When Everton reached the FA Cup final in 1906 their opponents, Newcastle United, had previously done “league double” over them and were favourites to lift the trophy. The Merseyside club had reached this stage of the contest twice before and had been beaten on each occasion. This time however, it was to be “third time lucky” as the trophy found its way to Goodison Park. Playing for Everton that day, at left back, was a man who, in many ways, epitomised the type of individual who shaped the development of Victorian Liverpool. His name was John Crelley and he was descended from a family of Seafarers.
His Grandfather, also named John, had moved to Liverpool from Wigtownshire in Scotland where he married Kilmarnock born Margaret Clerk at the church of St John the Baptist in Toxteth. The year was 1846. The couple first “set up” home in nearby Grafton Street before moving to 5 Pluto Street in Kirkdale. They were living at this address when the 1871 census was taken and it reveals that the their 3rd child John, then 15 years old, is serving an apprenticeship to be a Marine Engineer. It was 4 years later that the head of the household died of Pneumonia, while bound for New York, and this obituary appeared in a local newspaper… December the 2ND, at sea, 55 years old, John Crelley Boatswain of the Royal Mail Ship, Bothania, and for 30 years a faithfully and esteemed servant of the Cunard Company. Deeply regretted by all who knew him. (Liverpool Mercury 7th December 1875.)
John quickly followed his late Father in to the Mercantile Marine and was aboard the SS Istrian, out of Liverpool and bound for Boston, when the 1881 census, recorded by the 1st Officer, was taken on 3rd of April. They reveal that he is now a Married Man. On the 20th of June 1880 John Crelley had married Elizabeth Hall, also of Scottish decent, at the Presbyterian church of St Peter in Liverpool. The couple then went to live with the widowed Father of the Bride, Andrew Hall, at Chepstow Street, Walton on the Hill and it was here, on the 24th of September 1881, that their son John was born.
The 1891 census finds him now living with his Mother at 27 Stewart Street and he has began serving an apprenticeship in the Engineering Trade. He must have continued to have tight connections with the Scottish Community of Liverpool for he began his football career, playing the Liverpool & District Amateur League with a Kirkdale based side who played under the banner of Liverpool Celtic from where he excepted an invitation to play for Everton, as a last-minute replacement for Dave Storrier, at Northwich. The game, against a local select X1, was arranged with the object of raising funds for the Northwich Infirmary. Around 3,000 people watched a game, played on the home of Northwich Victoria, that Everton won by 4 goals to 2.
On the 27th of October 1898, he officially signed for Everton, on a wage of £1 per week, and spent 2 seasons playing in the clubs Lancashire Combination X1 before, following an increase in pay, he became a full time Professional.
Jack Crelley made his debut Football League debut on the 31st of March 1900, in a 0-0 draw with Blackburn Rovers at Goodison Park and made a second appearance in a 2-1 away win, against Liverpool, on the 20th of September 1901 He then returned to the second X1. Next Spring, he signed, properly on loan, for Southern League side Millwall Athletic where he made 2 first X1 appearances, against Wellingborough and Tottenham Hotspur, before returning to Everton at the end of the season. During the season of 1903-04 he established himself as first choice left back at where he partnered follow Liverpudlian Robert Balmer.
On the 1st of June 1904, Jack Crelley married Mary Hunt, the daughter of a Customs Officer, at the church of St Mary in Kirkdale. Parish records reveal that the Groom, who lists his occupation as a Professional Footballer, resides, with his parents, at 25, Newark Street while the Bride lives at 1, Kirkdale Vale. The couple later “set up” home at Firdale Road in Walton.
During the season that followed, Everton were unlucky, due to a rearranged fixture with Woolwich Arsenal, to have missed out on winning the league championship and were beaten in the FA Cup semi-final by Aston Villa. Crelley, who made 32 appearances, was included in the end of season tour that was to take Everton on to Mainland Europe for the first time.
They went at the invitation of 1st Vienna Football Club, along with Tottenham Hotspur, to play a couple of exhibition games that were designed to try and make the association game more popular within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The party left from Liverpool Exchange Railway Station on the 27th of April and the train took them to Harwich from where they reached the Continent, by overnight ferry, on the Hook of Holland. They first made their way to Budapest where they beat a local select X1 by 11 goals 2. Jack Crelley and his team mates then travelled on to Austrian Capital, where they linked up with Tottenham Hotspur, and both sides were greeted by the representatives of the Vienna Club. The hosts, the oldest football team in Austria, had been formed in 1894 by Manxman William Beale and his fellow workers who were employed on the large estate that was owned by the wealthy Banker, Nathan Rothschild. The team wore their employers racing colours, Primrose and Blue, while, at the centre of the club badge, was the Triskelion emblem of the Isle of Man. The match was played within the grounds of the Rothschild estate and 3,000 people watched Everton win by 4-2. On the 7th of May 1905 the crowd had doubled in number when Everton and Tottenham Hotspur met for an exhibition game, on the same location, where the Merseyside club won by 2 goals to 0. The 2 English clubs then travelled on to Prague where they played another exhibition game, again won by Everton, before returning to the Hook of Holland where they embarked for England and arrived back in Liverpool on the 20th of May.
Next Season Crelley again signed for Everton and played a prominent role in an FA Cup run that saw Everton through to the final. In the days leading up to the game there was much speculation as to who would occupy the left back position but, on the eve of the game, it was announced that the role would be filled by Jack Crelley. It was a happy time in Crelley household because Mary had recently given birth to their first child they named John Godfrey. The final tie, which took place at the Crystal Palace, saw Everton win courtesy of a single goal that was scored by Sandy Young. Jack Crelley went on to make 127 Football League appearances for Everton, without finding the net, before making a surprise move to the South West of England
In August 1908, he joined an Exeter City side who, having recently turned Professional, had just been elected as members of the Southern League Division 1. The possible explanation for his sudden departure, is best explained by the following newspaper article…It was generally understood that Crelley was not too satisfied with the arrangements his club had made in respect to his benefit match, and it comes as no surprise to those who followed the movements of first class men that he has left Everton (Western News 14th August 1908.)
The man behind the move was Arthur Chadwick who was the Exeter Player/Manager. Born in Blackburn, he was the cousin of Edgar Chadwick who had previously played for Everton. The family of Jack Crelley remained in Liverpool and this fact was confirmed when a local newspaper report stated he had returned home, for a short time, following the birth of his twin sons, Dominic and James on the 16th of September 1908. He spent 2 seasons with the Devonshire club before ending his football career with Lancashire Combination side, St Helens Recreation.
The 1911 census finds the Crelley family living and running a Tobacconists Shop located at 152 County Road in Walton. During the years of World War 1 the head of the household served with the Merchant Navy and, on the 4th of September 1919, was summonsed to his local Mercantile Marine Office, at Canning Place in Liverpool, where he was awarded with 2 medal ribbons for his service. The Crelley family continued to live on County Road until the death of Mary in September 1940 and she was buried at Anfield Cemetery.
Jack Crelley was running an Herbalist Business, in shadow of Goodison Park, at 55 Spellow Lane when he passed away on the 11th of October 1946 and was survived by 3 of his Sons. The acknowledgement of his death, shown here, confirms that the cortege left from the home of his eldest son before he was buried at Anfield Cemetery.
Acknowledgement, Dave Sullivan, Millwall Football Club.
Tony Onslow 20th of July 2018.