BY MARK CARRUTHERS
Just for a moment picture this scenario. You’re a manager at a big club in the Premier League. Your phone rings and it’s an agent offering you yet another player. You take hundreds of these calls a day but this one sounds a bit special.
The agent begins “My client is an international footballer with England; he can play in any outfield position to the highest standard and is revered by his team mates and the press. He has won three league titles, finishing in the top four another four times. He has one FA Cup winner’s medal and played in four other FA Cup Finals”. You would be interested I presume?
Well, the agent carries on by saying “My player has other factors that may impress you. He is seen as the leader of his club, a tactical genius and innovator. He is an icon in his city who is adored by his public and is well known for avoiding the more lively elements that footballers can face. He is into the theatre and politics and shuns the nightlife. A real honest pro”. How much would you be willing to pay for such a player? Sadly such a player did exist but his success and standing is largely ignored by the club he gave so much to.
Colin Campbell McKechnie Veitch may well be a name only familiar to the historians and those who know the history of his club, Newcastle United. However, his impact stretches far beyond his influence upon the Magpies. Indeed modern day footballers, managers and supporters have a lot to thank Veitch for. Both a gifted scholar and footballer in his youth, Veitch was the first player to captain Newcastle Schools way back in 1895. His success in his younger days attracted the attention of Newcastle United and after much negotiation he finally turned professional in the summer of 1899. A defeat and a low key performance in his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers gave little hint that Veitch would go on to be synonymous with what still stands as the most successful period in the Magpies’ illustrious history.
However, Veitch came close to abandoning the beautiful game in favour of a career in academics, only to reverse his decision at the very last minute. That decision paid dividends for club, country and the game as a whole.
After establishing himself in the United starting lineup, Veitch quickly became a key figure at St James’ Park. Gaining the trust of team mates and the board, he showed his tactical nous almost immediately. In those Edwardian days, football was very much kick and rush – think Stoke City under Tony Pulis multiplied by Sam Allardyce at Bolton then add some of Bobby Gould’s Wimbledon Crazy Gang – but Veitch implored his team mates to play a more patient passing game based on the team not the individual.
The honours quickly followed. The Magpies won their first league title in 1905, a feat they repeated in 1907 and 1909. After three unsuccessful appearances in FA Cup Finals they finally broke their duck with a 2-0 win over Barnsley in 1910. United were the team of the time and every player was a household name.
Indeed, Veitch was to have three major impacts on the game as a whole. Firstly, thanks to his tactical ingenuity, United perfected the offside rule, frustrating opponents and making defender Bill McCracken one of the most hated players in the country. As a result, the Football Association changed the law to….well, I was going to say the modern day law but nobody knows what that is.
With player power in full swing these days it’s easy to forget that players were merely commodities in Veitch’s time. He changed that, forming the forerunner of today’s PFA and fighting for the rights of his counterparts at clubs around the country. Finally, following his retirement, Veitch established Newcastle’s first ever junior side, the Swifts. Until then, players had been plucked from local leagues and placed straight into the first team line up but now they had a place to go to make the step up a somewhat easier process.
A well-educated man, Veitch went on to have a successful career in journalism and to continue with his lifelong passion for the theatre, even performing in plays written by the legendary George Bernard Shaw, a friend of Veitch no less.
His love of the arts saw him establish “The People’s Theatre” in Heaton, the suburb of Newcastle where he was born. The theatre still stands today and is very much in use. After a short illness he passed away in Switzerland during a period of convalescence in 1938. Whilst Newcastle United may have underplayed the part Veitch played in the club’s history, the Geordie public have not.
Local paper, the Evening Chronicle, ran a poll as recently as 2012 to find the top one hundred Geordies. Veitch finished in fourth, ahead of the likes of Alan Shearer and George Stephenson, only beaten by author Catherine Cookson and football icons Jackie Milburn and Sir Bobby Robson. His role in establishing Newcastle United as a major football club and his impact on our national game should never ever be forgotten by fans, players and managers around the country.