Newcastle United Change

Newcastle United James Fitzpatrick

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Our recent Chronicle story recalling the tragic death of Hughie Gallacher, Newcastle United’s 1920s superstar, prompted Remember When reader James Fitzpatrick, from Gateshead, to put pen to paper

WHAT must be remembered about football in Gallacher’s days was that it was played with the old leather football and you needed a badge of courage even to head such a ball.

Gallacher was very small for a footballer, yet the old timers will tell you that he could out-jump a six foot fullback.

Today the opposition is beaten by speed and the quick pass. Gallacher, however, was the master of the dribble and he was noted for beating three and even four opponents in a row.

It was often said of him that such was the little man’s mastery of the ball that he could beat an opponent, give him back the ball, and then take repossession of it again.

The career procedure of professional footballers before the war was to play First Division football, then as they got older Second and Third, and eventually to end up by being manager of a public house or finally to end up by working in some local shipyard or factory.

Gallacher was following this routine when he returned to Gateshead to play in Third Division North.

Gateshead football team, playing to a packed crowd, scored seven goals on Gateshead’s first game, Gallacher scoring five himself.

A well known Gateshead full-back is reported as saying after the game: “Before the game we were calling him ‘the old man’. But seeing him make the opposing centre-back look like an old age pensioner, we soon changed our tune.”

During part of his football career he lodged at the Sterling House, Saltwell Road. The Sterling House was a hotel at that time and most of the top of Saltwell Road was a Quaker area.

He used to race the tram cars up Bensham Road to keep himself fit. At the end of his career, he worked at Huwoods Mining Machinery factory at the Team Valley Trading Estate. It was here that I met him.

We worked together on the assembly line, assembling conveyor belt rollers which carry the coal from the face of the pit.

When the buzzer went to start work, he made us all laugh by spinning a coin out of his pocket, catching it, blowing an imaginary whistle and pointing to which end of the factory he wanted to work from.

He once told me he went for training as usual to St James’s Park and was told by the gatekeeper that he was on the transfer list. “I was sold like a beast in the cattle market” were the words he used.

I remember one day watching as the lads from Huwoods were playing football outside the factory at dinner time.

The football was kicked on to the pathway and rolled to his feet. He picked it up, examined its patchwork and smiled the smile of Bellhill memories and his own youth.

I stood in breathless amazement as he weaved the fabric of magic our fathers had talked about.

The football travelled down his leg, to his shoulder, to his head, back to his feet, rolled back down over his shoulder again.

I watched spellbound as he played it from heel to heel behind his back up over, back to his head again and finished with a smart trap down his leg once again.

Then with the cheers of the Huwood footballers ringing in his ears, he rolled the ball back into play and quietly walked away.

When the visitors used to come around Huwoods factory, they were always introduced to Hughie and he often embarrassed both the visitors and myself by including me in the introduction.

“Yes, I’m Hughie Gallacher,” he would say “and this little fellow here is Jimmy Fitzpatrick, the biggest Red in the North East of England.”

I was having a pint one Saturday afternoon in Dan Kanes’ (Victoria Hotel on Coatsworth Road) and a drunk began to insult him and I got quite annoyed. Gallacher, however, remained quiet.

“Don’t get excited Jimmy,” he said. “I’ve had insults like that all my life.” Then he finished his pint of beer and went home. If a personality from high society makes a few mistakes, the average working man falls over himself to make excuses for them, but if one of their own has a few shortcomings, they show no mercy.

That Hughie was kindly and sensitive is proved by an extract in Alex James’ book about his own football career.

Alex James writes that going down a Glasgow street, he and Gallacher were approached by an old tramp who begged them for some money for a cup of tea. Alex James walked on, but Gallacher stopped and gave him a copper.

Coming back to join James (the world international) asked Gallacher, “Where’s that lovely top coat you were wearing?” “Oh! I gave it to the old tramp, he needs it more than me,” said Gallacher. Such was the magnitude of the man. Both Gallacher and Alex James came from Bellshill and both worked down the mines.

The song about him went like this:

“Do ye ken Hughie Gallacher

The wee Scots lad,

The best centre forward

Newcastle ever had

He could dribble,

Run and head a ball

And drive the goalies mad.”

There was also:

“Do ye ken Hughie Gallacher,

The wee Scots lad,

The best centre forward,

Newcastle ever had,

If he doesn’t score a goal,

We’ll put him on the dole,

And send him back to Glasgow

In the morning.”

Gateshead Stadium is now a place of international renown.

We should build a monument outside of it, to the little magic man who loved Gateshead and the Gateshead people.

He was killed by the London to Glasgow express train between Low Fell station and Chowdene Bank. His funeral was attended by all the leading personalities in the North East

The London newspapers headlined the tragedy even though Gallacher’s glory days were long gone.

Women who had never seen a football game in their lives, wept like children as his coffin was borne through the streets.

Your magic feet are still, Hughie - but the bonny dreams they weaved for us will never fade away.

James Fitzpatrick




Newcastle United Foundation have a heritage project for fans of all ages called Toon Times.


Toon Times will culminate with a major Newcastle United exhibition at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle, although in the lead up to this event Toon Times wishes to reach out to all Newcastle United fans across the North East and further afield to get involved and share their memories, experiences, photos and memorabilia what people have collected over the years.

We are supporting the project by helping to collect NUFC memories online - fans can share their memories on the Replay Football website, simply select the Toon Times tag when submitting yours.

For more info contact the Toon Times Heritage Project Coordinator, Newcastle United Foundation,


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