Former soccer star and club manager Eddie McCreadie embraces quiet retirement in East Tennessee.
Eddie McCreadie is a legend in his home country of Scotland, but in Gray he’s just a retired athlete enjoying the anonymity of life in Northeast Tennessee.
He shuns the spotlight to the degree that he hasn’t been back to his native country, or to London, where he was one of the best soccer players in the world in the 1960s and 1970s. He gave up the soccer field years ago and nowadays likes to relax on the farm where he and his wife, Linda Crouch McCreadie, live with their two German Shepherds.
And while he will talk about the years he spent on a soccer field, he’d just as soon not. The only sport he has an interest in these days is a round of golf with his buddies.
But none of the fame McCreadie attained could ever compare to what happened to him after retirement and moving to Gray.
“The most important thing that happened in my life (was) I became a Christian and was baptized six years ago by David Clark,” he said.
“Enough is enough. I’m proud of my achievement (but) my Christian faith, that’s what’s more important than anything I’ve ever achieved,” he said. “I’m quite happy where I am in my life.”
As a young lad growing up in Scotland, McCreadie spent lots of time on the soccer field — known in his country, of course, as football. After high school, he played with an amateur team in Scotland, even though he had higher aspirations for the future.
“I had watched Chelsea and all the famous clubs all my life. I didn’t know if I was good enough,” he said recently in an interview at his home. He had turned down one offer from a professional football club on his father’s advice when he was 19 years old.
“Fulham (football club), in London, wanted to sign me. I went home and asked my dad” for advice, McCreadie said. His father told him he needed to get tougher before heading off to the pros and suggested that his son remain in the lower league.
“I was so disappointed. I took his advice and was there three years. I felt as if I’d lost my chance,” he said.
But that wasn’t the case, and when the second opportunity to play pro ball came around, McCreadie didn’t think twice. Chelsea manager Tommy Docherty asked to see McCreadie after a game and offered him a spot on the team. McCreadie signed a contract on the spot.
Two months later, McCreadie arrived in London.
“I went straight to the first team and didn’t lose my place for 12 years,” he said. “I was the only Scottish player in the whole club.”
McCreadie said he felt a little intimidated initially because he was playing with and against the Babe Ruths or Michael Jordans of soccer.
“They were watching me,” he said of the other players. “Nobody had heard of me. I listened to the coaches and watched the other players” to get a feel for what was to come.
That first game in the highest division of football “was the easiest game I’d ever played in my life,” McCreadie said. It’s not that the work was easy, but because of the higher caliber of player, McCreadie didn’t have to chase balls down when they were passed to him. He also realized just how good his teammates were and that he was among those great players.
“I found out I was better than I gave myself credit for,” he said. And he was grateful for his father’s advice from three years prior.
McCreadie stayed at the Chelsea club until he retired from playing at age 34. But he didn’t leave the club altogether. Instead, he became the youngest manager in the club’s history as well as all of England.
“I became the first player to ever become the manager of the club,” he said.
But as careers go, McCreadie eventually left the Chelsea Football Club and headed to America.
He ended up in West Tennessee, where he coached the Memphis Rogues for two years before moving to Ohio to coach an indoor soccer league in Cleveland.
Finally, McCreadie retired from soccer altogether and moved back to Memphis.
“I’d made a lot of friends there. I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. It wasn’t long before he met Washington County native Linda Couch, who worked for a law firm in Memphis at the time.
The couple married and decided to move back to this area after McCreadie’s wife retired. Now she works on the award-winning quilts she’s known for -— she owns Tennessee Quilts in Jonesborough — while McCreadie enjoys cooking and playing golf. But the impression he left behind in England isn’t lost on McCreadie.
“I knew I’d left a footprint (but) I didn’t really know how big,” until his son sent him a photograph of a restaurant named McCreadie at the Chelsea football stadium.
He also recently learned that the first jersey he ever wore in a game for Chelsea has surfaced and will be put on display at the club. He learned about the jersey from an article in the Falkirk Herald.
“I always wondered what happened to that jersey,” he said with a laugh.
Still, none of it compares to the Christian faith he’s found, McCreadie said.