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!
Read part I here. Part III out tomorrow.
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