For over a decade Scottish defender John Maconnachie was a rock in the heart of the Everton team, a classy dependable lynchpin of the club’s backline. The left back captained Everton with distinction for three seasons – almost leading the club to the First Division title in 1911/12 – before winning football’s ultimate accolade in 1915 under the leadership of Jimmy Galt.
Signed as a 19-year-old ahead of the 1907/08 season from Hibernian there were high hopes for the defender, who could play at half back, centre half and full back. ‘Maconnachie made a very promising debut, tackling well, and passing nicely, but he would be even more successful with a little dash as he is at times rather inclined to take matters too easily,’ recorded the Liverpool Courier of his debut versus Preston North End. He was given an extended run over the Christmas period as half back, and the same newspaper reported that they made ‘an excellent trio’. The newspaper added: ‘It seems as if the proper position for Maconnachie has been found. He played really fine game at right half, a tendency to break the rule as to throws-in being a fault, which can easily be remedied.
Yet it was at left back that Maconnachie became a genuine first choice at Goodison and ultimately made his name. So good was he that he supplanted William Balmer ahead of the 1908/09 season and was ever present in the left defensive berth. The player, purred one correspondent, was ‘cool and sedate in his clearance’ and always a man to play the ball rather than hoof and hope, as many defenders were expected to during this era. The ‘fair-haired Scot gave a fine display of cool and polished full back play,’ wrote Merseyside football historian Percy Young, which ensured ‘classical standards prevailed in defence.’
For the 1911/12 season Maconnachie was elected to captain. Everton started the campaign slowly, winning just two of their first eight games – which would prove costly – before building up form. By April they were neck and neck with leaders Sunderland but the captain suddenly found himself curtailed by injury. He was missing for what was, in effect, the title decider at Roker Park on 6 April. Everton capitulated 4-0 and although he returned for the final five games of the season it was too late. Sunderland were champions, three points ahead of runners up, Everton.
Although Everton faltered over the subsequent two seasons, Maconnachie’s reputation continued to grow. ‘Macconnachie was on the top of his form, and everyone who has followed Everton football knows, what that means,’ reported one local paper in 1913. ‘His anticipation of opponents' movements was accurate throughout, and on two occasions when the situation appeared hopeless he took risks and saved his keeper.’
After Everton finished the 1913/14 season in a lowly fifteenth place, the captaincy passed to Jimmy Galt. Maconnachie was a rock as Everton overcame their serial nearly-men hoodoo and squeaked over the line as League Champions for the second time in the club’s history. Thomas Keates wrote: ‘Fairly free from injuries, and the resultant changes they involve, the combination was admirable, the accurate passing methodic, and the attack dashing. The team played so brilliantly and consistently that they also reached the semi final in the Cup ties, injuries… apparently robbing them of what would have been a splendid double achievement, if the usual team had been able to play in the semi-final.’ He added: ‘our gratification was chilled by the catastrophe of the Great War. Football players were soon absorbed in the fighting forces, and for four years the ordinary League fixtures were suspended.’
In football terms this was calamitous indeed. Maconnachie barely played in the regional leagues from 1916, suggesting he was sent off to fight. When peace came, still aged only 31, he struggled to hold down a first team place and was sold at the end of the 1919/20 season to Swindon Town. He was also recorded as playing for Djugaarden in Sweden (many years later, Anders Limpar’s first club) and in non-league with Barrow and Lowesoft until his forties.
But the financial hardships of a footballer’s itinerant life also seem to have taken hold. ‘The Chairman reported that the wife of our former player was in very straightened circumstances & it was agreed to grant her assistance of £2 per week until further notice,’ reported an Everton board minute in February 1923. ‘Secy to make necessary arrangements for payment.’ A second grant was made the following July. In October 1930 there was a third request for assistance, but this time it met deaf ears.