among a number of English clubs out to sign him but it was to Tyneside that the internationalist with five full caps departed. Thankfully at Broomfield the matchboxes remained in the pockets of the supporters.

In 129 games for Airdrie Gallacher hit 100 goals including 91 strikes in his 111 league games.

Newcastle United

22 year old Gallacher signed for Newcastle on December 8th 1925. He began 14 seasons in English football in which he was the most talked about player in the land. The club said of the fee, "The sum paid is the club's business and theirs alone." The media in Newcastle reported £7,000 and excited rumours spread it was as high as £10,000. Record books reported the fee as £6,500. The week before Sunderland paid what was reported as a new world record £6,550 to Burnley for Bob Kelly - Kelly had debuted for nearby Sunderland three days earlier on the day of Gallacher’s last game for Airdrie. The Tyneside media congratulated Newcastle for signing, 'the most famous centre forward of the day'. Another report stated, 'Newcastle United Football Club has effected the smartest stroke of football business that has been transacted in modern times'. Newcastle already had a very decent side finishing no lower than ninth in the six seasons pre-Gallacher's arrival. They had also lifted the F.A. Cup in 1924. Gallacher was signed to add superstar magic in a push for the league title.

(Gallacher leading out Newcastle at Highbury, 2/10/26. The game ended 2-2. Newcastle won 6-1 at home against Arsenal later in the season)

In Gallacher’s career he was never the type to have issues with low self-esteem. Neither was he backwards in coming forwards. From the moment he walked into the Newcastle dressing room, he was a dominant figure. Men 10 years older and a foot taller were made fully aware that they were privileged to be playing in the same team.

Gallacher made an immediate impact on his debut four days after signing notching two goals and an assist for Stan Seymour in the 3-3 home draw against Everton. Gallacher took 30 minutes to score in English football. He collected a pass with his back to goal on the edge of penalty box from Willie Gibson. He pivoted, burst between the Everton defenders and swept the ball home past the advancing goallie for yet another Gallacher incredible goal. His great contemporary over the next decade, Bill ’Dixie’ Dean, capitalised on defensive mistakes to hit an Everton hat trick.

Centre-back Charlie Spencer: "Gallacher had a big name in Scotland but we were staggered by his size. Then, soon after the match began, I turned and gave my fellow defenders a thumbs-up signal. We knew a real star had joined us."

Gallacher scored 15 goals in his first nine games. He finished the season with 23 league goals in 19 games, 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. With Newcastle mounting a strong championship challenge, arch rivals Sunderland were also serious title contenders. Playing for Sunderland was another prolific goal machine who like Gallacher had started his professional career at Queen of South – Dave Halliday. As club players the two men led something of a parallel existence.

Gallacher and Halliday were born 14 months apart just after the turn of the century and both started their professional careers with then non league QoS (Gallacher joined QoS the season after Halliday had left Palmerston). After QoS each enjoyed prolific goal scoring in Scotland’s top division with a provincial club. Both played in a Scottish Cup final, with Gallacher’s Airdrie lifting the trophy in 1924. The season after Gallacher and Airdrie were knocked out 3-1 in a visit to Dens Park– the third Dundee goal was scored by Dave Halliday. It was that season when Halliday made it to Hampden where Dundee went down 2-1 to a last minute Celtic winner. Gallacher and Halliday both moved to North East clubs in England’s top flight in 1925 - both are the most prolific goal grabbers per game in the history of the relevant club (Gallacher at Newcastle, Halliday at Sunderland). Both men are in the exclusive list of players (27 as at August 2020), to have scored 200 or more goals in England’s top division. In late 1929 Halliday transferred to Arsenal in London and was followed a few months later by Gallacher joining a London club – Chelsea. Both men spent the rest of their playing careers in England before at the end of 1937 Halliday became the first of the two to hang up his boots.

Of the many times the two greats lined up against each other, few games carried the significance of the game on March 19 1927, before a then St James’ Park record crowd of 67,211. When the sides had met earlier in the season, critically for Newcastle, Gallacher was unavailable for selection. Sunderland won the October fixture 2-0 with goals from Halliday and the morbidly named Billy Death killing Newcastle that day.

Describing the March 19th game as a championship decider would be an exaggeration. The game though would have a huge bearing on the destiny of the title. On this occasion it was Gallacher who came out on top with his 32nd minute goal being the only one of the game.

Still widely regarded as Newcastle’s finest ever player, captain Gallacher lifted the English League championship trophy that season, Newcastle’s first since 1909 and their last to date. Sunderland finished third. Gallacher scored 36 league goals in 38 appearances in the championship-winning season, still the highest number of league goals in a season by one Newcastle player. He was one goal behind the division's top scorer for that season, Jimmy Trotter of The Wednesday as the Sheffield club were still then known. The Northern Echo Football Annual summarised his Maradona-esque contribution to the season with, "In Hughie Gallacher, their centre-forward and captain, they possess a footballer and leader who stands alone in the matter of skill. It was largely due to his brilliance and the support he derived from from his colleagues that Newcastle United gained the League honours." They finished five points ahead of runners-up and champions of the three previous seasons, Huddersfield Town; an emphatic margin in the era of two points for a win.

Gallacher scored consistently at Newcastle. In the 1927-28 season he scored 21 league goals in 32 appearances. In the 1928-29 season he scored 24 league goals in 33 appearances. In the 1929-30 season he scored 29 league goals in 38 appearances.

From the very first match he played in England he was a marked man with defenders acting on instructions to stop him scoring at all costs. Scotland goalkeeper Jack Harkness said of him, "I never saw any player with as many scars and hacks." Newcastle teammate and future brother-in-law, George Mathison, recalled, "You had to see his legs to believe the treatment he was given. They were pitted, scarred. You couldn't blame him for losing his cool". This was despite Gallacher playing with a half inch layer of cotton wool padding added inside his shin-pads.

Gallacher’s perceived lack of protection from referees often saw him in trouble with football’s authorities. On Christmas Eve, 1927, Newcastle played hosts to Huddersfield. Newcastle lost the game despite Gallacher hitting a double. Near full time with the score level, Gallacher was twice in quick succession bundled down in the box.

"Look here referee, didn’t you see that?” said Gallacher.

"No penalty", referee Bert Fogg dismissively replied.

"Everyone but you saw it", responded Gallacher in disgust.

"I’m reporting you", replied the unsympathetic Mr. Fogg.

The ´discussion´ then continued after the game all way to the referee’s changing room. A heated Gallacher, never verbally challenged, said to the referee, "Fogg is you’re name and you’ve been in a fog all day!” It was later alleged by a "friend" that Gallacher pushed the referee into the bath although Gallacher never admitted to this in public. The footballing authorities failed to see the humour in Gallacher’s wit - he was given a two month ban.

Gallacher's ban extended to being unable to train with Newcastle and he was paid no wages by his club. He spent the time in Bellshill earning better money than he did as a player by commenting on Scottish Cup ties for a Glasgow newspaper. When back in Scotland he put it to Alex James (now at Preston North End), that he should join him at Newcastle. James was keen to step up a division with Newcastle where he would play beside his great friend. James would likely have felt further comfort from the size of Newcastle's caledonian contingent; in one game v Leeds United in 1928-29, Welshman Ed Wood was the only non-Scot in the Newcastle line-up. Bemusingly given the super-stellar contribution of the diminutive Gallacher, Newcastle's directors felt James was too small to be a success. If Newcastle signing Gallacher had been a masterstroke, their passing up Alex James proved to be masternumptyism; all the more so given Gallacher's blatant visibility in Newcastle colours disproving the beyond-absurd idea that someone that size was too small to be successul as an attacking footballer. Hughie Gallacher and Alex James never played a competitive club game together but played six games together for Scotland. Scotland won all of the six blitzing in 23 goals for with only seven against. Gallacher and James between them scored 12 of the 23 goals. All three goals officially credited to Alex James for Scotland had Gallacher also in the team line up.

When Arsenal's Herbert Chapman was spotted at St James' Park at the beginning of the season in 1928, rumour overdrive kicked in that Gallacher was on his way to Highbury. Despite Gallacher's disciplinary issues though, at this stage he was still considered too valuable to part company with. A year later Chapman signed James instigating Arsenal becoming England's supremely dominant club side with James their captain and creative lynchpin; James won four championship titles and two FA Cups there.

Hughie Gallacher would never be looked upon as the Peter Mandelson of his day. From his outspoken comments Gallacher’s relationship with United’s directors was never healthy despite his value as a player. Gallacher went on a 1930 Summer tour of France with his international compatriots and whilst he was away Newcastle agreed to sell him to Chelsea. He was furious that United had done the dirty on him and later said. "Why Newcastle wanted to let me go I never found out, but with such an attitude, I was bound to leave the club. Better sooner than later". The fee involved was £10,000. With Gallacher seen as a deiti, the shocked Newcastle fans were incensed as the Airdrie fans had been before them. However, the directors had their way despite the public revolt.

Whilst at Newcastle United, he scored 143 league and cup goals in 174 appearances, a strike rate of over 82% making Hughie Gallacher the most prolific striker in Newcastle United history. To put things into perspective, only Andy Cole gets close with 81%. The likes of Jackie Milburn (50%), Malcolm MacDonald (53%) and Alan Shearer (50%) don’t get anywhere near.


(Three of the Chelsea Scots; Alec Cheyne, Hughie Gallacher and Andy Wilson)

Gallacher joined Chelsea as part of a £25,000 spending spree which also saw the club sign his fellow Scottish international forwards Alex Jackson and Alec Cheyne. Already at Chelsea was another QoS legend, Willie Ferguson. Chelsea’s manager was the only player to have gained a Scotland cap playing for 19th century Dumfries club, Queen of the South Wanderers - David Calderhead. Gallacher's competitive Chelsea debut was a 1-0 win at Grimsby Town with full-vack Tommy Law scoring with a penalty.

Such was Gallacher’s popularity at Newcastle, when Chelsea visited Newcastle United for their second league game of the season, the attendance was a still record 68,386 with several thousand more locked out. Gallacher was welcomed to the pitch with a "storm of cheering" never afforded before or since for a visiting place. Newcastle won 1-0. Gallacher marked his home debut the following weekend with a double strike in a 6-2 win over Manchester United. He also helped Cheyne score a hat trick. Gallacher scored 81 goals in 144 games and was Chelsea’s top scorer in each of his four seasons in West London. The team sometimes clicked, such as in that 6-2 win over Manchester United, 5-0 thumpings of Sunderland and Grimsby, and a 4-1 win against Newcastle. In one three game run Leeds lost 6-0 at the Bridge with all five forwards scoring, and then beat both Leicester and Man City 4-1 in which Gallacher scored three. That late season run though was at the wrong end of the table and spared Chelsea from relegation. Trophies remained elusive with Chelsea too often under-peforming from what was a team packed with internationalists and a star studded attack. Some felt the spending by Calderhead on defenders didn't match the quality spent on forwards. Some others felt a 1930s equivalent of a 'galacticos' signing policy brought too much personal ego and insufficient subscription to the creed of the collective. Whatever the reason was, Chelsea added up to less than the sum of their parts.

(Despite a diminutive appearance Gallacher was not to be under estimated in the air. This picture is against Arsenal)

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 ex club, 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. The Geordies went on to lift the trophy with a hugely controversial cup final goal against Arsenal.

Derby County

In October 1934 Gallacher ended up in a bankruptcy court. He had massive debts for the 1930s of £787. This was attributed to years running legal costs seeking a divorce from his first wife. Derby County boss, George Jobey, visited London looking to sign an Arsenal player to cover a long term knee injury picked up by his England centre-forward, Jack Bowers. The deal at Highbury fell through. Arsenal captain, Alex James, turned up at Gallacher's apartment in Kensington to tell him Jobey was on the look out for a centre-forward. Gallacher was suggested to Jobey who signed him in November 1934 for a £2,750 fee. The deal included a £200 fee paid to Carey Street Bankruptcy Court to help dischange his debts shortly afterwards.

Even at the age of 32 Gallacher was one of the finest centre forwards ever to wear a Derby County jersey. Gallacher was taken under the wing of fellow Scot, Dally Duncan. His Derby debut was a home fixture against Birmingham City on 10 November 1934. Six minutes into play, Duncan provided a magnificent crossfield-pass. Gallacher was on it like a whippet. He cracked a stunning left foot drive past England goalkeeper, Harry Hibbs, into the top corner of the net. The game ended 1-1 with the Derby Evening Telegraph reporting, "Gallacher had proved a great success. His footwork was brilliant and his positioning clever and he was given a loud cheer as the players ran off the field".

He scored his side's only goal in his second game, a 5-1 thrashing at Portsmouth. In December he scored two in a 9-3 home mega-trouncing of West Bromwich Albion. Of the visit to Blackburn a week later, the Derby Evening Telegraph reported, "A quarter of an hour from the end, he walked through the defence like the master he is, to get his fifth goal, a wonderful effort". Gallacher rant past three opponents before shooting past the goallie. Rovers scored only two in reply to Derby's five. In January he scored in five consecutive games in which accumulated seven further goals. Derby were title contenders against eventual champions, Sunderland, and the Arsenal omnipotent 1930s squad. Derby eventually finished sixth. Despite arriving mid-season, Gallacher was their top scorer with 24 strikes from his 30 games.

In the summer (1935) he was joined by his best friend when previously at Newcastle United, Jimmy Boyd. It also seemed Gallacher would finally join up in club football with Alex James. Derby agreed a cash / player deal involving England internationalists Tom Cooper and Sammy Crooks moving to Arsenal. The deal fell through though when James found out his valuation was only £2,000.

Derby started the next season abysmally; away defeats at Everton (4-0) and Preston (1-0). They then clicked into gear with six wins in 7 games unbeaten to put them in contention at the business end of the league table. Gallacher scored five times in those seven games. After a 1-0 set back at Sheffield Wednesday, Derby then collected five points from six in the next three games culminating in a 3-0 home defeat of Manchester City. Gallacher scored against City but collected a serious shoulder injury. In his absence his team mates won only two of the next 10 games. Gallacher's come back was in the F.A. Cup third round in January at home. Non-league Dartmouth went 2-0 up and a shock looked on the cards. Gallacher though initiated a come back to win 3-2. Gallacher though had not recovered from the shoulder injury and missed 10 further games.

Despite inconsistent form Derby were still in contention when Gallacher returned on 7 March for the 3-0 win at West Brom. He scored twice. Sunderland were already champions by the time they visited Derby in the penultimate weekend of the season. Gallacher scored his last Derby goal in their 4-0 win. They finished runners-up in the league that 1935-36 season, a finish the club have surpassed only twice (both times in the 1970s under the influence of Brian Clough and Dave Mackay). Gallacher hit 40 goals in his 55 games for Derby including 38 goals in 51 league games.

Gallacher was 33 at the start of 1936-37 season. He was past his peak and unusually for him (and especially given his rough treatment by defenders), had missed many games the previous season through injury. Jack Bowers was back to full fitness and again the first choice Derby centre-forward.

Notts County

The 1930s weren't the smoothest of times for Notts County, They had seven managers during the decade which in contrast to the revolving manager's office door of many clubs today, was a sign of instability at the time. They were in England's Division Three South and labouring to move back up the football ladder. Ex-Spurs manager Percy Smith arrived in July 1935 signing a great goalscorer in ex-Leicester City's Arthur Chandler. 39 year old Chandler though played only 10 league games although he returned a productive six goals. For 1936/37 Smith tried another centre-forward with some pedigree; Jimmy Smith scored the British record 66 goals in season 1927/28 taking Ayr United to the Scottish Second Division title. Jimmy Smith averaged a goal per league game at County but in playing only one such game was hardly the answer. The manager then turned his attention to Gallacher who joined for a £2,000 fee.

Smith explained to Gallacher that County were in a bad way at the time. It wasn't until Gallacher showed up for his first training session that he realised how worrying the situation was. Despite the season being six games old, County had only seven fit players. Gallacher was made captain and set about his business. He scored twice in his second game and three against Northampton Town. Manager Smith though didn't stick around departing in October. He was replaced by Gallacher's ex-Scotland captain and fellow Wembley Wizard, Jimmy McMullan. Gallacher was delighted with this and the arrangement worked out superbly for both.

Gallacher wasn't as quick as he was peviously but had a ton of experience and still oozed class when in possession of a football. As competitive as ever, he was the division's outstanding player by some distance. Allying the never give up spirit of his team mates to Gallacher's skill made them a force to fear in that league. Attendances went up dramatically with crowds piling into Meadow Lane to see Gallacher's goals in a winning team. McMullan commented, "It isn't what Hughie is doing himself, but what he is doing for the rest of the team." They powered up the table hitting top spot from Christmas until the climax of the league season. Their rivals were Luton Town, Brighton and Hove Albion and Watford in the chase for the sole promotion spot.

County needed three points (two for a win) from their last two games. Disastrously for them though, County lost on the penultimate game of the season, a home tie against Brighton. Luton moved into the driving seat meaning when County won their last game against Walsall, they finished as runners-up and missing promotion.

The season still had to be looked on as a success for County. Finishing second seemed fantasy among the somewhat chaotic scenes pre-Gallacher arriving. On a personal level Gallacher scored 25 goals in his 33 games. Hopes were justifiably high for 1937-38 and things went well in the first half of the season. Then the wheels fell off in December. McMullan's management attracted attention from County's success and he departed to join Sheffield Wednesday in the division above. McMullan was a massive influence at the club including with his friend Gallacher. The Scot asked for a transfer and generated interest from Bradford City and Stockport County. However a top division side moved in. He left with 32 goals in 45 senior games for Notts County.

Grimsby Town

Charlie Spencer was an ex-championship winning team mate of Gallacher with Newcastle in 1927. He now managed Grimsby but with numerous injuries to important players, his team were in a battle to avoid relegation from the top flight. Their star player was Welsh internationalist Pat Glover who scored over 130 goals for them in the previous four seasons. Glover though picked up a serious cartlidge injury in the first game of the season. Spencer signed Gallacher In January 1938 for £1,000 as short term attempt to plug that gap. Gallacher was not the force he had been in England's top flight. His arrival though still gave The Mariners a shot in the arm to secure safety from the drop clinched on the last day of the season.

Going into a tense final weekend the bottom six teams were all on 36 points. Stoke, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Grimsby (2-0 hosting Gallacher's ex-club Chelsea winning 2-0), all won. Man City and West Brom both lost to take the drop. Glover though was prefered to Gallacher for the final game win over Chelsea. Watching from the stand when fit had no appeal to Gallacher especially when a half-fit Glover was sometimes picked ahead of him. Gallacher scored his last three top fllight goals during his 12 games for Grimsby before his final professional move.


Gateshead FC were in Division Three North of the English football ladder. They were ambitious though and knowing full well Gallacher's popularity on Tyneside, first tried to sign him shortly after Chelsea had paid 10 grand for him. After trying numerous times since, they now had him for the more modest £500. "It’s grand to be back on Tyneside," said an emotional 36 year old Hughie, when he climbed off the train. It seemed a good move. As well as Gallacher being hero worshipped locally, his father-in-law was an ex-Director at Gateshead and his brother-in-law a recently departed ex-player. Gallacher lived in Gateshead for the rest of his days. His signing was another Tyneside master stroke generating massive excitement in the area. Crowds at the Gateshead ground soared to near 20,000 a week.

He missed the season opening league game with Crewe being sent home by train before kick-off. He debuted the week after when Gateshead hosted Barrow winning 2-1. He scored against Doncaster before for the sixth and final time he scored five goals in one game. Walter Lawrence in the opposing goal said of the 7-1 defeat, "He scored some spectacular goals and was so very quick in thought. Rotherham's younger players had no answer to Hughie's ball control and positioning. He was a clas above everyone else." Fortunes dropped though when Gallacher missed games in October through illness. By the time Gallacher returned in December promotion was an unrealistic objective with only one team going up. He still inspired the team to only two defeats in the last 20 games. He scored in the last game of the season 1-1 draw v Carlisle United. He hit 18 goals in 34 games for the club that season.
Three games played in the early 1939/40 season were annulled after Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 following Hitler's invasion of Poland two days previously. Hence the Carlisle game is in the record books as Gallacher's last official game rather than Gateshead's 7-1 defeat at Lincoln City on 2 September 1939. Gallacher scored no goals in the three annulled season games.

In World War 2 he worked in munitions factories just as he had done in the previous world war. He also served in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) driving an ambulance. Tyneside as a major industrial area was targeted by German bombing raids. He continued to play and also referee in charity games until the age of 52. "All you have to do is lay on the transport, find some size six boots and leave the rest to me." Even then he drew this comment when 52 summing up the Gallacher genius:

"He took a cross from the wing, jammed it against the goal post with his head, and dropped it over the line - who else could do a thing like that?"

At least one account attributes this comment to Jackie Milburn. Another account does not name the source of the remark.


The month after his 21st birthday, on March 1st 1924 in the 2-0 victory against Northern Ireland Gallacher was awarded his first international cap. Blustery winds affected the game as a spectacle. Gallacher while not scoring still played well and was involved in the build up to Dave Morris scoring the second goal.

On 14 February 1925 in his second full international he scored his first goals at that level defeating Wales 3-1 at Tynecastle. From a career portfolio packed with astonishing goals, his second in this game was his career favourite. As he burst towards goal on another of his Maradona-esque solo runs, Wales had five defenders between him and the goal. Fred Keenor was left behind with a swerve. Moses Russell tried to block but Gallacher was too fast for him. Another defender sped up to him but Gallacher stopped dead in his tracks to leave the defender in bewildered confusion. Bert Gray ran out from goal and dived desperately at the ball near Gallacher's right foot. Gallacher lifted the ball over Gray and then tapped in with his left foot. "As I turned to walk back I saw the Welsh players applauding me."

He returned to Tynecastle shortly after for an international trial match playing for Scotland 'B'. He blitzed in five goals in a 7-1 win. His buddy Alex James was on way his up the football ladder playing for Raith Rovers and was a team mate in the win. Three days later Gallacher and Airdrie team mate Willie Russell both scored in a 4-3 defeat to the English League at Goodison Park.

4 April 1925 was Gallacher's first game in the showpiece game of the season v England. Gallacher served notice to English defenders on what they could look forward to in the future. He delivered a sparkling performance with Russell lined up beside him. Gallacher opened the scoring with a 37th minute waist-high volley screaming past Dick Pym in goals. Gallacher added the second with five minutes left for a 2-0 win.

In November 1925 Gallacher hit five in the Scottish League 7-3 victory over the Irish League. Two weeks later Gallacher hit both goals in the 2-0 win against the English League.

(31st March 1928. Jimmy McMullan leads out the Scots, Wembley 1928. Behind him is Jimmy Gibson and then Hughie Gallacher in front of the keeper, Jack Harkness. After Harkness is Alex James in his trademark baggy shorts.)

The best known international game in which Hughie Gallacher played was while he was at Newcastle in 1928. The Scots team from that day has since gone down in folklore as the ’Wembley Wizards’. An entire feature could be written on this one game alone so to quote briefly some press articles of the time:

* "It was not so much defeat that England suffered as humiliation. There was a period in second half when the football verged on the ludicrous; the Scottish players were taking and giving their passes at a walking pace, underlining with rather cruel emphasis the ease with which they could draw the English defence out of position. There were times when the Scottish forwards seemed to be indulging in the artistic pleasure of playing with the mouse rather than killing it outright."

* “From this point up to the end of one’s memory of the game resolves itself into a picture of the Scots playing a leisurely and elaborate game of passing among themselves, and of the Englishmen running about aimlessly and now and again touching the ball”

* “At times they simply toyed with their bigger and burlier opponents. The ball was manoeuvred from man to man with astonishing adroitness on a rain sodden pitch. Naturally the big Scottish section of the 80,000 crowd were jubilant. During one period of marked Scottish ascendancy in the second half they didn’t know whether to cheer or laugh. They were uproariously amused one minute, the next they were cheering themselves hoarse.”

* "Scotland's whole team played with a mastery that was made to appear sheer effrontery"

* “Scotland, by over indulgence in the pleasant pastime of making the English defence look supremely silly, cheated themselves out of a sixth and possibly a seventh goal, and just on time England scored in the only way that looked possible for them – direct from a free kick”.

It was a historic day in the story of Wembley Stadium. In a booklet published by the stadium owners in 1945, the story is told like this:

"English football fans shudder when the year 1928 is mentioned. The traditional enemy, Scotland, came to Wembley and gave the Sassenachs a first class lesson in the art of playing football. So much so that, to this day, that Scottish team is still spoken of as ‘The Wembley Wizards.’ All Scotland seemed to come to town for that match, and the fans actually brought their own scaling ladders to make sure of getting into the stadium. As a result of this, Wembley afterwards became a barbed wire fortress.”

Ivan Sharpe was another in the English press to give an appreciative report:

"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." More than 30 years later he was still saying he had never seen a performance like it.

Gallacher played brilliantly, always available leading the line, moving the ball around hypnotically bringing his team-mates into play. The Scotland goal scorers in the 5-1 win that day were Alex Jackson with three and Alex James with two. The three of them were dubbed 'The Three Msuketeers'. Alan Morton was similarly brilliant on the opposite wing to Jackson. McMullan delivered a captain's performance as the dominant midfield player.

Gallacher’s international goals tally is disputed. On 23rd February 1929 Scotland played Northern Ireland in Belfast. Gallacher and Alex Jackson put on a wondrous show for the Scots in winning 7-3. Jackson scored two and made the five others. The referee was no less than Bert Fogg who was previously alleged to have been examined for his amphibious qualities by Gallacher after a Newcastle game. There is no debate Gallacher scored at least four in that match. He said though after the game, "Several newspapers mistakenly credited Alex James with one of my scoring efforts." As at 2016 Gallacher’s SFA profile credits him with four goals in that game and a senior international total of 23 strikes. However elsewhere on their website the SFA state, "He also holds the record for most goals scored by a single player in a match, scoring five in a 7-3 victory over Northern Ireland in 1929."

Having pointed out this inconsistency to the SFA the following reply was received from Bruce Gilmour at the Scottish Football Museum:

"We agree that the information relating to Hughie on the Scottish FA website is incomplete and we have been advised by our colleagues there that it is their intention that the website will soon be updated to rectify this."

"In relation to the number of goals Hughie scored in the Northern Ireland game, it is the general consensus that Hughie scored five goals in the game which is backed by newspaper reports and several statistical books. There was some controversy over Scotland’s 6th goal which was Hughie’s 5th in that both he and Alex James went for the ball at the same time but apart from a couple of reports, the majority of newspapers credited Hughie with the goal as well as the record books. Hughie himself was insistent that the goal was his, claiming that as he and Alex James (who was a good friend of his) were of a similar build (and of course in 1929 there were no numbers on the jerseys), it was easy for pressmen to make a mistake."

Only two players, Denis Law and Kenny Dalglish with 30 each, have scored more goals for the full Scotland international team than Hughie Gallacher’s 24. Gallacher is more prolific averaging 1.2 goals per game with 24 goals coming from only 20 caps. Law took 55 games for his 30 goals (0.55 goals per game), Dalglish took 102 games for his 30 (0.29 goals per game) and Hibs' Lawrie Reilly had 38 games returning 22 goals (0.58).

Gallacher would almost certainly had more international caps (and goals) to his name. However he became embroiled in the centre of a club v country dispute. It cost him badly. As Bruce Gilmour tells us again:

"With regard to the club v country dispute, the basis of the problem emanated more from the English F.A. Gallacher was originally picked for the Scottish team to play England in April 1930 but asked if he could be released from the game so that he could play for Newcastle United instead, as they were in a critical league position. It came to light later however that Newcastle had put pressure on him to put club before country and instead of playing at Wembley he played against Arsenal in a 1-1 draw. Arsenal however were also in need of points and had agreed that Alex James could play in the international and voiced their displeasure at the disadvantage that had been placed upon them."

"There had various arguments at that time relating to the release of players for international duty when league matches were also being played. In the summer of 1930, the Football League took the unprecedented step of actually forbidding cubs to release players to associations other than the F.A. whether they wanted to or not. This agreement was hastily revoked, to be replaced by another agreement which was not quite so prohibitive but still had so many conditions, it was virtually impossible for clubs to release players to Scotland, Wales and Ireland to play for their country yet there were not the same restrictions when it came to releasing players for England duty. This meant it was not so much Scotland choosing not to pick English based players but more being unable to. This situation continued until at least 1934 when some of the conditions were lifted. The clubs themselves had a more enlightened approach to releasing players than the league, but a new more relaxed agreement was reached which was to last for the next twenty years."

In that 1-1 draw v Arsenal it was Gallacher who created Joe Devine’s equaliser. Arsenal had also released David Jack to play for England as well as Alex James for Scotland. Thus the Arsenal grievance seems understandable. Gallacher had cracked in 24 goals in 18 full internationals at which point his international career was put on hold.

In Gallacher’s 20 full internationals, Scotland won 17, drew 1 and lost only 2. Scotland never lost a full international when Gallacher scored. At all levels Gallacher represented Scotland 30 times hitting 46 goals.

What people said of him


Bob McPhail (7 goals from 17 Scotland caps and Gallacher's Scottish Cup winning team mate at Airdrie): "A superb centre-forward and he knew it... he had a superb sense of getting himself into the right position... he was never caught off balance. He shielded the ball probably better than any other player I have seen."

Stan Seymour (2 England caps, title winner with Gallacher at Newcastle): "I knew him for more than 30 years and I say without hesitation that he was the greatest centre-forward I have ever seen. The ordinary rules didn't apply to Hughie Gallacher because he was a soccer genius."

Charlie Buchan (4 goals from 6 England caps): "He was the complete leader of the attack. I have seen faster and more thrustful leaders but none who combined the art of ball control, leadership and goalscoring as did Gallacher."

Raich Carter (7 goals from 13 England caps): "There has never been better. His basic strong point was his remarkable ball control. Because of it he had the ability to beat opponents with the minimum of space."

Tommy Lawton (22 goals from 23 England caps): "He was a truly great centre-forward. He had remarkable ball-control and he was brilliant off the ball, reading the game perfectly and always knowing where to go. I think he must have had springs in his heels because, despite his small stature, he could out-jump the biggest centre-halves of the day. He took a tremendous amount of punishment, but he never shirked a challenge. Players like Hughie Gallacher appear only once in a generation."

Frank Swift (19 England caps as GK). "He was the greatest centre forward I ever saw. But he had more tricks than a bucketful of monkeys."

Alan Shearer (30 goals from 63 England caps) said that his father told him, "No matter how many you score, you'll never be as good as Gallacher."

Gallacher said of his gifts:

"Undoubtedly there were faster centre-forwards at the time, but I think I was the most skillful. I did not believe my job was solely to score goals, although naturally smacking the ball in the back of the net was an important part."

An original inductee in 2004, he was the only ex Queen of the South player in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame until he was joined by Andy Goram in 2010. He has also been inducted into the Airdrie, Newcastle United and English Football Halls of Fame.

Jackie Gallacher

Gallacher's son, Jackie, from his first marriage was also a football pro. While not having his father's superhuman footballing creative genius, Jackie was a regular scorer for Celtic with whom he chalked up 103 goals in 126 mostly war time games. He was understudy to Ephraim 'Jock' Dodds for a 1944 war time Scotland v England international (Dodds scored 8 goals in his 6 internationals v England all played during WW2). When aged 22, Gallacher junior was stretchered off due to punishment meted out by his opponents in a June 1946 Old Firm game. He missed all of the season after. Numerous comeback attempts broke down and his appearances became infrequent. He then had loans at Dunfermline and Falkirk but never fully recovered from the injury. He left Celtic and the senior game aged 27 in August 1951 when he joined Kettering Town.

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