(in memory of Hughie Gallacher, Newcastle United’s record goalscorer in 1926-7, who committed suicide in 1957)
Thirty six goals,
more than one way to skin a halfback.
Thirty six snapshots
of a legend
framed in Tyneside pubs.
That’s how we remember you Hughie,
for the good things in life.
Thirty six steps to fame
and a sprinking of treasured ashes
in a football boot.
You put us on the map for a season.
A thirty six gun salute
is the least we can do
for a man
with poetry in his feet,
a bottle of Brown in his pocket,
and a championship medal
round his neck.
You kicked us
into the Blue Star yonder.
You were a magic dribbler
and stocky with it.
So, keep your feet still Hughie hinny.
They’ll never drive
those bonny dreams away.
'Lovely tribute to Hughie!
Congratulations and thanks.'
John Mapplebeck (Bewick Films).
Newcastle United's desperation for their new centre-forward meant that they were willing to pay £6,500 to capture him. Gallacher signed on 8 December 1925.
At Newcastle United Gallacher made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut four days after signing in the 3–3 home draw against Everton (Dixie Dean hit an Everton hat trick) and scoring 15 goals in his first nine games. He ended the season with 23 league goals in 19 games, ending up as the club's top scorer despite signing halfway through the season.
From the very first match he played in England he was a marked man, hacked and elbowed and gouged by defenders acting on instructions to stop him scoring at all costs. One teammate described how Gallacher would sit in the dressing room, with pieces of flesh hanging from his legs and his socks and boots soaked in blood.
The following season, 1926–27, 23-year-old Gallacher was given the captaincy, 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. Sunderland were still in contention until they were beaten 1–0 at St James’ Park on 19 March before a then record crowd of 67,211. The goalscorer was Gallacher, still widely rated today as Newcastle's finest ever player. He scored 36 league goals in 38 appearances, still the highest number of league goals in one season by a Newcastle player.
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.
Within a few months of coming to Newcastle he met and fell in love with Hannah Anderson, the 17-year-old daughter of the landlord of one of his favourite pubs. That caused gossip in the town, and he was threatened several times by her relatives. But Hannah was the only girl for Gallacher, although it wasn't until 1934, when he was finally able to divorce, that he was able to marry her. She was to become the core of Gallacher's life, and they had three sons together.
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 FC 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."
Retirement and death.
Gallacher continued to live in Gateshead, trying a number of careers, one of them being a sports journalist, a role that led to him being banned from St James’ Park for his outspoken remarks about Newcastle United. However, he continued to be a popular character on Tyneside. Gallacher turned out in charity matches even at the age of 52.
With no savings from his footballing days, Gallacher took numerous unremarkable jobs, often menial, to earn a living to support his family. After the sudden death of his wife in December 1950 from a heart complaint, Gallacher became very depressed and lonely.
One evening in May 1957, Hughie went home after a few drinks. His youngest son Mathew (aged 14) was at home reading a newspaper. When Mattie, as he was known, ignored him, he picked up a heavy ornament or ashtray and threw it at the newspaper. It bounced off the top of Mattie's head, drawing blood. Matthew left the house and went to a neighbour's, attempting to find his big brother Hughie Junior. Later when Hughie Junior arrived, he saw the blood and hurried home to confront his father. An altercation took place and as a result the police were summoned. The police reported the assault on young Mattie to the authorities. Mattie was taken into his Aunt Dolly's care and was prevented from returning home until the assault charge could be resolved.
For weeks after the alleged assault, Gallacher began wandering the streets. Many people spoke to him including Newcastle players and staff offering support and assuring him that no one would believe the press and their scandalous statements. Many offered to speak on his behalf.
Denied access to his son and with the court appearance looming, Gallacher began to get increasingly irrational. A local reporter friend said he looked like ‘a traumatised man walking in a glassy-eyed dream’. Gallacher said to a friend, ‘It's no good fighting this thing now. They have got me on this one. My life is finished. It's no use fighting when you know you can’t win.’ He was summoned to Gateshead Magistrates Court for Wednesday 12 June 1957.
On 11 June, he posted a short message to the Gateshead Coroner expressing his regrets at what he had caused, adding that ‘if he had lived to be 100 he would never be able to forgive himself for having hurt Mattie’. He then wandered aimlessly through the streets ignoring the greetings of several people.
On the day of his death, two young trainspotters watched him for half an hour pacing backwards and forwards on a footbridge over the London-Edinburgh railway line at Low Fell, Gateshead. He was openly weeping, talking to himself and occasionally pounding the bridge rail with his fists. He stepped down from the bridge and killed himself by walking in front of an oncoming express train.
When the effects of the tragedy of his father's suicide had subsided Mattie returned home to stay with his elder brother Hughie, before moving to South Africa in 1965.
Posted by keith armstrong at 7:33 am