Bill McCracken, an Irish international at 40 years of age when he was appointed by Hull City in February 1923, was the Tigers’ most high profile managerial appointment in the club’s short history. Renowned as one of the game’s finest full backs, McCracken gave up playing to manage Hull City and retained his post for eight years. During this time he drew extensively on his footballing connections in the North East and unearthed several gems that served the City first team well, then attracted impressive transfer fees. Alas though, he was unable to convert the talent he attracted to the club into promotion to the top flight.
While the Tigers were consolidated in mid-table for much of McCracken’s tenure, they did challenge for promotion in the 1926/27 season, leading the table on Christmas Day 1926 before falling away to seventh place after the distraction of a fine FA Cup run that saw Division One sides West Bromwich Albion and Everton beaten, the latter after two replays, before tasting defeat at the Quarter Final stage to Division Two rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers.
McCracken’s side was again thriving in the 1929/30 season and was in the top three after seven League games. However the Tigers couldn’t sustain their form and when another superb FA Cup run took shape in the late Winter and early Spring of 1930 the club’s League form collapsed. The Tigers reached the FA Cup semi-final only to be defeated in controversial circumstances at the hands of Division One side Arsenal, having eliminated two other top flight sides Manchester City and Newcastle United in earlier rounds. However the club could not arrest its decline in form once the semi-final was lost and the Tigers slumped to their first relegation, to Division Three North, in the club’s history. Bill stayed on for the 1930/31 season but tendered his resignation in April 1931, to take effect at the end of the season. He left the club after helming the Tigers in 374 senior fixtures.
William Robert McCracken was born in Belfast, Ireland and started playing for Irish League side Belfast Distillery in January 1901. In April 1904, after five goals in 88 appearances for Distillery, full back McCracken, already an Irish international and highly coveted in footballing circles, transferred to Division One side Newcastle United for an £800 fee. Bill made his Newcastle United debut in September 1904 against Woolwich Arsenal and played a supporting role in his first season as the Magpies won the 1904/05 season Division One title and lost the FA Cup Final to Aston Villa. Newcastle again reached the FA Cup Final in 1906, though McCracken again wasn’t selected as Newcastle were beaten by Everton.
He played more regularly in the 1906/07 season as Newcastle again won the Division One title, scoring his first English league goal (a penalty kick) in February 1907 against Middlesbrough. The Magpies’ domination of English football continued and McCracken became one of the club’s most important players – a third League title in the 1908/09 season was further embellished by impressive exploits in the FA Cup – in the 1907/08 season Newcastle reached the Final only to lose to Division Two side Wolverhampton Wanderers, in the 1908/09 season they lost at the semi-final stage to Manchester United, in the 1909/10 season they won the trophy after a replay against another Division Two side Barnsley with McCracken starting both ties. In the 1910/11 season McCracken’s Newcastle again reached the FA Cup Final only to lose to Bradford City in a replay, and finished third in Division One at the end of the 1911/12 season. This ended the dominance of the Tynesiders in league and Cup and McCracken remained part of the Magpies first team as they enjoyed mid-table finishes ahead of the suspension of the Football League in May 1915 caused by World War One. Bill remained in Newcastle during the War and arranged many benefit matches for charitable causes.
When the Football League returned in September 1919 so did McCracken, now in his mid-30s. He became a crack exponent of the offside rule that nullified the attacking threat of numerous opponents and eventually, in 1925 after he stopped playing, precipitated a change to the offside rule. He served the Magpies for another three and a half seasons and by January 1923, when he made his final appearance for Newcastle United against Cardiff City, he had scored eight goals, all penalties, in 434 senior appearances. In late January 1923 rumours circulated in the press that Hull City had made an audacious approach to McCracken, offering him the manager’s post recently vacated by Percy Lewis, an offer Bill accepted on 5 February 1923, starting work 12 days later.
In September 1932 McCracken returned to the North East when he was appointed first team manager at Division Three North side Gateshead. After just one season and 44 matches in charge, McCracken tendered his resignation in late April 1933 and accepted a similar manager’s role at Division Two side Millwall. The Lions were relegated in Bill’s first season and drifted in the middle of the Division Three South table for the next two seasons. He tendered his resignation in April 1936 and left Millwall at the end of the 1935/36 season having managed the club for 127 matches.
In February 1937 McCracken was appointed manager at Division Three South side Aldershot, a post he retained for thirteen years until his retirement in December 1949 after 275 senior matches and many more wartime fixtures during World War Two, during which McCracken worked as a joiner in South East London.
After his time at Aldershot McCracken rejected an offer in March 1950 to return to Millwall as manager, instead joining the scouting staff at Newcastle United and Watford. He remained living in South London and continued scouting until the mid-1970s when he was entering his 90s. He died in Hull’s Kingston General Hospital in January 1979, a week short of his 96th birthday, while visiting his son William who managed the Beverley House Hotel on Hull’s Beverley Road.
McCracken was regarded as one of Ireland’s finest footballing talents when playing for Belfast Distillery and he made his international debut against Wales in February 1902 while still 18 years of age. His only international goal came in March 1904, also against Wales, and he won the last of his 16 caps in March 1923, to which he added two Victory Shield caps in 1919. That final cap was won a fortnight after his appointment as Hull City’s manager, making him the first manager of the club to be capped by his country.
Date/Place of Birth: 29 January 1883, Belfast, Ireland
Date/Place of Death: 20 January 1979, Hull, England; 95 years, 356 days old
Appointed by Hull City: 17 February 1923; 40 years, 19 days old
Left Hull City: 4 May 1931; 48 years, 95 days old
Tenure: 2,998 days
Hull City (1923-1931), Gateshead (1932-1933), Millwall (1933-1936), Aldershot (1937-1949)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 374, Won 134, Drawn 104, Lost 136, Goals For 522, Goals Against 516
Achievements: 7th in Division Two, 1926/27 season; FA Cup Semi-Final, 1929/30 season