The December 1926 signing of Ted Critchley marked the conclusion of a hunt for the outside right that had lasted almost the entire year. Everton’s directors hummed and hawed over his acquisition from Stockport County, but Arthur Riley Wade and Jack Sharp – who he had impressed – had the deciding say and £1500 was enough to secure his signature on the same day that Welsh centre half Tom Griffiths joined the club. It was to be a good investment and one that Critchley repaid many times.
The Everton he joined was a club which, despite the presence of William ‘Dixie’ Dean, was flirting perilously close to the relegation spots. He made his debut on Christmas Day 1926 and impressed immediately in a 5-4 win. ‘Forward Critchley was on view for the first time, and the Stockport boy did very well indeed,’ reported the Liverpool Echo. ‘His one run the full length of the field was something to memorise, but allowing for his over-anxiety, which made him run the ball out. I thought his old mannerisms and passes and centres augur well for the future days.’
Critchley was a dazzling winger of pace and verve, a man whose breakneck pace could in an instant switch the flow of a game. Interviewed as an old man, he was asked how quick he was. Critchley replied:
Let’s put it this way. I could do half an hour in twenty-five minutes!
He was not without critics among the Goodison faithful, however, who lamented his poor record in front of goal and, occasionally, the quality of his delivery. But he would be vital to Everton, playing his part in numerous successes that would see him number among the most decorated players in club history.
Nobody among his team-mates was better than Dean, the club’s talisman and goalscorer extraordinaire. ‘Bill was just an ordinary bloke as a person, but his positional play as a footballer was outstanding,’ Critchley said in a late-1990s interview with the Stockport County website. ‘When I went down the wing to the by-line, you had no need to look for him. He was always in the perfect position for a good centre... I told Bill not to be frightened of heading the lace because I’d always make sure it was on the other side of the ball when I crossed it.’
The team that had struggled through the mid-1920s suddenly gelled in the 1927/28 season. Dean’s incredible 60 goals were the foundation point for the title win, but his fellow forwards – Critchley, Alec Troup, Dick Forshaw and Tony Weldon – would make crucial contributions to his haul and the 102 the team scored between them. ‘His record will never be beaten,’ said Critchley of the 60 goals, while the League Championship win was, he said, ‘the best moment’ of his career.
YET EVERTON were baffling inconsistent. Unable to build on their title win they slipped to eighteenth in 1928/29 and were bottom and relegated a year later. Critchley featured heavily in both disappointing seasons but escaped the clear-out that came with the humiliation of relegation.
Indeed the Mancunian was to be one of the key men behind Everton’s subsequent renaissance. He played 37 times as Everton lifted the Second Division title, scoring 13 times. He played as many times the following year as he became one of just a handful of players to lift two League Championships with Everton. And yet, recorded the Liverpool Echo, Critchley was a player ‘with many critics who never appear to forgive’.
John Peel in the Liverpool Post and Mercury wrote that he believed Critchley was a key component in Everton’s title success – a success that saw them find the net on no fewer than 116 occasions. ‘At the present time Everton seem to have adopted the right plan of forward movement, and the part Critchley is playing is a great factor in the scheme,’ he wrote. ‘For it is a recognised fact that if Dean gets the ball from the wings in a proper way, there is no more dangerous centre-forward in the land. I have always held the view that when Critchley mastered the art of centring the ball in the right way and at the right time he would prove a distinct asset to any club. He seems to have developed in the direction desired, and he has only to maintain such form to reach the pinnacle of his profession.’ The Liverpool Courier correspondent added: ‘I might add that the [Tommy] White– Critchley wing is one of the best in the land at the moment.’
The Everton board remained hungry for success, however, and were not afraid to bring change. In November 1932 they abruptly halted Critchley’s Everton career, bringing in Bradford Park Avenue’s boy wonder, Albert Geldard.
After six years service Critchley was dropped immediately.
After four months on the sidelines his return, in February 1933, was dramatic. Injury saw Geldard miss the FA Cup quarter-final with Luton Town and Critchley was selected again. Everton won 6-0. Greater dramas came three weeks later in the semi-final against West Ham at Molineux. With the scores balanced at 1-1, Critchley was the man that, in the words of the Liverpool Evening Express’s Football Edition ‘did the trick’.
‘For once [West Ham centre half Jim] Barrett failed,’ it reported. ‘He delayed his tackle, and Critchley slipped through well inside the penalty area. Critchley feinted to pass to Dean, but cut in between two players and scored with a shot that hit Watson, bounced up over the goalkeeper and a yard over the line.'
Collins ran into the net and booted the ball out, but it had already counted for Everton, whose players leapt down the field like Indians doing a war dance at their success. There were tremendous scenes of enthusiasm at the finish. Johnson raced for the ball and picked it up, while crowds of Everton supporters rushed on the field to congratulate the players. Dean and Watson shook hands, and had to have a cordon of police, to escort them to the dressing room.’
Dean, interviewed after the match, said:
This is our dream coming true. I do not think we played quite up to our standard, but West Ham proved themselves a fine enthusiastic side. It is a glorious thing for Everton, and we hope to beat the City in the final.
THE DEFINING moment of Ted Critchley’s Everton career was soon followed by its most disappointing. A twisted knee in a Central League match against Leeds United left him bed-bound. Although there was speculation he would return for the final, such hopes were over-optimistic. Everton beat Manchester City 3-0 but Critchley was a frustrated figure. ‘I had everything that all the other players had, apart from the medal. That was the only thing missing,’ he recalled. ‘There was nothing I could do about it. I was injured and that was that.’
Geldard increasingly held the favour of the selectors and although Critchley returned for a spell during the 1933/34 campaign, his Everton career was drawing to a close. In 1934 Everton accepted a £2000 bid from Preston North End and he later played for Port Vale. But it was Everton that remained foremost in his affections.
There wasn’t a better club in the country to play for than Everton,’ he remembered in his last interview. ‘Everything was the best. It was first class all the way.