The enigmatic Tom Callaghan was perhaps not the wisest choice of the Chesterfield Town Council to fill the Secretary/Manager’s position at their new club. Formed in April 1919, the Council’s new club was established to fill the gap left by the demise of the old Chesterfield Town club and was run in a semi-autonomous (but typically bureaucratic) fashion by a Sports Committee made up of Councillors and those with knowledge and reputation in the field of local sports management. Eventually, of course, this club became the one we watch today as Chesterfield FC.


Callaghan appears to have no repute as a footballer but had some pedigree as an adminsitrator, claiming a ten-year connection to Oldham Athletic. The report of his joining the club said that he had deputised for their manager during his wartime absence through military service.  He appears to have been good enough to be appointed from a pool of 67 applicants to the post of Secretary/Manager to the Chesterfield Municipal FC in April 1919.


Callaghan was appointed by the Chesterfield Council’s Sports Committee at a salary of £260 per annum and was given a fortnight or so to assemble a side for two matches at the end of the 1918-19 season. He roped in old chums from the Manchester area, and returning soldiers from the Great War, putting together a side loaded with internationals and First Division players like Andy Wilson (Sheffield Wednesday and Scotland), Billy Halligan, Paddy O'Connell and Arthur Donnelly (Ireland) and Jack Carr (Middlesbrough and England).


Wartime “guest” player regulations made this possible, and by the time “real” Midland League football resumed in August 1919 these players were back with top clubs. Callaghan struggled to find his best eleven, using eighteen players in his first five games. He looked to have solved the problem centre-forward position with the signing of Frank McPherson from Barrow Shipbuilders, and the player enjoyed a successful debut, scoring twice against South Normanton Colliery in the FA Cup. After being beaten five-nil, though, the Colliers announced that they were going to protest to the FA that McPherson was cup-tied.


Callaghan issued a straight denial of any knowledge that McPherson had already played in the cup that season.  When an FA inquiry ascertained that McPherson had played for his previous club in an earlier round they suspended the player for a month and slung Chesterfield out of the Cup.


Callaghan could see the only consequence of this and absented himself from a routine meeting of the Sports Committee shortly afterwards. The committee launched an inquiry of their own to get to the truth.


McPherson maintained throughout that he had told Callaghan that he was cup-tied.  If he was told, Callaghan chose to ignore it, on the not unreasonable grounds that South Normanton would be an unlikely place to find a statto who knew the line-up of the Barrow Shipbuilders' side in the preliminary round. Looking back on it, one is forced at least to entertain the possibility that someone at the club had it in for Callaghan, tipping off the Colliers to drop him in it.


Callaghan's greatest error came after the protest was registered.  He ordered Peter Irvine, the Municipal side’s skipper, to verify his claim that McPherson had said nothing about being cup-tied, and he offered McPherson five pounds to deny that he had ever surrendered such information. These were not the actions of an innocent man. Callaghan was sacked in his absence and was never heard of again, in football circles. The only time his name ever cropped up again locally was when an appeal was made for information about his whereabouts in connection with a 1921 divorce case.


Callaghan’s escapades might have been enough to drive the Sports Committee to drink. In fact, they were driven to appoint a bloke who sold drink. Tom Preistley, “mine host” of “The Rutland” and a Town Councillor, should perhaps be absent from this series, since he was a caretaker only, but what care he took! His short spell in charge lasted only from the departure of Callaghan to the end of December 1919, encompassing eleven Midland League games, but the side won ten and drew one of the eleven to storm to the top of the table. It can thus be argued that our most successful manager, percentage-wise, was a pub landlord!

2015 note - Whereas I once favoured the idea that our Callaghan was the former Glossop and Manchester City player, it has now been shown that that player lost his life during the Great War. (SB.)