Monday, 30 April 2012

Season by Season: 1930/1

Hughie Gallacher scoring
against Man United.

It was rumoured that Chelsea signed Hughie Gallacher against his will, and the furrowed brow evident in every photo certainly spoke of a troubled soul. 

What is certain is that Chelsea paid a near British record £10,000 for his rare qualities. And when he appeared in blue at St James’s Park soon after leaving Newcastle for Stamford Bridge, a stadium record of 68,386 turned out to see the prodigal son return.

Gallacher is a Chelsea legend, on and off the pitch. A stocky, combustible 5’5”, the Scottish international was a prolific goalscorer before he arrived, averaging a goal every 1.22 matches in his Tyneside career. 

When Chelsea finally achieved promotion after a long hiatus in the Second Division, his signing in the summer of 1930 must have been as pleasant a surprise to Chelsea fans of the day as any since.

My brother Jack, who saw my father play, said no one could play like him - even Diego Maradona.” Hughie Gallacher junior on his father the footballer. 

With an incredible leap compensating for his lack of inches, Gallacher was the complete attacking footballer. He could shoot powerfully with either foot, beat three or four players at a time, and showed such guile against defenders in the penalty box that he must have been a nightmare to play against.

There was his sewer mouth, however. Hughie was frequently cited for swearing at officials and players at a time when the sport was still considered gentlemanly, and it was possible for opponents to exploit this chink in his make-up. 

Outside of football he was just as noticeable. He liked a drink. “Gallacher was, one Friday evening, thrown drunk and incapable out of a pub on the Kings Road, Chelsea,” recalled the veteran football writer Brian Glanville, “to the amazement of members of the team due to play Chelsea next day who happened to be passing at the time. The following afternoon, Gallacher ran them ragged!”

In his first season rather too few opponents ended in such a state – that would come soon enough. However, the Pensioners settled into a respectable mid-table position as if never having been away and the crowds returned largely because of his presence. He would remain at Chelsea for four years before moving on again.

The decline that followed is sad to note. Ravaged by his dependance on alcohol and guilt over an impending charge of cruelty against his son Matthew, in 1957 Gallacher threw himself in front of an express train at Gateshead and was killed. He remains a true Chelsea great.  

A second feature film starring Chelsea players (as well as a young Rex Harrison), ‘The Great Game’, directed by Jack Raymond and filmed partly at Stamford Bridge, was released in 1930, cementing the club’s showbiz image.
In 1930/31... 
Facts & figures: Hughie Gallacher will score 88 goals in 144 starts for Chelsea.
League finish: Twelfth in Division One.
Cup run: Reached sixth round, losing in a replay to Birmingham City.
All the rage: The British Empire (later Commonwealth) Games are held in Canada.

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