THE STORY OF SANDY TURNBULL - MANCHESTER FOOTBALL HERO
The noise was deafening, incessant, vibrating through his whole body, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, creating a nervous tension, a feeling surpassing all others. But this wasn’t a familiar arena such as Hyde Road or Ewood Park, nor was it the more familiar, much loved environs of the depleted Clayton and the ultra-modern Old Trafford. No, this was far from home. It was Arras, France, around seventy miles south-east of Calais and to some, hell on earth.
Those alongside Lance Sergeant 28427 Alexander (Sandy) Turnbull of the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, shared his nerves and anxieties and like their colleague at arms, they were never to depart this grim, unfamiliar and totally unfriendly place.
For once, Sandy Turnbull could not claim victory through his undoubted skill as a goal scorer and creator and as he climbed the roughly built wooden ladder out of the mudded trench around 3.45 on the morning of May 3rd 1917, he was not simply venturing into the unknown, he was taking the first steps in his final journey, a journey that led to his ultimate death, but a demise that even today has a huge question mark over it.
Alexander Turnbull was born on July 30th 1884 at 1 Gibson Street, Hurlford, a small Ayrshire village a handful of miles south west of Kilmarnock. It was a mining community, like so many others in the area, with the coal face providing the major money earning source for male of the villager and the surrounding area, with Turnbull’s father Jimmy one of those who spent his working life in such a dark, dismal claustrophobic environment. Hurlford, and indeed Ayrshire itself, was also a footballing hot-bed, providing the necessary ‘get away from it all’ distraction that held ones sanity together away from the mundane life underground.
Football, for those not young enough to take on adult responsibilities, was also a pleasant distraction from the three R’s and the classroom desk and as was common at the time, the day to day drudgery of school work was abandoned around the age of fourteen, with young master Turnbull forsaking his short trousers and learning to become the bread winner of the family following his father early untimely death, taking on a similar profession of a miner, while his mother Jessie, remained at home raising her other six children, all but one younger than Sandy.
But Sandy Turnbull was more fortunate than his late father and many others within the community, as he had a talent, an undoubted ability, something that would enable him to escape the dark unhealthy confines of the coal face. He was a highly rated footballer.
If Hurlford had been without a football team, then there was no shortage of others close by, with a host of excellent junior sides within easy travelling distance. But there was little need for the promising young footballer to venture outside the village boundaries, as Hurlford Thistle a team he most probably watched win the Ayrshire Junior Challenge Cup in 1895-96, offered him a place within their ranks.
So, Saturday afternoon’s were now spent plying his trade at Struthers Park and other frugal, spartan grounds scattered across the Ayrshire countryside, but it was a countryside that contained more than green fields and coal mines, as many promising footballers were nurtured amongst the kick and rush merchants who, more often than not, played to simply make up the numbers, forcing others to develop their skills lest they suffered some horrific injury from the rock hard toe caps of either football or working boot, depending on the individuals financial predicament as to whether or not they could afford a pair of the former.
As the English Football League began to develop, with the promise of employment often used as an incentive to attract players from other areas, clubs also began to travel further a field in the search for new additions to their playing staff. A prime area for recruiting new players was Scotland, as many of the players from north of Hadrian’s Wall were considered of a superior talent to those from nearer home. They possessed a finer degree of ball skills and their often diminutive stature, which gave them a lower centre of gravity, enabled them to do things with a ball that seemed beyond the scope of others.
The first club to find themselves captivated by the stocky 5’7”, 12 stone figure of Sandy Turnbull, as they cast their nets far and wide in their attempt to become one of the top sides in the land, were Bolton Wanderers and so impressed were they by his imposing stature, and certainly one which could look after himself in the physical hustle and bustle of the free-for-all penalty area, that they quickly agreed to sign him in the summer of 1902.
Whilst looking forward to a completely new lease of life in Lancashire with Bolton, Manchester City, under the guidance of Tom Maley, (brother of Glasgow Celtic manager Willie), had also cast their eyes over the player and were impressed by his goal scoring prowess. So much so, that they moved in before the contractual papers from the Wanderers had arrived at the Turnbull home and offered the player better terms to move a few miles further down the road.
Signed on a contract that would pay something in the region of £3 per week, a figure that many today would perceive as a paltry sum, but what was actually exceptionally good money compared with that of a miner, who would earn around a third of that, the young Ayrshireman, who would certainly have informed his mother that she had no need to worry about his weekly wage no longer coming directly into the house, as he would send some of his new found wealth back to Scotland, headed south to join a football club that had been relegated from the First Division at the end of the 1901-02 season, but one that would immediately spring right back into the top flight the following season, as Bolton, ironically enough, dropped down to Division Two. So, it was a Second Division footballer that Sandy Turnbull began his fledgling Football League career.
Leaving his family may have been a wrench, but giving up the long hard toil of working in the mines would not have cost him any sleep and he would have snatched the professional contract offered by City and instantly scribbled his signature on it before any of the City officials could have had a change of heart. Exchanging the rural countryside of Ayrshire, with its vast acres of farm land, for the industrial sprawl of Manchester must, however, have been something of a rude awakening for the budding footballer and more of a journey into the unknown rather than the road to fame and fortune.
There was certainly no fanfare of trumpets to herald Sandy Turnbull’s arrival in Manchester and undoubtedly, he would not have expected one as it was not as if he had been signed from one of the top sides in the Scottish game, but even he must have been uncertain as to what lay ahead, as the Manchester Evening Chronicle reported in their July 22nd edition that ‘Manchester City had signed Turnbull from Hereford (sic).’ At least they had spelt his name correctly!
The Manchester City supporters were given their first real sight of the new arrival in the ‘Blues’ versus the ‘Stripes’ pre-season practise match on August 16th 1902 and his early appearances in the City second team were certainly more than promising. Two goals against Bury Reserves on October 4th were followed by another against Preston North End’s second string seven days later, with a second double strike on October 18th against Liverpool Reserves. Even Manchester United’s first team under studies could not contain the new arrival when their respective second eleven’s met on November 8th as the name of Turnbull once again appeared amongst the scorers, notching City’s third in a 3-3 draw.
For those who watched the Manchester City reserve side, they would be slightly aggrieved if they did not witness a Sandy Turnbull goal and as each game passed by, great things were soon expected of the player, who had taken up a role that would be classed as that of a mid-fielder in the modern game, tucked in behind the deeper lying centre-forward.. It has, however, also been written that the new signing failed to make an immediate impact at his new home and that some even held the opinion that the club should cut their losses and either send him back to Ayrshire or try and sell him. His early record in the City Reserves suggests otherwise and it was on the back of those goals and his all round performances that he was given his first team debut as the right sided partner to a certain Billy Meredith, against Bristol City at St John’s Gate on November 15th 1902.
In a confident debut, Turnbull scored one of City’s goals in the 3-2 defeat, claiming another seven days later on his Hyde Road debut against Glossop in what was a 5-2 victory. The opportunity presented to him had certainly been snatched with both hands, or perhaps more emphatically, both feet.
City were to lead the Second Division for most of the season, but it was the Christmas holiday period that was to see them edge their way in front of challengers Small Heath. On December 20th, they could found be a mere one point in front of their Midlands rivals, but a 1-1 draw against United on Christmas Day, a 2-0 win at Preston on Boxing Day and a 2-1 win at Doncaster twenty-four hours later saw them three points in front with a game in hand.
Everyone needs that little piece of luck if they are to achieve anything and City had theirs, as they sought the Second Division championship and a return to the top flight of the English game, on January 10th, when their table-topping fixture against Small Heath at Hyde Road was abandoned after forty minutes. Had the visitors managed to clinch a victory, then the records books may well have told a much different story.
As it was, City more or less wrapped the title up between January 31st and March 7th, when the showed devastating form, scoring thirty-one goals in five successive games, all of which must be added, were played at Hyde Road. A run that included a 9-0 victory over Gainsborough Trinity and 7-1 against Burslem Port Vale. Sandy Turnbull’s name, however, wasn’t exactly prominent in the list of scorers, managing only three in those five fixtures, outshone by the likes of Gillespie with nine, Bannister with eight and Meredith with seven.
United almost threw a spanner in the works on April 10th, winning 2-0 at Hyde Road, but three days later Birmingham lost 3-0 at Barnsley, a game they needed to win and a defeat that left them three points behind with only one game remaining. City were Football League First Division Champions.
Twelve goals in twenty-two appearances from Turnbull was a healthy return and certainly contributed to Manchester City’s return to the top flight. But alongside players such as the above mentioned trio it would have been difficult not to shine, but as the weeks and months moved on, the boy from Ayrshire would soon be up there alongside his, for now, more illustrious team mates. Becoming a firm favourite of the Hyde Road crowd due to his devil may care approach, his all-round contribution to the team and without any doubt whatsoever, his goals.
Back in the First Division, Turnbull, described in the ‘Athletic News’ as “a clever, virile player”, continued to score goals, improving on his first season’s tally, with sixteen from his thirty-two outings, along with a further five in the F. A. Cup and it was in the latter that he really hit the headlines.
He kick-started City’s assault on the famous old trophy with a First Round double in the 3-2 victory over Sunderland at Hyde Road. This was followed by another in the 2-0 Second Round victory at Woolwich Arsenal’s Manor Ground. Middlesbrough’s Third Round visit to Hyde Road was to end goal less, but four days later at Ayresome Park, he scored City’s third in their 3-1 win, a victory that clinched a place in the last four. The semi-final paired City with Sheffield Wednesday at Goodison Park and a Turnbull double (or one depending on what sources you read) secured a 3-2 victory.
According to team mate Billy Meredith, Turnbull’s sixty-seventh minute goal, City’s third, in that semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday, was the “best I’ve ever seen”. The Welsh wizard said: “I never saw anything like it. I had centred square, and ‘Sandy’ took the ball first time when it was well off the ground and drove it into the net with marvellous force. The amazing thing was that the ball kept low all the way. You will understand the pace of the shot when I say the ball hit the net at Goodison Park and came out while the goalkeeper was still tumbling.”
At Crystal Palace in the Final, however, it was the irresistible Meredith and not Sandy Turnbull who claimed the plaudits in the 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the Final, a victory that presented City with their first major trophy.
In the First Division, however, there were some indifferent displays and conceding eight goals in four games, while only scoring once, could be looked back upon in anguish, as could the final five games of the campaign, when they won two, lost two and drew one. Had the results been better, then they certainly would not have finished in second place, three points behind the Wednesday.
He was soon scoring goals for fun and in season 1904-05, he put away ten in seven games, a tally that included a hit trick against Sunderland in a 5-2 win on December 3rd and four in the 6-0 hammering of Derby County a fortnight later.
These were goals that saw him not simply finish top of the City goal scoring chart, but also that of the Football League. It was also a season that saw City push for the ultimate crown of First Division champions and as the season moved towards its finale, they were only two points separating the Hyde Road side and title rivals Everton and Newcastle United.
A 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday at Hyde Road, knocked City back somewhat, although a 2-0 win against Everton at Goodison Park kept the dream alive. Strangely, the Turnbull goal machine had not simply stuttered along in those final few games of the season, but had virtually dried up. His goals against Notts County at Hyde Road and Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on January 14th and 21st were his last in the League until March 11th when he found the net against Blackburn Rovers at Hyde, but this was not about to signal something of a return to scoring form, as the final seven games of the campaign were to produce only one further goal.
That was to come on the final day of the season at Villa Park Birmingham on April 29th, a game that City had to win in order to take the title, whilst hoping that Newcastle United would slip up against Middlesbrough. Victory for Villa and the Gallowgate club would see Newcastle clinch the championship on goal average.
Villa had won the FA Cup the previous Saturday and so were on something of a high, looking towards clinching the ever elusive ‘double’, while City knew what they had to achieve, setting up a pulsating encounter, with the volatile and partisan crowd adding to the atmosphere around the packed ground. At the final whistle there was much unrest as the players made their way off the pitch, with some of the crowd determined to rent some physical abuse upon the City players, making it necessary for the police to use considerable force in order to restrain the home support.
As the second half progressed, with things clearly not going City’s way as they were 3-1 down, (they were to eventually lose 3-2), tempers became frayed and some rather over physical challenges, brought retaliation in the form of mud throwing between players, which soon progressed to punches, with Sandy Turnbull well into the thick of things.
As the ‘Bolton Football Field’ reported: “Turnbull was in his dourest dribbling mood, dashing about with the ball with his whole heart set on victory. Leake (the Aston Villa captain) found him a real hard opponent and, becoming annoyed at the rough impact, gathered up a handful of dirt and hurled it at the City man. Turnbull was not hurt and responded with an acknowledgement favoured by the bourgeoisie – thrusting two fingers in a figurative manner at the Villa man.” He then says that Leake appeared to look towards the referee as though appealing, and not catching his eye and as he did so, ‘gave Turnbull a backhander’. Adding that “The latter immediately responded with his fists and Leake was restrained by his fellow players from retaliating further.”
Closer to home, the ‘Manchester Evening News’, under the heading of ‘Disgraceful Scenes at the Villa Ground. City Lost Championship’ included the following in their report of the afternoon’s events:
“An Unpleasant Incident – There was little doubt that Turnbull’s failure was due to the excitement caused by the unpleasant incident which had just previously taken place. There is a difference of opinion as to what actually happened. On the one hand it is alleged that Leake, the Villa centre-half first attempted to strike Turnbull and that the latter retaliated by striking the Villa player on the mouth with the back of his hand. Others aver that Turnbull was the aggressor, though no-one suggests that the blow was such a one as Turnbull would have struck had he seriously intended to strike Leake.
“That the latter had been provoked in some way was plainly shown by his desperate rush to get at Turnbull; indeed it was only with difficulty that he was restrained. What the referee thought about the incident was plainly shown by the fact that after consulting both linesmen, he threw the ball up and allowed play to process.
“Mr John’s was apparently in an excellent position to see what happened and unless he was guilty of unpardonable weakness, nothing had happened to justify his sending either or both players off the field.
“There is something to be said in extenuation of a resort to fisticuffs in the heat of the moment, though it would be for the better for the game if all such offences were seriously dealt with, but nothing can excuse the conduct of several Villa players at the close of the game.”
With football as divided regionally then as it is today, it was only to be expected that the Birmingham based ‘Sports Argus’ saw matters in a completely different light, their correspondent writing:
“To think that Leake, the mildest mannered man and the most jovial who ever stepped on to a football field should be the victim of so unprovoked an assault as that committed by Turnbull is entirely to make one’s blood boil. It is a mistake to say Alec (Leake) tried to retaliate after being struck once, as my correspondent seems to think. He had good-naturedly asked Turnbull – “what he was doing” on the first offence, thinking that it might have been one of the mishaps of the game, when the City sharpshooter struck home a second time. This was too much even for Leake’s complacency and through George clung to his neck like the ‘Old Man of the Sea’ and four to five other Villa players assisted the pacificatory efforts of the goalkeeper, Leake was with difficulty held in a leash. This was not the last of the affair but I am not going to raise the veil that ought to enshroud the proceedings in the dressing room.”
It is little wonder that the ‘Sports Argus’ were rather reluctant to mention anything relating to “the proceedings in the dressing room”, as this would have cast a completely different light on the whole affair, bringing to question the actions of the Aston Villa players that afternoon. The ‘Bolton Football Field’, however, had little to lose or gain by publishing the events as they saw, or were related them by an eyewitness, portraying Turnbull as not so much as a sinner, but more the sinned upon. The same eye-witness was to relate what he saw to the Manchester Evening News.
The man on the spot recalled the events off the pitch as follows:
“What I saw was this – Turnbull was coming off the ground (I think he was almost the first of the City players) and was going down the covered passage to the visitors dressing rooms when someone, not a player, sprang out from the urinal and grabbed Turnbull, pulled him inside the Villa dressing room and the door was shut behind him. I thought the whole thing was in fun until, within a few seconds, the door was opened and Turnbull was pitched out heavily, by whom I could not see. He was yelling with pain and fright, and he had obviously been badly handled for his right cheek was grazed with a black mark or dirt (something like a cyclist describes as a cinder rash) and he had a mark on his ribs where he had been kicked (so he said).
“Naturally, this caused a great uproar and for a few seconds it looked as though there would be a free fight, but the officials kept their heads and so did the players.
“Turnbull was in such pain that a doctor was called for, but there was not one to be got on the ground and after being attended to by the trainer, the injured player was able to leave the ground with his fellow players.”
Having been unable to get within striking distance of the City players, the local Brummies decided to hang around outside the ground and as the City coach attempted to leave, stones were thrown and police reinforcements called in an effort to disperse the unruly mob.
Unable to hide behind a veil of ignorance and indeed without the proverbial leg to stand on, the Birmingham newspapers were later to admit that yes, something had occurred, although they were not as forward as their Bolton or Manchester counterparts in pointing any fingers at the Villa players.
A commission was set up to look into the events at Villa Park, but it soon transpired that there was much more to the picture than the incidents involving Sandy Turnbull and Alec Leake and it came to the fore that Billy Meredith had reportedly offered a sum of money to a Villa player in order to allow City to win the match. Although it must be added that Commission was clearly out to get City for anything that they possibly could and it they add the throw the Villa match into the boiling pot well and good.
Meredith, in his defence, protested that he had done nothing more than offer his congratulations to Leake upon his team winning the FA Cup and although no evidence was produced to portray the Welshman as being guilty, he was banned from football from August 4th 1905 until April 1906. What was even stranger, was the fact that the FA Commission also banned Sandy Turnbull for a month for his involvement in the incidents on and off the pitch, while the referee R. T. Johns, was also suspended for failing to control the match properly. No-one who had worn claret and blue faced any charges or received any suspension or warning.
Having won the FA Cup and challenged for the First Division championship up until the final day of the season, City should have built on such success, but failed to do so and before long, everything suddenly crumbled around them with an almighty crash.
Billy Meredith was somewhat aggrieved that due to his suspension, as he continued to plead his innocence, Manchester City was unable to offer any financial support, due to already being under the watchful eye of the Football Association Commission and the Welshman took it upon himself to publicly criticise the club and open a huge can of worms when he claimed that he had indeed offered Leake the bribe and had been authorised to do so by his manager Tom Maley. There was now no turning back.
The Football Association had already, perhaps due to some southern bias and jealousy, carried out an investigation into the financial side of City, which had brought about their sudden surge to the top of the English game, but with only one or two minor irregularities found they took no action. This time, however, when one of the clubs employees was making the accusations, they decided to look a little more closely into their affairs.
On Thursday May 31st 1906, the FA reported its findings, having discovered that despite the maximum wage of £4 per week, City had been constantly overpaying over a number of years, with Meredith earning £6 and Livingstone £6.10s. A total of seventeen players, some having already left the club, were suspended until January 1st 1907, while manager Maley and Chairman Forrest were suspended sine-die, with two directors suspended for seven months. City were also fined £250 and the suspended players ordered to pay a total of £900 in fines.
Amongst those seventeen players left kicking their heels was Sandy Turnbull, as the whole episode became rather unsavoury, with one party blaming the other for the mess in which Manchester City found itself.
As the day that their suspension was due to be lifted due nearer, numerous clubs began to show more than just a passing interest in a number of the banned City players, including Sandy Turnbull and following the Manchester ‘derby’ on December 1st 1906, the first meeting between the two clubs in the top flight of the Football League and a game won 3-0 by City, United officials made their move for the contracts of a number of those suspended Hyde Road players. The FA had agreed that deals could be done in December, but no-one was to know if any of the players had been approached well before then, with signing on fees already agreed.
Glasgow Celtic were rumoured to have made a £1,000 bid for full back Herbert Burgess, while it was also suggested that he was going to Everton as part of a player exchange. He eventually signed for United for £750.
Four days after the Hyde Road ‘derby’, it was reported that United had not just signed Burgess, but also Jimmy Bannister, Sandy Turnbull and the man at the centre of it all, Billy Meredith. The latter costing Ernest Mangnall nothing, as the Welshman had an outstanding agreement with City, saying that he was entitled to a benefit match and at least £600, something that the FA said that they could force City into honouring. In the end, they agreed to a free transfer and upon signing for United, Meredith was handed £500 by an ‘unknown gentleman’, who also paid his outstanding £100 fine. A mere £350 secured the signature of Sandy Turnbull.
So, A. Turnbull was now on the Manchester United pay-role, making his debut in red, along with his former blue team mates, against, ironically enough – Aston Villa and he ran out behind captain Charlie Roberts to a rapturous welcome from around forty thousand supporters. The pitch, however, wasn’t as welcoming as the fans, as it was in very poor condition with large patches of mud and even larger pools of water scattered across it.
Both sides plodded manfully throughout the opening forty-five minutes, but without either goalkeeper being put under too much pressure. But within fifteen minutes of the re-start, the crowd erupted in a joyous wave of euphoria, as United took the lead and what was to prove to be the only goal of the afternoon. Meredith worked his way down the right, taking the ball almost to the corner flag, before crossing with uncanny accuracy to the feet of Sandy Turnbull, who had no trouble placing the ball out of the Villa ‘keepers reach.
The new-look United stuttered against Notts County four days later, losing 3-0, but got back on a winning track in the next two fixtures, thanks mainly to Turnbull, whose solitary goal was enough to beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 on January 26th, having also scored one and George Wall the other the previous Saturday against Sheffield United. The latter from another pin-point Meredith cross.
Despite the excellent start, the goals dried up and it was not until March 25th, against Sunderland at Clayton, that he scored again and he was only to score a further two in the remaining six fixtures as United finished the season in 8th place, which in itself was an excellent finish, as they had only just returned to the top flight having spent twelve years in the Second Division.
Season 1907-08 exploded into action with a 4-1 win over Aston Villa at Villa Park and if Sandy Turnbull felt aggrieved at not beginning the new season with a goal, he well and truly made up for it in the weeks ahead. Five days after the opening fixture, Liverpool arrived at Clayton and were defeated 4-0, with Turnbull snatching a hat trick. A right footed drive for his first and two second half headers for his second and third. This was followed by a double against Middlesbrough, which had the local press extolling his praises and pressing for his inclusion in the Scotland international side.
Sandy strengthened his international cause with a further five goals in the following five fixtures as United stormed to the top of the table, before notching his second hat trick of the season against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on October 19th.
The previous Saturday, current champions Newcastle United were hammered 6-1, strengthening United’s credentials, replacing the Tynesiders as the country’s top side and against near neighbours Blackburn, United made it eleven goals for and only two against in consecutive games with an equally emphatic 5-1 victory. Against Blackburn, Sandy was in his element. A diving header opened the scoring, with a fine drive for his second, before the customary cross from Meredith presented him with his third.
Another in the 2-1 home win against Bolton Wanderers the following Saturday took his tally for the season to thirteen, before injury forced him out against Birmingham City and although it was only one game on the sidelines, it took him another ninety minutes before he got back into the goalscoring routine, scoring both United’s goals in the 2-1 win at Sunderland.
Seven days later, the 4-2 victory at Clayton against Woolwich Arsenal didn’t simply secure United’s place at the top of the table, but also saw them register their first ever ten match unbeaten run, it also saw Sandy Turnbull taking his goals tally for the season to twenty in fourteen games as he notched all four.
It took Turnbull a mere three minutes to open his account with a low drive, adding his second half an hour later and although the Londoners admirably managed to pull it back to 2-2 just short of the hour mark, there was no stopping the United inside left who headed home a Duckworth cross for his hat trick, edging United in front, before guaranteeing victory with his fourth.
United’s unbeaten run and Turnbull’s assault on the goal charts came to an abrupt end at Sheffield Wednesday on the last day in November, when the team in second place in the First Division recorded a 2-0 victory. But life at the top of the First Division was not always a bed of roses for the Manchester United inside left, as the fixture against his former club at Clayton, four days before Christmas was to prove.
In front of some 40,000 supporters, United took a ten minute lead through George Wall and with half time approaching, Turnbull increased that lead when he headed home a Billy Meredith free kick. After the break, United continued to control the game with Sandy adding a third, as the game took on a more physical outlook, so much so that United lost Burgess through injury and were soon to be reduced to nine men, when the referee sent Sandy off for what was adjudged to have been ‘rough play’, thus becoming the first player to be sent off in a Manchester ‘derby’.
The correspondent for the ‘Manchester Guardian’ in attendance at the match wrote: “Sandy Turnbull and Eadie made themselves ridiculous early in the game by repeatedly making grimaces at each other and, in the second half Turnbull lost self-control so far as to strike Dorsett to the ground. He was promptly ordered off the field by the referee.”
Suspension ensued, missing two games in mid-January, but he was soon back to the fore on February 1st when Chelsea visited Clayton on FA Cup business. But it was a drab and what many perceive to be a typical Mancunian day that saw Sandy return to the side and an afternoon that clearly showed what the conditions at Clayton were really like.
“Manchester United beat Chelsea 1-0 in the second round at Clayton, a place where thirteen belching chimney’s confront the spectator in the grandstand; where steam in great volumes threatens to envelope the whole place at any moment if the wind but swings round to the west; where the playing pitch is but a bed of grit, though it rolls out as flat and as taking as a running track. Manchester United may be a great team, but they will always have the advantage over opposing teams that appear at Clayton” wrote one correspondent present.
The groundsman had marked out the pitch on the morning of the game, but had to do so again fifteen minutes prior to kick-off as the early morning frost began to disappear in the sun and the pitch softened. It was later to resemble “a ploughed field” down the middle, but the visitor’s could not overcome either the conditions or the spirited and “lucky” United team in the “witches’ cauldron”.
It is thankful, however, that Sandy Turnbull scored before those playing conditions worsened, taking only two minutes and thirty seconds to find the back of the Chelsea net, firing the ball home from twenty yards following a free kick. Although the reporter from the Sporting Chronicle appeared to give as much credit to the “evil power that presided over this witches’ cauldron” than Sandy Turnbull’s football skill, with the shot being “willed to strike the upright and go off into the net.”
The name of ‘Sandy Turnbull’ appeared on the score sheet in the following round in what was a rather uneventful return to Villa Park, United winning 2-0, but any hopes of a Cup Final appearance were put to rest in round four with a 2-1 defeat at Fulham.
His solitary strike against Birmingham (the addition of City to the club name was still a long way off) at Clayton on February 29th, however, maintained United’s place at the top of the First Division with an eight point gap between them and second placed Newcastle United. There was even the further advantage of having a game in hand.
A 1-0 defeat at Woolwich Arsenal on March 21st was followed four days later by a 7-4 defeat at Liverpool, closing the gap to give points, but there was now a two games in hand cushion to fall back on. It was, however, rather ironic that both those fixtures had seen the name of A. Turnbull missing from the United line up. But it was back on the team sheet on March 28th as United got back on their winning ways with a 4-1 home win over Sheffield Wednesday, striding towards that initial First Division title.
On April 4th Bristol City held United to a 1-1 draw in front of some 20,000 spectators, while nearest rivals Newcastle United lost 2-0 at Everton and Sheffield Wednesday, who had recently appeared in the picture defeated Blackburn Rovers 2-0. This saw the Yorkshire side climb into second spot, eight points adrift of United, but having played a game more.
Newcastle had four games left, Wednesday five and United six, so the ball was very much in United’s court, but on Wednesday April 8th, no ‘if’s and but’s’ remained as the destination of the Championship trophy was well and truly decided, with United only having the minimum of input into that final outcome. The North-East, rather than Lancashire producing the results that determined the 1908 First Division champions. Sheffield Wednesday travelled to Middlesbrough, while a few miles up the road, Newcastle entertained Aston Villa. United had only to make the short journey across Lancashire to face Everton.
Whether it was nerves or whatever, both Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United didn’t simply loose their ‘must win’ fixtures, they were both soundly beaten, the former 6-1 and the latter 5-2. United, courtesy of goals from Harold Halse, George Wall and Sandy Turnbull, defeated Everton 3-1.
Yes, Sheffield Wednesday could win their remaining fixtures and draw level with United and even Manchester City could sneak up on the blind side to also draw level on points, but to do so, the team in pole position would have to loose their remaining six games, an event that was very unlikely to happen. Or was it?
On April 11th Notts County left the obnoxious surroundings of Clayton with both points from a 1-0 win, but strangely, it was defeat that also brought the title to those Spartan surroundings, as Manchester City lost 3-1 at Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday lost 2-1 at Bolton Wanderers. Results that well and truly confirmed that United had indeed became Football League champions for the first time.
It was an ideal ninety minutes to be crowned champions and the home support, despite their delight in the achievement were certainly critical of their teams performance, but it was a result that also raised more than one or two eyebrows with the events on the field causing much debate in Manchester and beyond.
The visitors were to be found in 19th place in the First Division, sandwiched between Bolton Wanderers and Birmingham, with all three on twenty-eight points, although the Midlands side had played a game more, so claiming anything from the visit to Clayton was totally unexpected, although as the afternoon progressed, became much more than simply a pipe dream.
With news of a proposed move to the banks of the Ship Canal filtering around the ground and indeed all of Manchester, prior to kick-off, the United supporters were more than content to debate the pros and cons of the move, dismissing the visitors as mere cannon fodder, with two points little more than a foregone conclusion.
The opening forty-five minutes did little to create any excitement from the spectators scattered around the ground and indeed some of the performances from the home players were noted to be well below their usual standards. Shortly after the second half got underway, those performances were momentarily forgotten when the referee pointed to the penalty spot following a foul by a County defender, but within seconds there were looks of astonishment as it appeared that none of the United players wanted to take the spot kick.
Sandy Turnbull, as likely a character as any to take the kick declined as he said he had a damaged ankle and was also suffering from a sore head following a couple of knocks. Always in the thick of things, few would doubt the robust inside forward. So, it fell to George Wall to place the ball on the spot.
As reliable as any with the ball at his feet, Wall surprisingly hit the spot kick well and truly wide of the goal and was even more surprisingly congratulated by the Notts County players for his efforts, as the United supporters expressed their own personal thoughts with loud boos. The minutes slowly ticked away and the longer the game went on, the less effort was contributed by the United players, so much so that with full time beckoning, the visitors charged up field and snatched both points with practically the last kick of the game.
If the crowd had been cold in their reception of Wall’s penalty, then it was nothing to compare with the abuse hurled towards the United players at full time despite the news reaching the ground that both Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester City had lost and there was now no doubts whatsoever that Manchester United were champions. Many felt that an enquiry should have been carried out as regards the outcome of the game, but none were forthcoming.
United surprisingly failed to score in their following two games and even more surprisingly won only one of their remaining five fixtures, a 2-1 victory over Preston North End on the final day of the campaign. At full time, the events of the Notts County fixture were forgotten as the supporters invaded the pitch and congregated in front of the main stand shouting for their heroes to take a victory bow from the window of the president’s area.
Sandy Turnbull contributed as much as anyone to that first League Championship, notching a more than creditable twenty five goals during the campaign, but as the defence of the title kicked off on September 5th 1908 his name was missing from the Manchester United line-up and it was not until the visit of Liverpool to Clayton that he had the chance to resume where he had left off some five months previously.
In the thick of the action from the outset, a header across goal, from a Meredith free kick in the fifteenth minute, left Wall with the easiest of opportunities to open the scoring and helping to maintain an opening five match unbeaten run.
Despite the goals of the previous season, it was not until October 24th, the ninth League fixture of the season that his name appeared on the score sheet, netting twice against Nottingham Forest in the 2-2 draw. It was also something of a surprise that he was indeed able to actually feature in that, and many other United fixtures, due to his total involvement in the game, his robust nature and the knocks that materialised from his physical play. Indeed, he had to leave the field of play in two of the previous three fixtures to receive treatment for injuries, but on both occasions returned to the fray and against Bury on October 3rd even managed to force the ball home, only to be given offside.
October 31st saw United, who had slipped to 4th in the table, having began the month in top spot, four points behind Everton, making the journey to the north-east to face Sunderland at Roker Park and again the United trainer found himself earning his money, with injuries to Burgess and Downie forcing United to play much of the game with only nine men.
Sunderland stormed into a 2-0 lead early in the game, but by half time Sandy had pulled a goal back. It was, however, to no avail, as the depleted United side were no match for their hosts, who eventually ran out 6-1 winners.
Injury struck again on the first Saturday in November, when Chelsea visited Clayton and once again the unfortunate individual was Sandy Turnbull, who was carried off the pitch during the second forty-five minutes, with a twisted knee. An injury that would keep him on the sidelines until the Christmas Day fixture against Newcastle United at St James Park.
Turnbull was back amongst the goals in the 4-3, January 1st victory over Notts County, but the new year failed to bring much in the way of success to Manchester United, as they were to win only one other game between the first day of 1909 and April 12th, with one four game run even failing to produce a goal.
By early April, they had dropped to eleventh place with thirty-three points from their thirty-two games and were now some sixteen points behind leaders Newcastle United. It was a picture that was to show little in the way of change, as they finished the campaign in thirteenth, a mere four points better off.
With player of the calibre of not just Sandy Turnbull, but his namesake Jimmy, the irrepressible Billy Meredith, Livingstone, Wall and Bannister, why there was such a shortage of goals from the United front line and indeed the team as a whole, is still, to this day a mystery, as following the four against Notts County, a meagre nine were added to the goals for column over the course of the following twelve games.
Of those nine, Sandy Turnbull could be credited with one, scored against Liverpool in the 3-1 defeat on Merseyside on January 30th, but he was also to miss half a dozen of those First Division fixtures. One of them, the 3-0 defeat at home to Blackburn Rovers, was due to his presence being required in Glasgow to take part in the Scotland international trial match between the Anglo Scots and the Home Scots, for the forthcoming fixture against England at the Crystal Palace. Sadly, he failed to make the final eleven.
But although there was a distinct lack of goals and points from the League fixtures in the latter half of the 1908-09 season, with the final placing a disappointment having failed to build on their title success, the F. A. Cup took on a completely different outlook.
The draw for the Third Round of the competition paired United with Brighton and Hove Albion of the Southern League and despite their somewhat lower status, the visitors gave an excellent account of themselves on a very heavy pitch and considered themselves unfortunate to loose by the only goal of the game, scored by George Wall, in the thirtieth minute.
What Brighton lacked in experience, they had only been formed eight years previously, they made up for in effort and the 8,074 crowd witnessed a bruising ninety minutes that saw Billy Meredith sent off for ‘kneeing’ an opponent and at different periods during the game, Jimmy Turnbull, Hayes and Bell of United and Martin of Brighton were off the field receiving treatment for injuries.
Sandy also came in for some close attention from the opposition, but for once managed to avoid injury and also the wrath of the match official, but unfortunately, the referee could not do likewise with the crowd, as a number of his decisions were not to their approval and they waited outside the dressing rooms for him at full time. He was, however, able to get away from the ground safely and without any confrontation.
On the training ground at the Blue Cap, Sandiway, the United players attempted to erase the memories of the 3-1 defeat against Liverpool and prepared for their Second Round F A Cup tie against the other half of the Merseyside duo at Clayton seven days later.
They were, however, without the services of Billy Meredith, suspended due to his sending off in the previous round. Rather surprisingly, United had no reserve player capable of stepping into the Welshman’s shoes, so something of a re-shuffle was carried out, with Livingstone coming in at inside right and Wall moving out onto the left.
With Everton already having beaten United a couple of months previously, their confidence was high, but they themselves were not without selection problems, so the packed ground were indeed anticipating something of an enthralling encounter. The visitors opened briskly, but for all their endeavour, they went in at the interval a goal behind. Halse firing an unstoppable shot past Scott shortly before the break. United maintained their advantage as the second half got underway, but could not increase their lead, although both Wall and Sandy Turnbull came close.
Everton often put the United defence under pressure, but like their Manchester counterparts, failed to get the better of the defensive line that stood in front of them and the game was played out with that one solitary goal deciding the outcome.
It was a home draw again in Round Three and yet another Lancashire derby, with Blackburn Rovers making the short distance south to Clayton and much to the enjoyment of the home support, it was certainly nothing similar to the nail biting ninety minutes of the previous round.
United threw off their shackles and the misery of the 0-0 draw against Sheffield United the previous Saturday and hit Blackburn for six in a game that the Athletic News reporter referred to as “sensational” and a result that “will rank as one of the most surprising results in the history of the Cup contest”.
He continued: “That the Rovers would be beaten was not altogether unexpected, but few of those who witnessed the great game in the Bank Street enclosure could have been prepared for the surprising events secured after the interval, when the United were leading by a goal scored by Sandy Turnbull nine minutes after the start.”
Blackburn brought around 6,000 supporters to Manchester for the cup-tie, monopolising the tram cars to Clayton and creating plenty of noise as they packed themselves in behind one of the goals as soon as the gates opened at one o’clock, but Sandy stunned them into silence as the small army of ambulance men were kept busy with fainting casualties as the ground swelled to capacity.
Twice in as many minutes, Jimmy Turnbull came close to scoring, while Blackburn scorned an excellent opportunity at the opposite end. But with less than ten minutes played, Wall and Sandy Turnbull worked the ball out to the United right. The cross from Harold Halse found Wall close to goal and he in turn passed the ball to Sandy who was left with the easiest of opportunities to give United the lead.
A minute later, Sandy was in the thick of the action again, but on this occasion, he was in collision with an opponent and had to leave the field with a “damaged forehead”. He was soon to return to the fray and played a major part in United’s devastating second half display. Two minutes after the restart, Wall beat Crompton in the Rovers goal but could only watch as his shot went agonisingly wide. It was, however, only a brief reprieve for the visitors as goals from Jimmy Turnbull and Livingstone soon gave United a 3-0 lead.
Cavies pulled one back for Blackburn, but with ten minutes remaining, Sandy Turnbull took the game by the scruff of the neck and re-established United’s three goal advantage with a shot from close in. Five minutes later, Jimmy Turnbull made it 5-1, running straight through the Rovers defence and with the now silent Blackburn support making their way to the exit gates, Sandy Turnbull added a sixth to complete the rout.
Did the Football Association have something against Lancashire club’s, a London biased perhaps, couple with jealousy of their success? It certainly appeared as if they wanted as few clubs from the red rose county in the competition as possible, as once again United were paired with one of their local rivals, coming out of the velvet bag after Burnley, sending them to Turf Moor on Saturday March 6th.
The day was far from ideal football weather, as when the gates opened at 12.25 snow had already began to fall and before long had turned into a cold, mind and body numbing sleet. It didn’t, however, put off the locals and travelling supporter alike, as the ground quickly began to fill and the atmosphere was certainly not spoiled by the weather.
The pitch was covered in frozen snow, but slowly began to soften as the game commenced, United, although playing down the slight slope on the Turf Moor ground, had to face the wind and sleet which blew towards them. Burnley attacked from the outset and within ten minutes were in front. Smethams sending the ball into the United area, where Ogden managed to steer the ball into the corner of Moger’s net.
Sandy Turnbull and Halse were denied by Dawson, while Ogden almost notched his second, but was denied by the post. Sandy should have put the scored level, but he took the ball too wide and saw the opportunity go amiss. The weather failed to improve, but the players stuck admirably to their task despite sliding and slipping across the quickly deteriorating surface, while Dawson in the Burnley goal continued to deny the United forwards.
With eighteen minutes remaining the outcome of the game was finally decided when a shrill blast of referee Bamlett’s whistle brought the game to a premature end. The official, like his linesmen and the players of both sides had endured the appalling conditions admirably, but he finally decided that enough was enough and called a halt to the proceedings.
He was certainly not influenced by any of the visiting players or officials, although the former had wanted the game to be abandoned long before the referee made his decision, one that was certainly not well received by the home crowd. Rather ironically, Bamlett would become manager of United in April 1927, enjoying a four year spell in the hot seat, an appointment that was in no way influenced by his brave decision in the face of hostility at Turf Moor.
So, it was back to Burnley the following Wednesday, with the home side still confident that they would secure a semi-final place, but it was not to be as United, with the conditions greatly improved, won 3-2, with goals from Jimmy Turnbull and Harold Halse.
Now ninety minutes from a Cup Final appearance, only Newcastle United stood in United’s way and it was perhaps that this momentous occasion was a contributing factor in the 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Blackburn Rovers the previous Saturday.
Cup fever well and truly gripped Manchester, or at least those within the city of a red persuasion, as there was something of a mass exodus from early morning until around 2pm, heading for Bramall Lane, Sheffield from the London Road, Central and Victoria Stations. Countless saloons and special carriages had been booked, but the demand was greater than the supply and it proved impossible to cater for everyone. It is interesting to note, that despite the vast support that crossed the Pennines, there was still a crowd of 4,000 at Clayton to watch the United reserve side take on Blackpool.
Bramall Lane was a mass of humanity, with 40,118 paying £8,590 to watch what turned into an intensely fought encounter, although many locals had complained about having to pay one shilling for the privilege of doing so, caring nothing for the travelling and meals outlay of the visiting supporters.
If the outcome of the match were to be decided on form alone, then it would be Newcastle who would progress towards the Final, as they lead the First Division by six points from Everton, whilst having also played a game less. United floundered in fourth, some thirteen points behind.
It was indeed Newcastle United who enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges, but slowly, United managed to gain a foothold on the game and caused their opponents some nervous moments around their goalmouth, but amid the excitement of the first forty-five minutes, neither goalkeeper was beaten.
With the wind now behind them, United now had something of an advantage and this was increased somewhat following an injury to Newcastle’s centre forward Shepherd, who was forced into a rather inactive role out on the right wing. Although things were soon to even out, as Sandy Turnbull limped off to receive treatment, as play developed into something of stalemate, with both sets of defenders happy to play something of an off-side game.
Charlie Roberts almost broke the deadlock, but his header crashed against the Newcastle cross-bar. Wall and Jimmy Turnbull also came close as the rain began to fall heavily, then with twenty-eight minutes of the second half gone and Sandy Turnbull having limped back into the fray, taking up a position on the left wing, the opening goal and indeed what turned out to be the only one, was scored. Wall centred from the left and amid something of a scramble for possession between a couple of players, Halse quickly sized up the situation and pounced on the ball to drive past a helpless Lawrence in the Newcastle goal.
Newcastle pressed forward for the equaliser, but to no avail and it was United who could now make plans for a trip to London and their first F. A. Cup Final appearance. According to the report in the ‘Umpire’, Sandy’s performance, even before his injury was regarded as “very moderate”, with the injury not allowing no opportunity to redeem himself, as it kept him on the sidelines for the next seven fixtures.
His injury was indeed a worry to manager Ernest Mangnall. There had been little hope of retaining the League Championship for some time, so his absence in those remaining First Division fixtures were not exactly the end of the world, but with the Cup Final edging nearer by the day, Mangnall hoped that he would be able to field what he regarded as his strongest line up.
There was much debate in the week leading up to the match at Crystal Palace whether or not Sandy would be fit to face Bristol City and although he travelled south with his team mates, it was not until half an hour before kick-off that the United manager decided to gamble on a player who had spent so long without kicking a ball in earnest.
Despite the advantage of a brisk wind, United were soon put on the defensive by the Bristol forwards, with both Roberts and Stacey clearing their lines. A foul on Charlie Roberts saw the resulting free kick headed wide by Sandy Turnbull in United’s first serious attack, but they were soon to settle and began to cause their opponents defence some anxious moments.
A foul on Sandy by Annan, saw the offended player once again head wide as United continued to press forward. Roberts dictated play from the back and in the twenty-first minute send Halse through, but although in the clear, his effort slammed against the underside of the Bristol City crossbar and rebounded into play. It went, however, only to feet of Sandy Turnbull, who drove the ball firmly home from close range.
Ernest Mangnall’s decision had indeed paid off.
Play began to even itself out, but as half time approached, United once again looked to be in control. Wall was unlucky not to add a second, while Sandy tested Clay in the City goal with low drive which the ‘keeper managed to turn round the post.
An excellent one handed save by Moger early in the second half maintained United’s advantage, although they were soon hampered in their defensive department by an injury to Hayes, with the full back, following a few minutes on the sideline receiving treatment, returning to limp around in something of an inside right position. Duckworth and Halse moved back, while Stacey switched wings, as United fought to defend their solitary goal advantage.
The injury clearly had an effect on United’s play and it became completely disjointed, but the game should have been put beyond Bristol City’s reach when a double Turnbull threat opened up their defence, but Jimmy, a few yards from goal, blasted over. Minutes later, Sandy almost wormed his way through the City defence, but was rather unceremoniously brought down from behind by Annan.
Despite being hampered by the injury to Hayes, United kept their opponents defence on their toes and with Roberts marshalling the reshuffled defence superbly, they hung onto their one goal advantage to secure a memorable victory thanks to that solitary Sandy Turnbull goal. With Manchester United’s first trophy secured, the new season was eagerly looked forward to, but there were problems on the horizon, perhaps more so for United than any of their opponents.
Had the game been nothing more than an ordinary Football League fixture, then it is more than likely that the name of Sandy Turnbull would not have appeared on the Manchester United team sheet, but such was his importance to the team, Ernest Mangnall, perhaps due to the prompting of his captain, Charlie Roberts, who had said to the manager that he should let him play, “as he might get a goal and if he does, we can afford to carry a passenger”, took a calculated risk and included the player and was certainly more than relieved that his gamble paid off.
Turnbull’s efforts were also appreciated by the United support, who warmed to his whole hearted approach to the game, with his physical involvement warming many hearts on those cold afternoon’s in the dull and dreary surroundings of Clayton. So much so, that following the Final, the ‘Athletic News’ carried a supporters’ song:
“Why we thought you were ‘crocked’ Dashing Sandy.
That to fame your road was blocked, Hard Lines Sandy.
But you came up to the scratch, made an effort for THE match … When Halse hit the shiv-ring [sic] bar, Lucky Sandy.
There were groans heard near and far, deep ones, Sandy.
But the ball was on the bound, and your boot was safe and sound, when the net your great shot found, Champion Sandy.
For the score was but one up – not much Sandy?
But the bristol boys worked hard
Though their efforts were ill-stared
Give a cheer then with the band, For them Sandy.”
After a night of celebrations, which saw Sandy and his side-kick Billy Meredith, accompanied with the Cup itself, (much to the pains of United secretary JJ Bentley), join staunch United supporter George Robey, one of the top entertainers of the day and the man who had actually supplied United’s Cup Final shirts, at the Alhabambra Theatre where the latter was appearing, it was discovered that the United secretary’s fears were turning into a nightmare, as the lid of the famous trophy had disappeared. Had it been left at the theatre amid the jovial scenes of the night before, or had it got lost somewhere between there and the United hotel?
Such fears were soon to be put to rest, as the lid duly turned up – in the pocket of Sandy Turnbull’s jacket! The why’s and where’s of its disappearance and subsequent re-discovery were never recorded, with the incident simply passed off as nothing more than a prank, a piece of harmless fun, involving the United goalscorer.
On December 2nd 1907, a meeting at the Imperial Hotel, which five years earlier had become Manchester United’s headquarters, saw the formation of the Association of Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union, with Billy Meredith and Charlie Roberts well to the fore at this inaugural meeting. Two years down the line, the PFA contacted the Football Association, making clear its intentions to challenge the maximum wage of £4, while also seeking to alter the ‘retain and transfer’ system. It also sought to join the ‘Federation of Trade Unions’.
Eager to see off any threat the fledging Association might poise, the Football Association withdrew its recognition of the PFA, a move which not only angered the players, but also brought the threat of strike action. This in turn forced the Football Association into banning all players affiliated to the Union prior to the start of the 1909-1910 campaign, which in turn saw a steep decline in its membership.
There was, however, little, if any, drop in interest or indeed involvement from the players of Manchester United and with the new season about to break over the horizon, there was a very distinct possibility that the opening fixture against Bradford City would not take place.
So strong was the feeling of those United players, and some of their fellow professionals at other clubs, they were pictured posing behind a hand painted sign which proclaimed “The Outcasts FC”. Sandy Turnbull sitting proudly in the front row.
But they were not to remain ‘outcasts’ for long, as when it was seen that there was support from out with Manchester United (Tim Coleman of Everton was one of those pictured in that infamous team group), others came forward to ignore the Football Association, which eventually agreed to allowing the PFA official recognition, in exchange for the dropping of the plans to abolish the maximum wage and substituting it with bonus payments.
So, it was a full strength cup holders who got season 1909-10 underway with three straight victories followed by two draws, results that saw them level on points with Newcastle United, but with the advantage of a game in hand over their semi-final rivals from a few months previous. Sandy kicked off the campaign in his usual inside left position, but it wasn’t until the sixth game of the new campaign that he found the back of the net, scoring twice in the 3-2 defeat at Notts County.
As in the past, the physical side of the game seemed to follow him around like a shadow as the second game of the new season, against Bury at Clayton, he was once again forced onto the sidelines to receive prolonged treatment, leaving his team mates to plod away with a man short. He was also in the thick of the goalmouth action despite his inability to find the back of the net, coming close on numerous occasions and finding creditable mentions in those early season match reports.
Against Bury, he “made a fine wing alongside Wall”, while the following week he was regarded as “useful” against Tottenham Hotspur in London. A “magnificent shot in international style” (whatever that might mean) almost opened his scoring account against Preston North End at Clayton in a game during which he also “did some clever things”. But it was at Trent Bridge that he claimed his opening strikes of the season, although his goals only achieved personal success.
Notts County had taken a second minute lead, but with only three minutes of the first half remaining, Sandy equalised with a magnificent shot from a Meredith free kick. His second of the afternoon came with County 3-1 in front and was scored from the penalty spot after Jimmy Turnbull had been brought down by Morely. But there was to be no fight back and a share of the spoils, as County held on to their one goal advantage.
October 2nd brought Newcastle United to Clayton and the battle between the League Champions and the F. A. Cup holders promised to be an entertaining affair, so much so that United captain Charlie Roberts had requested the game as his benefit match. Most probably in anticipation of a bumper crowd.
However, a dispute between the Players’ Union and the Football Association as regards to the proposed benefit, which in reality should have been settled well before the game, saw the FA meet the day before and then fail to come to an agreement, putting the plans of the United captain on hold for the time being at least.
Roberts was obviously disappointed when informed of the Football Association’s decision, or indeed its lack of a decision and when he informed his team mates on the morning of the Newcastle match, several of his team mates declared that they would not turn out that afternoon as a form of protest.
It was most likely that Sandy Turnbull was one of those who felt so strongly about the outcome, but in a hastily arranged conference at the Players’ Union offices managed to persuade the dissidents that they should turn out that afternoon.
While United enjoyed the best of the first half, it could be said that the visitors won the second half on points, although many would argue that this was mainly due to the fact that United were without either of the Turnbull’s for the last ten minutes and they faced Newcastle with only nine men. Despite the two injuries, the game, although physical, was in no way a dirty one, with only four fouls awarded throughout the entire ninety minutes.
The home side took the lead in the twentieth minute when a Sandy Turnbull shot beat Lawrence in the Newcastle goal, but could only watch as his shot cannoned back off the post. Fortunately for United, Wall was alert to the opportunity and ran in to prod the ball past the stranded ‘keeper.
United could have found themselves three goals in front before the referee brought the first half to a close, both chances falling to the feet of Sandy Turnbull, but his first effort flew over the bar, while the second was saved by Lawrence. Newcastle snatched a share of the points when Duckworth, in an attempt to clear, only succeeded in putting the ball past Moger, the ball skidding off the side of his boot as he attempted to block the shot from a Newcastle forward.
Seven days later United travelled to Liverpool and in a repeat of their last away day at Notts County, they were beaten 3-2, with Sandy Turnbull again the scorer of both the visitor’s goals. By half time, United found themselves 2-0 down, the home side having scored twice, in the seventeenth and fortieth minute, with debutant goalkeeper Rounds having little chance with either Liverpool effort. After the interval, however, it was a completely different picture, with the visitors scoring twice in the opening sixteen minutes.
With the second half only a few minutes old, Halse was tripped inside the area, leaving referee Howcroft little option but to point to the penalty spot. Hardy was given no chance with Sandy’s spot kick. Minutes later, following another assault on the Liverpool goal, United won a corner and from the flag kick, Meredith’s inviting cross fell invitingly to Sandy Turnbull who on ce again beat Hardy.
The tempo was now raised as both teams pushed for the equaliser with Rounds keeping the home side at bay with a magnificent performance, but midway through the half he could do little to prevent Stewart from heading the winner.
Aston Villa’s visit to Clayton saw United record their first victory in six games and once again the Turnbull duo were in the thick of the action. One United attack saw Sandy charging into the Villa penalty area, only to be brought down, but taking the kick himself, drove the ball into the arms of Cartlidge. He made amends for this miss thirty minutes into the second half when he headed home a Meredith corner and soon afterwards, the Welshman was again the supplier, with Halse beating the Villa goalkeeper from Meredith’s centre.
Jimmy Turnbull had come close to scoring between both those goals, driving over when in a good position, but he blotted his copybook in the final minutes of the game when he became physically involved with Hunter, the Villa left half, after a challenge in front of the main stand, with players of both teams having to step in to separate the two players.
Seven days later, Jimmy Turnbull once again received his marching orders, this time for kicking out at an opponent, with the double dismissal earning him a six week break from first team action, during which time United won three and lost three, only failing to find the back of the net on one occasion.
Sandy Turnbull scored his sixth goal of the season in the 2-0 home win against Chelsea on November 13th, but a run of five straight victories came to an end the following Saturday with the 3-2 defeat at Blackburn Rovers, a victory that cemented the home side’s position at the top of the First Division, whilst also earning them record receipts of £1,200 from the 35,000 crowd in attendance.
This defeat was the start of a period of inconsistency for Mangnall’s team, which saw them win four, lose five and draw one of the next ten games, pushing them down towards mid-table, with the name of Sandy Turnbull failing to appear on the team sheet for four of those. But despite those absences, he still managed to find the back of the net on four occasions and receive favourable comments from the men of the press.
As United plodded away through their League programme, thoughts constantly drifted across Manchester, to an area of wasteland just off Chester Road, almost on the banks of the Ship Canal. It was here that sooner, rather than later, that the Clayton regulars would have to make their way in order to watch their favourites, leaving those odours and belching chimneys for a new home.
Tottenham were beaten 5-0 in the final First Division encounter at Clayton on January 22nd, a week after Burnley gained revenge for their dubious cup exit the previous season, with a 2-0 Third Round victory and with all the odds and ends being packed up ready for the big move across the city, United made the relatively short journey to Preston, where they lost 2-0, before travelling to the north-east to face Newcastle United, where they defeated the current League champions by the odd goal in seven. Sandy Turnbull notching two. He had obviously recovered from the cup-tie at Burnley, where he was forced to leave the pitch in considerable pain to a facial injury on two occasions.
Football in the early 1900’s was a completely different game as to that of today. Obviously the biggest difference is the money that can be earned and although those players of that bygone era were making more than many of those who paid their pennies to watch them on a Saturday afternoon, they were certainly not well off.
Their playing kit was course and heavyweight, with the boots just as likely to maim as they were to produce a moment of individual brilliance. Injuries were simply an occupational hazard and as you have read, Sandy Turnbull collected his fair share of those, more often than not limping off the field at the end of the game. He did, however, give as good as he got. Perhaps, at times, slightly more!
Comparisons certainly cannot be made between those Manchester United players who earned the club those first domestic honours and those individuals who pull on the red shirt (or whatever other colour it happens to be) today. Was Charlie Roberts a better club captain and a harder individual than Nemanja Vidic? There is, however, an eerie resemblance between Sandy Turnbull and Wayne Rooney in more ways than one!
February 19th saw the curtain rise on the new Old Trafford home, a venue considered the most modern in the land, with tip up seats and a playing surface akin to a billiard table. The setting was perfect. The result was certainly not.
As on the previous Saturday, United shared seven goals with their opponents, but on this occasion they could only manage the lesser amount, their first-footers, Liverpool, failing to be the perfect guests, notching four. But taking everything into account, it is fair to say that United were as familiar with the arena as their opponents, so home advantage, for once, could be discarded.
Watched by some 45,000 on a fine Mancunian afternoon, the occasion could not have asked for a better start than United christening their new ground by scoring the opening goal, with the honour falling to none other than Alexander Turnbull. With half an hour played, United were awarded a free kick and Duckworth sent the ball towards the Liverpool goal. Keeping his eye firmly on the brown leather sphere, Sandy through himself forward, his head connecting with the ball, which flew past the outstretched hand of Hardy to put United in front.
A few minutes later, it was 2-0. Hardy managing to stop a shot from Halse, but failing to hold the ball, which rolled towards the feet of Homer, who gratefully accepted the opportunity to give United a 2-0 half time advantage.
The second forty-five minutes saw Liverpool claw themselves back into the game with a goal from Goddard, the ball going in off the underside of the bar, but any immediate thoughts of a fight back were forgotten, when Wall resorted United’s two goal lead, surging past Robinson and Rogers, before beating Hardy at his left hand post from what looked like an impossible goal scoring angle.
There was seldom time to draw breath, as the pace was relentless as both teams pressed forward. But it was the visitors who made the breakthrough, with Goddard snatching his second of the afternoon when he shot across Moger and into the net. Liverpool sensed that they were in with a chance of at least securing a draw and within the space of a couple of minutes, they weren’t simply on level terms, but in front, both goals coming from Stewart.
So, the first fixture at Old Trafford ended in disappointment, leaving United floundering in eighth place, seven points behind leaders Notts County but, as often was the case, they had two games in hand.
Things failed to improve the following Saturday, as the visit to Villa Park brought a 7-1 reversal, a game that was to be Sandy Turnbull’s last until March 26th due to injury, but even then, he was only back for one solitary outing before missing a further three fixtures.
In his absence, United ironically enjoyed a change of fortune, winning five, drawing one and losing one of the seven fixtures. The most noteworthy, a 5-0 victory over near neighbours Bolton Wanderers. The run took United up to third, but they were seven points behind leaders Aston Villa, so any hopes of following the cup success with a League Championship were highly unlikely. More so, as the games in hand had now become a game more than the team at the top.
Sandy rounded off his season with two goals in the final three games and although outshone in the final fixture of the season by Picken who notched all four in the 4-1 victory over Middlesborough at Old Trafford, it was good to see that he was back to his best, with the ‘Athletic News’ informing its readers that along with Meredith and Roberts, much of the game was devoted to ‘exhibition football’, showing ‘some remarkable juggling’. ‘Boro’s McLeod, we are told, ‘was helpless against Turnbull’, who ‘fed his partner (Wall) in beautiful fashion’.
The summer of 1910 saw a number of new faces arrive at Old Trafford, amongst whom were Hofton from Glossop, Dean from Eccles, Aspinall from Southport, Green from Chesterfield, Hodge from Stenhousemuir and West from Nottingham Forest.
Of those new additions to the United playing squad, it was the latter, Enoch ‘Knocker’ West, who was to make the biggest impact, taking over the number nine jersey and to a certain extent Sandy Turnbull’s mantle of the teams main goal scoring threat. He was also not simply to become a partner on the field of play, Sandy playing alongside him at inside left, they became firm friends off the pitch as well.
West opened his United goals account on the opening day of the 1910-11 season in the 2-1 win over Woolwich Arsenal, Harold Halse claiming the other, with Sandy Turnbull having to wait until the second fixture of the new campaign before claiming his first, but he was still playing catch up with his new team mate, as he also scored in the 3-2 home win against Blackburn Rovers.
West’s arrival on the scene seemed to act as something of an inspiration to Turnbull, not that he needed such a thing, but it began to look as if the duo had a personal wager, which perhaps they did, as to who would finish as leading scorer.
It was Sandy Turnbull who notched the solitary United goal in the 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest on September 10th, a game that attracted the largest crowd at the City Ground for some time, with the Forest directors rubbing their hands when the loose change was counted to the sum of £420, with a further £160 taken in season tickets. For the former, it might simply have been a case of having come to see United.
He made it three in three games, scoring the opener in the 2-1 victory over Manchester City the following week and maintained his place as top scorer with the only goal of the game in the next fixture against Everton at Goodison Park and before long West was struggling to keep up with his striking partner as the goals continued to flow.
Following that strike against Everton, he failed to find the net against Sheffield Wednesday and then missed the trip to Bristol City, but he was soon back in the groove, with seven goals in the following eight games. West in the meantime could only manage to increase his total by three. Two of those coming in the 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
Scanning through the match reports of the period, the name of Sandy Turnbull was never far from being that of United’s ‘man-of-the-match’, whether he had notched yet another goal or not. Even in a no scoring draw against Notts County, the first time in fourteen League games that United had failed to find the back of the net, or indeed suffered defeat he was considered to be ‘the pick of the bunch’ or a ‘shining light’.
He could also, however, make the headlines for all the wrong reasons. On November 19th, seven days after the 0-0 draw at home to Notts County, he was back amongst the goals with a double in the 3-1 win over local rivals Oldhan Athletic. During the game, he was cautioned by the referee for making what were considered to be degrading remarks to the referee, with the official warning him that, should he repeat his comments, then he would be left with no alternative but to send him off.
The game continued with no further conversations between player and official, but at full time, as everyone was leaving the pitch, Sandy slipped alongside the referee and said that he wanted to tell him that he had said the offending words again, but he had not heard him!
The 2-0 defeat at Sheffield United on December 10th left United in third place in the First Division, two points behind leaders Aston Villa, whilst also having played a game more. But by Boxing Day, three games later, they had climbed to the top, with a one point advantage over the Midlands side, thanks mainly to a Turnbull and West inspired victory over Villa, although the 2-1 win at Sunderland and the 5-0 hammering of Woolwich Arsenal at Old Trafford also helped considerably.
Villa’s visit to Manchester on December 17th was undoubtedly the match of the season to date and an eagerly awaited encounter between the current First Division champions and a team with aspirations towards their crown. A team that was growing in respect, with the Aston Villa directors being reported as considering United to be “the finest in the country as to the conception of the Association game and its practical possibilities”.
Two minutes before the interval, Sandy Turnbull gave United the lead, shooting through a forest of legs and just inside the post and with United regaining possession almost immediately from the restart, he just failed to increase the advantage when his head was mere inches away from connecting with the ball in front of goal. He was also involved in United’s second, his shot being deflected wide for a corner from which West got on the end of Wall’s kick to nudge home.
His goal in the 2-1 win at Sunderland on Christmas Eve was strangely his last for some six games and perhaps more significantly the end of what could be described as a purple patch in front of goal, as he was to score only five more in the remaining four months of the season, despite missing only two games.
Following the goal against Sunderland, his next would not come until almost a month later, on January 21st and the 1-1 draw against Manchester City at Hyde Road, when he accepted yet another Billy Meredith crafted opening to give United the lead.
Despite his lack of goals, however, his presence in the team was essential and his contribution second to none, something emphasised by ‘Harricus’ in his report of the City encounter in the ‘Athletic News’. He wrote; “Wall was at his best in the first half, for Turnbull allowed him to rest after changing ends, and Turnbull is one of those players who seem to do as the spirit moves them. Apparently he is indifferent, but watch him closely and his seeming lack of energy is part of his programme, with intent to deceive the opposition. They forget he is playing, as it were, but does not.”
Despite the lack of goals from Sandy Turnbull and two consecutive 1-0 defeats in the final two fixtures of 1910, United maintained there push for the First Division title and an unbeaten run between January 2nd and March 15th kept them three points ahead of an Aston Villa side determined to keep a hold of the champions crown. United had a one game advantage over their rivals, but all could well hinge on the meeting between the two at Villa Park on the penultimate day of the season.
A goal against Middlesborough in a 2-2 draw on March 4th was Sandy’s first in four games and it seemed to have rekindled his prowess in front of goal, as he scored in the following two fixtures, a 5-0 win over Preston North End and a 3-2 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur.
Suddenly, the nerves began to kick in, as the games became fewer and the season rose to a crescendo. Notts County took both points with a 1-0 home win, in which United were poor, although ‘Jacques’ of the ‘Athletic News’ wrote: “There was one Manchester forward, however, who played brilliantly. He was head and shoulders the finest inside man in the match – I allude to Turnbull, who all through the second half dribbled and passed superbly in an attempt to galvanise the line into life. He was laid out in a collision with Morely – both men were hurt – and he ws also kicked on the head, but right to the end he was still the one man to threaten the Nottingham goal.”
That same afternoon, Villa lost at Newcastle United, but then came a 0-0 draw against Oldham Athletic at Old Trafford and what was generally considered a fair result. It kept United in top spot, but with Villa involved in the F. A. Cup, United had now played two games more and held a four point advantage.
A ‘Knocker’ West double saw Liverpool beaten 2-0 at Old Trafford, with Villa winning at Middlesborough to maintain the challenge, but a 2-0 defeat at Preston did little to help their cause, on an afternoon that saw United dismiss Bury 3-0. Easter weekend left the outcome still shrouded in mystery, as Villa defeated Sheffield United 3-0 on Good Friday, followed by a 2-0 win over Notts County twenty-four hours later. United could only draw 1-1 with Sheffield United on the Saturday and 0-0 with Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday.
It was now, United in front by two points, but they only had two games left and one of those at Villa Park. Their rivals had three left to play and held more than a distinct advantage.
Villa indeed gained the upper hand with a 4-2 win in the crucial confrontation, but undid all their good work forty-eight hours later when they could only draw 0-0 with Blackburn Rovers, although it was a point good enough to give them the advantage at the top of the First Division. It all now hinged on the outcome of the fixtures of Saturday April 29th – United at home to Sunderland and Villa, a few miles down the road at Liverpool. One point between the two teams, with Villa also holding a .05 goal average advantage.
Strangely, there were only around 12,000 at Old Trafford on that final afternoon of the season, an afternoon that could see Manchester United crowned First Division champions for only the second time in their history. The rain undoubtedly putting many off, despite the events that threatened to unfold.
The United players knew it was simply a case of win or bust and went about their task from the opening whistle and by half time had stormed into a 3-1 lead, with United’s left wing partnership of Turnbull and Blott given the Sunderland right sided pairing of Forster and Tait a torrid afternoon.
Turnbull constantly supplied his left wing partner with exquisite passes and the former Southend United player, whose favoured position was on the opposite side of the field at either outside right or right half, was a constant thorn in the side of the Sunderland defence, with the crowd warming to what was his first senior outing of the season.
West headed home a Duckworth cross early on, only for the goal to be disallowed as the ball was judged to half crossed the dead ball line prior to the United right half’s centre. But it was the visitors who unexpectedly took the lead in the twenty-third minute, causing much anxiety amongst the sparse numbers around the stadium. Bridgett made the initial run forward, passing the ball towards Mordue. The Sunderland inside right proceeded to send the ball into the United area, where a number of his team mates lay in wait and it was Holley who pounced, sending the ball up against the underside of the bar and into the net. Halse added a third before the interval.
With the wind on their faces, United went searching for an equaliser and the dual wing threat of Meredith and Blott soon had the Sunderland defence back-tracking. On the half hour, the Welshman was fouled by Milton near the goal line and from the free kick, he dropped the ball menacingly close to the Wearsiders goal, where Turnbull leaped to head home.
Ten minutes later, United were in front. Meredith, again in the thick of the action, swung over a corner kick. Such was the danger that Sandy Turnbull posed, half the Sunderland team seemed to be gathered around him, but the Scot suddenly began walking away from goal, taking his numerous markers with him, allowing West to move into the vacant space and score with something of a backward header.
In the second half, it was almost all United. Halse scored with a shot on the run from a Meredith centre to make it 4-1, with the scoring rounded off when Milton put the ball past his own goalkeeper as it bobbled around a packed goalmouth.
The crowd had cheered at half time when the telegraph board showed that Villa were behind at Liverpool and they cheered even louder at full time, when the full time result found its way to Manchester – Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 1. Manchester United were champions.
During a close season, during which manager Ernest Mangnall made only one addition, bringing in George Anderson from Bury in a £50 deal, Old Trafford staged the Players Union Athletic Festival and it was reported that one of the funniest things ever to be seen at Old Trafford was the sight of Sandy Turnbull timing the sprints with a clock that he had carried from the dressing room!
The 1911-12 season kicked off in a rather unspectacular fashion for the Champions, with four draws, four defeats and four wins in the opening dozen games. Sandy found himself one behind ‘Knocker’ West in the goal scoring charts, while United were thirteenth in the First Division, six points adrift of Newcastle United and seven in front of bottom placed Bury.
Sandy Turnbull was noted primarily for his actions in the opposition penalty area, but he was not adverse to rolling up his sleeves and giving his defenders a helping hand. He was also labelled in some quarters as being “slow”, but this was something of a miss-judgement by those on the opposite side of the touch-line, as there were not many forwards quicker off their marks when a half chance raised its head in front of goal.
December 2nd saw United travel to the north-east to face First Division leaders Newcastle United, a fixture that in the past had seen a glut of goals with score lines such as 5-0, 6-1 and 4-3. This encounter only conjured up five goals, but it gave out a clear indication to all concerned, that the current champions were not going to give up their title without a fight.
There was no ‘Turnbull’ to be found among the scorers in the visitors, perhaps surprising to some, 3-2 victory, but as always, he played his part, keeping the black and white striped shirted defenders on their toes. Perhaps even more strangely, the name of ‘Turnbull’ would be found amongst the United scorers on one occasion following his goal in the 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers on December 23rd.
Sandy’s return of seven goals from thirty appearances was his poorest season since he had made the cross town move from Manchester City. He had scored five in season 1908-09, but during that campaign, he had played in only nineteen games, compared more than double that this time around.
United’s drop from Champions to thirteenth was nothing short of a huge disappointment, but something that was perhaps not entirely unexpected, as it was often considered that too much expectancy was placed on the shoulders of a select few. What was perhaps totally unexpected was the deflection of manager Ernest Mangnall to Manchester City. But then again, did the manger suspect that his League Championship and F. A. Cup winning side had achieved everything they could and that it was time for him to move on to another challenge?
Mangnall, although classed as manager, was in effect the club secretary and his vacant position was filled by a similar office bearer in J. J. Bentley. The new man at the helm certainly had a footballing pedigree, beginning as a player with Turton FC, whilst at the same time finding time to pen match reports for the local newspaper, going on to become secretary and treasurer of the Lancashire club.
Hanging up his boots, he moved into accountancy and was soon to become secretary of Bolton Wanderers, going on to be regarded by many as one of the most influential figures in English football due to his involvement in the formation of the Football League. He was soon to pick up his pen in earnest once again, moving back into the world of journalism whilst continuing in his role with Bolton Wanderers, but when United came calling, like many before and after him, he found it irresistible and moved to Old Trafford.
Many considered him out of his depth in the managerial role with United, but a look at the First Division table at the end of season 1912-13 shows a distinct improvement on that of the previous campaign.
Goals were also in short supply as season 1912-13 got underway, or more to the point, they were non-existent for both United and their robust inside forward. The 0-0 draw on the opening day at Woolwich Arsenal was in reality an acceptable point, but losing 1-0, five days later, against neighbours Manchester City was an early set back that they could have done without.
Goals from Turnbull and Livingstone were enough to earn the first victory of the season, a 2-1 win against West Bromwich Albion, but five defeats in the following eleven games left United in fourteenth position, some eight points of the leaders – Ernest Mangnall’s Manchester City.
The 4-2 defeat at Aston Villa on November 16th was Sandy Turnbull’s last outing of the season at inside left as, after missing two games, he returned to the side on the opposite flank, switching positions with West. Although it saw him back alongside Billy Meredith, this was only for one game, as the Welshman was to find himself dropped for the first time in his career. He did return to the side, but during this season, his appearances were to be few and far between.
But while Meredith’s star was falling from the sky, that of Sandy Turnbull’s continued to shine brightly, as the United programme editor described him as “the cleverest manipulator of the ball the game has known for a decade”, whilst he explained that the player had been switched from inside left to inside right in an effort to help Meredith regain something of his old form. The programme editor continued: “In his own sphere, Turnbull ranks equal to Meredith and the selection robbed the latter of any grumble he might have had of being inadequately partnered.”
At inside right, Sandy Turnbull continued to deliver, although his goals did not flow quite so frequently as in the past. Strangely, his goals, during this and in past seasons, were almost all solitary efforts, but on Boxing Day, he notched his first ‘double’ since November 19th 1910, in the 4-2 win over Chelsea at Old Trafford. Twenty four hours previously, the Londoners had been beaten 4-1 on their own ground.
Against Chelsea, Turnbull in fact scored three. However, one of those, Chelsea’s first, was past Beale, the United ‘keeper. His double came from a twenty-five yard drive that gave Brebner in the Chelsea goal no chance, and a header from a Wall centre, that once again left the visiting ‘keeper helpless.
Those victories over Chelsea had contributed to an improved League position, climbing to tenth, three points behind leaders Aston Villa. City had dropped to fourth and were due to host the return leg of this particular seasons ‘battle of Manchester’ on December 28th, when a victory for United could see them leap frog their arch rivals. And leap frog them they did, gaining revenge for their early season defeat, with a 2-0 victory, both goals coming from West in the opening forty-five minutes.
Goals, however, still manage to elude Sandy Turnbull, as he could only manage a meager three in the second half of the season and on occasion his usual creditable performance and honorable mentions within the match reports were nowhere to be seen.
Against Sunderland on March 15th his only mention from ‘Jacques’ in the ‘Athletic News’ was due to a kick on the head seeing him seldom in the game and as the final few games of the campaign approached, United were unable to claw themselves any higher than third, but had played more games than their immediate rivals, eventually finishing in fourth place.
He began season 1913-14 in good enough form, scoring on the opening day in the 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday and again the following fixture against Sunderland, clawing himself back into the spotlight and into the match reports of the national press.
Unfortunately, Sandy Turnbull’s star was waning; no longer twinkling brightly in the northern sky and his name was soon not to be one of the first penciled in by J. J. Bentley on his United team sheets. This, however, was not entirely due to his on the field performances being no longer up the standards expected by the man at the helm. A dressing room argument between the two, coming on the back of the Football Association deciding to install a form of tax on each professionals wages, in order to assemble a relief fund to help club’s as they began to suffer the loss of players due to them entering the armed forces.
A number of the professionals refused to pay, while the Player’s Union refused to co-operate and suddenly it was Manchester United who found themselves singled out, with Bentley’s former source of employment – the Athletic News, where he was editor, were quick to condemn the United players. Bentley suspended Turnbull, but his actions brought even more ill feeling into the dressing room, with the remainder of the players threatening to go on strike unless their team mate was re-instated.
By the turn of the year, Sandy Turnbull was no longer a regular first team choice. A report of the match against West Bromwich Albion on New Years Day 1914 mentions; “The latter (Potts) played so cleverly that Turnbull cannot expect to regain his position for some time.” Regain his position he did, against Bolton Wanderers, three days later, remaining in the side for the F.A. Cup tie against Swindon Town the following Saturday, where he was once again mentioned in dispatches as having a good game alongside his old friend Meredith. However, the cup-tie brought something of a shock result, a last minute goal taking the southern based side through and the end of a glowing career was now edging over the horizon.
Sandy Turnbull was to make only one more appearance in the red of Manchester United that season and that was on February 7th in his old inside left position, away at Tottenham Hotspur, a game that would not produce any headlines, only a 2-1 defeat.
On April 11th, Turnbull, along with George Stacey, was allowed to have the game against Manchester City as a benefit match, but due to injury, Sandy was unable to play, instead, accepting the plaudits of both sets of supporters from the touchline.
City won the game 1-0, with the ‘Umpire’ recoding that the visitors received a more encouraging welcome than United when they took the field prior to kick-off, but while the result was perhaps not what Turnbull, or Stacey for that matter, had wanted, the takings of £1,216, certainly softened their disappointment.
United finished season 1913-14 in fourteenth place in the First Division, with everything at Old Trafford far from perfect. Their problems, however, were distinctly minor compared with what was bubbling away elsewhere.
On June 28th 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Yugoslav nationalist, an event that was to in turn trigger off the First World War. Despite the under current of increasing threat to world peace, he 1914-15 season kicked off as normal on September 2nd, with United losing 3-1 at home to Oldham Athletic.
Sandy Turnbull was missing from that opening day line up and indeed for the following two fixtures, a 0-0 draw against City at Old Trafford and a 3-0 defeat at Bolton, but he was back into the thick of things for the fourth match if the campaign against Blackburn Rovers, where two Enoch West goals secured the first victory of the season.
Sandy claimed one of United’s goals seven days later in the 4-2 defeat against Notts County and played in one more game before missing the next three. He then enjoyed a run of seven outings between the end of October and mid-December, but was then out of the side until April 6th when he returned for the 1-0 defeat against Oldham.
Four days later, in the 2-2 draw against Middlesbrough on April 10th, he scored what was to be his final goal for United and the following Saturday at Sheffield United, the final whistle finally brought down the curtain on not just his Manchester United career, but his Football League career at this level. His name, however, along with those of a handful of team mates, was soon to be on everyone’s lips once again, as well as the front and back pages of the local and national newspapers.
On April 2nd, Good Friday 1915, Liverpool made the short journey along the East Lancs Road to face United at Old Trafford, a fixture that should, in reality, have seen the visitors secure victory without too much of a problem, as a look at the First Division table on the morning of the match saw United third from bottom, level on points with second bottom Notts County and only one point ahead of Chelsea who were propping up the table. Liverpool were five places above and six points better off.
United, rather unexpectedly as there wasn’t the same intensity surrounding such fixtures then as there is now, won 2-0, with both goals coming from George Anderson. At the end of the season, United were still third bottom. One point better off than Chelsea and two above bottom club Tottenham. It was indeed a significant victory.
“A Moderate Game – Manchester United Get Two Points From Liverpool” proclaimed the headline above the ‘Sporting Chronicle’ match report, while the ‘Manchester Football Chronicle’ had the headline “A Surprising Display” above its report.
‘The Wanderer’, reporting on the match for the latter, wrote: “Personally I was surprised and disgusted at the spectacle the second half presented. While in the ‘Chronicle’, their correspondent wrote of the play in the second half being too poor to describe.”
Neither they, or any of the other reporters present voiced their opinions as to how the play was so dire, but the crowd were certainly not slow in making their feelings known, with many heard to comment amongst themselves that they felt the game was rigged. Especially after United had taken a 2-0 lead, when they did little in the way of attempting to increase it, happy to simply plod away, without putting the Liverpool defence under any form of pressure.
In the ‘Daily Dispatch’ their correspondent ‘Veteran’ wrote that West, in the second half, “was chiefly employed in the second half in kicking the ball as far out of play as he could”. So disgusted was the ‘Daily Mirror’ with the proceedings that it simply carried the result and no report. Even the ‘Liverpool Daily Post’ wrote “that a more one sided half would be hard to witness” and that Beale in the United goal went half an hour without touching the ball.
A missed penalty added to the drama. Taken by O’Connell and not the usual spot kick exponent Anderson, the Irishman blasting the ball well wide of the post with the score at 1-0. A miss that even sowed some seeds of doubt in the referee’s head as to the actual sincerity of the players involved, commenting later that it was “the most extraordinary match that I have ever officiated in.”
The match, however, was not going to be simply shrugged off as ‘one of those games’ and the rumblings of discontent soon developed into a full blown thunderstorm when a notice appeared in the ‘Sporting Chronicle’ from a bookmaker, under the name of ‘Football King’, which offered a reward to anyone who could supply information on the events at Old Trafford a few days previously.
It also appeared in the form of a handbill and read:
“We have grounds for believing that a certain First League match played in Manchester during Easter weekend was “squared”, the home club being permitted to win by a certain score. Further, we have information that several of the players of both teams invested substantial sums on naming the correct score of this match with our firm and others. Such being the case, we wish to inform all our clients and the football public generally that we are with holding payment on those correct score transactions, also that we are causing searching investigations to be made with the object of punishing the instigators of this reprehensible conspiracy. With this object in view, we are anxious to receive reliable information bearing on the subject and we will willingly pay the substantial reward named above (which was £50) to anyone giving information which will lead to punishment of the offenders.”
The snowball was about to roll.
Within three weeks of the game, the Football Association had set up a Commission to look into the complaints that had been made and asked ‘Football King’ to come out and name the exact match he was referring to and also give his name and address, so that if they was nothing untoward about the game in question, the players of both sides could sue him for libel, whilst if he was not, then the Commission would look more thoroughly into the matter.
‘Football King’ remained anonymous, there were no claims for libel and the Commission continued in its investigations, interviewing the players of both teams and it was not until December 23rd 1915 that the final verdict was finally announced, when the ‘Sporting Chronicle’ headlines proclaimed: “Football Betting Commission Report – Eight Players Permanently Suspended”.
The eight were L. Cook of Chester, J. Sheldon, R. R. Purcell, T. Miller and T. Fairfoul of Liverpool and A. Whalley, E. West and A. Turnbull of Manchester United. Others were thought to be involved, but those eight were suspended from taking part in football or football management and were also banned from entering any football ground in future.
League football in its current format came to a halt in October 1915, by which time Sandy Turnbull could be found a couple of goal kicks, or so, away from his Old Trafford stomping ground, working for the Manchester Ship Canal Company. He did guest for Rochdale and Clapton Orient in the early days of the War, but even although his contribution to the United cause was simply now nothing more than a memory.
In November 1915, he enlisted in the Footballers Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, so whether the outcome of the Commission’s enquiry a month later had any real effect on him we will never know. He had taken no part in the match itself, but was a firm friend of Enoch West and he had also met Liverpool captain Jackie Sheldon, a former team mate in the Dog and Partridge public house, a mere stones throw away from the ground, prior to the game. He had little in the way of his defence.
Lance Sergeant Alexander Turnbull’s army records were destroyed during the blitz on London during the Second World War, making details of his time on the French battlefields of the First World War sketchy to say the least.
As a member of the Middlesex Regiment, he may well have been involved in the first day of battle at the Somme on July 1st 1916, when 60,000 men died in that initial period of fighting. But we do know that if he was present on that horrendous day, he somehow survived, as he is recorded as having later joined the ranks of the East Surreys 8th Battalion, being with them in the spring of the following year as they waited to join the assault on the Hidenburg Line.
Had he been ‘excommunicated’ from the ranks for the ‘Footballers Battalion’ due to his suspension from the game? Most probably not. His ‘transfer’ would more than likely have been brought about due the depletion of the East Surrey’s ranks, having suffered heavy casualties during the hostilities to date. It was a move that would cost Sandy Turnbull dear.
By some coincidence, the East Surrey’s had a football team, and one of considerable note, while they are also remembered due to some of their men went over the top of the trenches on that fateful day at the Somme, dribbling football’s as the advanced across no-mans land. Such was the strength of their noted team, it swept all before them to win the divisional championship and it is more than possible, that although banned from the game at home, Turnbull played an active part in the Battalion fixtures, as one letter back to Manchester from the front, he spoke of having played in a game, but had not slept since as he had forgotten to ask permission from the Football Association.
One fixture that was recorded was the semi-final of the divisional tournament at Boeseghem, when the east Surrey’s defeated the 7th Buffs 4-1. No teams or goal scorers are noted amongst the Battalion’s records, so again whether or not an A. Turnbull was involved is something we will never know. What we do know is that the Final of the tournament was never played due to the Battalion being called into action of an entirely different kind, with disastrous consequences.
With the sun still to rise on the misty morning of May 3rd 1917, the 8th East Surrey’s advanced towards the village of Chèrisy, ten miles east of Arras, hoping to catch the German front line somewhat unawares. The village was captured, by the relatively untrained soldiers and they reached the banks of the river Sensèe almost intact. However, on either side of the village, the units were not as successful and the isolated Battalion came under heavy shell fire and within a couple of hours were completely overrun when the German’s counter-attacked, leaving many either dead or captured, while a few were fortunate to retreat from whence they had come. Of the 500 or so 8th Surreys who attacked Chérisy, for no gain, 90 were killed, 175 wounded and more than 100 captured.
At first, it was presumed that Sandy Turnbull was amongst those who had miraculously survived, as on the 18th May, the ‘Kilmarnock Herald’ reported that “Sandy Turnbull, famous Manchester United forward, and a native of Hurlford, has been wounded and made a prisoner. He has been fighting for about a year.” The information had been conveyed in a letter from a comrade by Sandy’s wife Florence at her home at 17 Portland Road, Gorse Hill Stretford.
The message to the Turnbull home read:
“I am writing to try to explain what has happened to your dear husband, Alec. He was wounded, and much to our sorrow, fell into German hands, so I hope you will hear from him. After Alec was wounded he ‘carried on’ and led his men for a mile, playing the game until the last we saw of him. We all loved him, and he was a father to us all and the most popular man in the regiment. All here send our deepest sympathy.”
Elusive on the battlefield as he was on the football pitch, there were hopes back in Manchester that one day, the family man and the former hero of both the City and United supporters would return. Sadly, it was not to be.
In another letter to the Turnbull home, this time in August 1918, Captain C. J. Lonergan of the 8th Battalion, who had returned to England after being held a prisoner of war, wrote:
“It was a great shock to me to hear that my best NCO, ie Sergeant turnbull, was still missing. Of course, I knew there was no hope of him turning up after suc a long epriod. He was one of the finest fellows I have ever met. A great sportsman and as keen a soldier as he was a footballer. He had been hit through the leg early on in the fight. When I saw him his leg was very much swollen, so I ordered him back to the dressing station. He pleaded so hard, however, to be allowed to stay on until we had gained our objective that I gave way.
Sandy was in command of a platoon. The men would simply go anywhere with him. Well. Theend of it all was that, although we gained all our objectives, the division on our left did not. Consequently, the enemy got round our flanks and we had to get back as best we could. We came under very heavy machine-gun fire during the withdrawal. This was when I was hit. As I fell I saw your husband pass me a few yards away. I saw him get to the village which we had taken that morning.
There was some shelter here from the bullets so heaved a sigh of relief when I saw him disappear among the houses. I knew he could get back to our lines with comparative safety from there. I never heard anything more from him. Those who were wounded all thought sandy had got back. It was a bitter disappointment to me to hear that he had not been heard of. The only explanation I can give is that he must have been ‘sniped’ by a German who ws lying low in one of the houses.
It was a rotten bit of luck. I would have recommended him from Germany, but I had my doubts whether the German Censor would allow it to come through. However, I put his case strongly when I wrote from Holland and I do hope he will get the highest distinction possible. He certainly deserves it”.
The assumpsion that Sandy Turnbull met a fatal end as he attempted to get back to his own lines is one that we have to make.
There are two lasting memorials to A. Turnbull the soldier. One in the British war cemetary in Arras, where his name appears amongst the ‘missing’, the other, a short walk from Old Trafford, on a war memorial by the side of Chester Road.
Three years after his death, when he would still only have been thirty-six, he was posthumously pardoned by the Football Association for his part in the bribery scandal.
Despite his involvement in the events of Good Friday 1915, one cannot deny Sandy Turnbull his place amongst the Manchester United ‘greats’. What he did was certainly wrong, if indeed he was guilty of the offence, but it must be remembered that he lived in a time of widespread poverty and the footballers maximum wage. It must also be remembered that Eric Cantona, still hero worshiped from the stands today assaulted a supporter during a game, while Roy Keane all but assualted a fellow professional, again during a game.
Of the trio, whose ‘offence’ was worse?
For me it was Turnbull’s, the stocky built goal machine. Manchester footballing legend.
Author and Secretary of the Manchester United Writers Association