Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cigarette Cards

In the days before the Internet, Sky TV, cinemas, newspapers and Panini stickers, getting information and even pictures of your favourite players was hard to do. Up until the Second World War, cigarette cards where the only source of information.

Before the turn of the 19th century, a time when cigarettes were wrapped in paper packets, cigarette manufacturers began inserting pieces of card to protect the contents, quickly realising that these would be useful for advertising their products. The early part of the last century, roughly between 1920 and 1930, was the heyday of cigarette card issues, when virtually every packet contained a little picture. Major companies like Wills and Players had their own studios and artists devoted entirely to the production of cigarette cards. It was big business, and massive print-runs often ran into hundreds of millions for each series. Soon these were followed by pictorial sequences which would build up in to sets. The object was to encourage repeat purchases and establish brand loyalty, and the subjects chosen were those most likely to appeal to the predominantly male customer base. Beautiful young women, sportsmen and soldiers dominated the earliest series, followed by ever more diverse topics in the early 20th century as companies competed for trade by offering something new.

Between 1910 and 1940 tobacco importers W.D. & H.O. Wills and cigarette manufactures such as W.A. & A.C. Churchman and John Player and Sons (known simply as “Players”) launched a series of cards in the UK featuring many of the great names in football including several notable Scottish players of that era, players such as Newcastle´s Tom McDonald and Bob McKay, Chelsea´s Andy Wilson, John McClelland of Middlesbrough, Coventry´s William McDonald and Alex James and George Mutch of Preston North End to name but a few.

In the first of an occasional series looking at some of the Scottish players lucky enough to get their own cigarette card, we put the spotlight on two of Scotland’s finest players from days gone by.

Alex Jackson

Alex Skinner Jackson was born in 1905 in Renton, a town in an area with considerable football pedigree. He signed for Dumbarton in 1922 at the age of sixteen but emigrated to America soon afterwards to join his brother at works team Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania. Aberdeen manager Pat Travers managed to convince Alex and his brother Walter to return to Scotland, paying £100 for the pair and in the summer of 1924 the Jackson brothers took the field for Aberdeen. Alex Jackson only stayed with Aberdeen for one season when Herbert Chapman paid the Dons £5000 to entice Jackson to Huddersfield.

He was a big hit with the Terriers, helping them to retain the league title in his first season, as well as two losing FA Cup Finals. In the 180 appearances Jackson made for Huddersfield between 1925 and 1930 he scored 70 goals. He was sold to Chelsea in 1930 for £8500 and stayed there for two years, scoring twenty-nine goals in seventy-seven appearances. A self described freelance footballer available for hire to the highest bidder, Jackson was approached by French side Nîmes with an offer to play for them. Jackson preferred to stay with Chelsea but with the club unwilling to match the wages offered Jackson for fear of breaking their own wage structure, Jackson became disillusioned with league football and gradually drifted out of football, first concentrating on his pub in St Martin’s Lane and playing for Ashton National in Manchester before finishing his football career with Margate and Nice in the south of France.

An outside-left in old terminology (we’d call him a ‘winger’ today) his devastating pace earned him the nickname ‘The Flying Scotsman’ and his immortality was assured when he scored a hat-trick at Wembley in the famous “Wembley Wizards” international of 1928 when Scotland beat England 5-1. By the time he was thirty-one (young for players of that era), he had effectively retired from football. Jackson joined the Army, rising to the rank of Major and was killed in 1946 when the truck he was driving skidded and overturned. He was forty-one.

Hugh Gallagher

When Alex Jackson arrived at Chelsea in 1930 he was met by fellow ‘Wembley Wizard’ Hugh Kilpatrick Gallagher, at that stage at the top of his career. Gallagher, a son of Ulster working-class brought up in the tradition of the Orange Order, was born two years before Jackson in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire. He joined Queen of the South in 1921 and stayed with them for only one season having scored nineteen goals in the nine games he played, cementing a reputation as a deadly centre-forward with a “first time shot of a deadly nature”. A move to Airdrieonians saw Gallagher win the first of his twenty caps for Scotland against Northern Ireland. In 1925 Newcastle bought Gallagher for £8500 hoping that the 100 goals he scored in his time at Airdrie would help them retain their dominance in the league.

He scored on his debut against Everton and continued scoring eventually becoming that seasons top scorer despite having joined more than halfway through the season. Gallagher was part of a growing Scottish contingent at Newcastle; the side that won the league in 1927 contained a fair share of Scots, players such as Willie Wilson, Alf Maitland, Roddie McKenzie, Willie Gibson, Bob McKay, Tom McDonald and Jim Park and Jim Boyd. Gallagher himself scored five hat-tricks in that league-winning season and was well on the way to become a legend on Tyneside, as children in the streets could be heard singing

dýa ken Hughie Gallagher, the wee Scotch lad?
The finest centre-forward Newcastle ever had.

When Newcastle sold him to Chelsea in 1930 for £25,000 at the behest of the directors and manager Andy Cunningham (and behind Gallagher’s back) he joined up with fellow Scots and former Aberdeen players, Alex Jackson and Alex Cheyne. Despite Gallagher being top scorer in each of his seasons at the London club, Chelsea failed to win silverware.

A short man with an even shorter fuse, Gallagher could have had a career in the ring as a light-welterweight, but choose football over boxing. Not always liked by his fellow professionals (many under instruction, by any means, to stop Gallagher from scoring) he was nevertheless adored by the crowds. While playing for Chelsea, Gallagher’s drink problems got worse, as did his police record. Declared bankrupt in 1934, he was sold to Derby where he played for two years.

His scoring touch did not desert him, racking up over fifty goals in forty appearances for the Rams. Controversy followed him to Derby also when the club was investigated for illegal signing on fees paid to Gallagher. Although Hughie was never implicated, manager George Jobey received a lengthy ban. Spells at Notts County and Grimbsy followed before he returned to the north-east and Gateshead where his appearances still drew massive crowds. “Wee Hughie of the Magic Feet” played his last game as a professional footballer the day before the Second World War broke out.

Following his retirement from the game, Gallagher occasionally played charity games into his fifties with old pal Alex James. When his wife died in 1950, Gallagher was left with a family to look after. Following a domestic incident which resulted in his children being taken into care, Gallagher, unable or unwilling to face the embarrassing legal proceedings for the maltreatment of his sons, he threw himself in front of the York-Edinburgh express train in June 1957. His decapitated body was found later at Dead Men’s Crossing at Low Fell. He was fifty-four years old.

Hughie Gallagher was truly one of the greats of the game. In his 20 caps for Scotland, Gallagher averaged a goal per game. His twenty-three goals is only bettered by two other legends of the Scottish game, Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law.

1 comment:

Chris O said...

Excellent stuff, Seb.

Interesting to note a couple of trends which were around even in the 1930's: (1) Players going off to play on the continent, and (2) Chelsea snapping up anyone that looked like they had a modicum of talent to their name...


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