Defender Jack Crelley was one of a handful of local-born players who appeared in the team that won Everton their first FA Cup, in 1906. It marked the highlight of a two-spell Goodison career that initially saw him blooded in the first team as a raw teenager.
That first appearance came in April 1900, but Crelley would have to wait two and a half further years before making an impression in an Everton shirt. The hiatus included a year-long spell with Southern League club Millwall Athletic, but he returned in time for the 1902/03 season and finally got a run in the first XI.
The Liverpool Mercury gave a cautious welcome after his second debut, saying he was ‘worthy of a continued trial’. But when Everton played Derby County in November he came up against England’s record goalscorer, Steve Bloomer, and was considered to have ‘shaped well’ against his ‘tricky’ opponent. Crelley kept his place in the Everton team.
He was a player, according to one correspondent, ‘whose tackling was well timed and kicking both clean and well directed’. After a 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland in March 1903, the Mercury wrote: ‘Amidst a host of failure, there was one redeeming feature in the display of the Everton team, and that [was] Crelley did give the splendid exhibition at left back. He had the strongest portion of the Sunderland attack to face, and he came out of the ordeal with distinct credit; in fact, on this form there can be no doubt about his claims to a permanent place in the team. His tackling was grand, and this was accomplished not by a mad lunge at the ball or the man, nor by recklessly flinging himself wholesale on to an opponent, but was the result of purely superior skill in dispossessing the forward and coolly placing to one of his own side. His style reminded one forcibly of [George] Molyneux at his best.’
IN 1903/04 Crelley made 30 league and FA Cup appearances, a figure he bettered by two the following campaign. But there was a sense that a first-team shirt was never quite his own and he faced competition for it from the Balmer brothers. He did, nevertheless, see off the younger brother, Robert, to appear in the 1906 FA Cup Final win against Newcastle. A year later Everton returned to Crystal Palace but Robert Balmer had by now largely assumed the left back shirt.
It was the sign of things to come, and after making just three appearances in the 1907/08 season he was transferred to Exeter City.