Alexander Sandy Turnbull was born in Hurlford, near Kilmarnock in Scotland, in 1884. He came from a colliery village and played local football before Tom Maley, the manager of Manchester City, persuaded him to move to Manchester.
Turnbull joined a talented team that included Billy Meredith, Herbert Burgess, Sandy Turnbull and Jimmy Bannister. In the 1903-04 season Manchester City finished in second place in the First Division. They also had a good FA Cup run defeating Sunderland (3-2), Arsenal (2-0), Middlesbrough (3-1) and Sheffield Wednesday (3-0).
Manchester City played Bolton Wanderers in the final at Crystal Palace. The only goal of the game was scored by the great Billy Meredith. Turnbull, who played at inside-left, had won a cup-winning medal.
The Football Association was amazed by Manchester City rapid improvement and that summer they decided to carry out an investigation into the way the club was being run. However, the officials only discovered some minor irregularities and no case was brought against the club.
The following season Manchester City again challenged for the championship. City needed to beat Aston Villa on the final day of the season. Turnbull gave Alec Leake, the Villa captain, a torrid time during the game. Leake threw some mud at him and he responded with a two-fingered gesture. Leake then punched Turnbull. According to some journalists, at the end of the game, Turnbull was dragged into the Villa dressing-room and beaten-up. Villa won the game 3-1 and Manchester City finished third, two points behind Newcastle United.
After the game Alec Leake claimed that Billy Meredith had offered him £10 to throw the game. Meredith was found guilty of this offence by the Football Association and was fined and suspended from playing football for a year. Manchester City refused to provide financial help for Meredith and so he decided to go public about what really was going on at the club: "What was the secret of the success of the Manchester City team? In my opinion, the fact that the club put aside the rule that no player should receive more than four pounds a week... The team delivered the goods, the club paid for the goods delivered and both sides were satisfied."
The Football Association was now forced to carry out another investigation into the financial activities of Manchester City. They discovered that City had been making additional payments to all their players. Tom Maley was suspended from football for life. Seventeen players, including Turnbull, were fined and suspended until January 1907.
Manchester City was forced to sell their best players and at an auction at the Queen's Hotel in Manchester, the manager, Ernest Mangnal signed Sandy Turnbull. In three years at the club he had scored 53 goals in 110 games. Mangnal also purchased Billy Meredith, Herbert Burgess, and Jimmy Bannister from City.
These new players did not make their debuts until the 1st January 1907. Manchester United beat Aston Villa 1-0. The only goal of the game was scored by Sandy Turnbull from a Billy Meredith cross. United only lost four games during the remainder of the season and climbed to an eighth-place finish. Turnbull scored six goals in only 15 matches.
In April 1907 Thomas Blackstock, a colleague at Manchester United, collapsed after heading a ball during a reserve game against St. Helens. 25 year old Blackstock died soon afterwards. An inquest into his death returned a verdict of "Natural Causes" and once again a football player's family received no compensation. Turnbull was appalled by the way Blackstock's family was treated and joined up with colleagues, Billy Meredith, Charlie Sagar, Herbert Burgess and Charlie Roberts to form a new Players' Union.
The first meeting was held on 2nd December, 1907, at the Imperial Hotel, Manchester. Also at the meeting were players from Manchester City, Newcastle United, Bradford City, West Bromwich Albion, Notts County, Sheffield United, and Tottenham Hotspur. Jack Bell, the former chairman of the Association Footballers' Union (AFU) also attended the meeting.
Herbert Broomfield was appointed as the new secretary of the Association Football Players Union (AFPU). It was decided to charge an entrance fee of 5s plus subs of 6d a week. Billy Meredith chaired meetings in London and Nottingham and within a few weeks the majority of players in the Football League had joined the union.
Manchester United started off the 1907-08 season with three straight wins. They were then beaten 2-1 by Middlesbrough. However, this was followed by another ten wins and United quickly built up a good advantage over the rest of the First Division. Although Liverpool beat them 7-4 on 25th March, 1908, Manchester United went on to win the title by nine points. Sandy Turnbull was top scorer with 25 goals in 30 league games.
The following season Manchester United enjoyed a good run in the FA Cup. They beat Brighton & Hove Albion (1-0), Everton (1-0), Blackburn Rovers (6-1), Burnley (3-2) and Newcastle United (1-0) to reach the final. Newcastle, who went onto win the league that season, was obviously disappointed by being prevented from winning the double. However, the whole of the Newcastle team waited for 15 minutes in torrential rain aboard an open coach so they could applaud their conquerors after the game.
Jimmy Turnbull (5), Harold Halse (4) and Sandy Turnbull (3) got the goals during the successful cup run that got them to the final at Crystal Palace against Bristol City. The game was disappointing and Sandy Turnbull scored the only goal in the 22nd minute.
At the 1908 Annual General Meeting the Football Association decided to reaffirm the maximum wage. However, they did raise the possibility of a bonus system being introduced whereby players would receive 50% of club profits at the end of the season.
The AFPU continued to have negotiations with the Football Association but in April 1909 these came to an end without agreement. In June the FA ordered that all players should leave the AFPU. They were warned that if they did not do so by the 1st July, their registrations as professionals would be cancelled. The AFPU responded by joining the General Federation of Trades Unions.
Most players resigned from the union. All 28 professionals at Aston Villa signed a public declaration that they had left the AFPU and would not rejoin until given permission by the FA. However, the whole of the Manchester United team refused to back down. As a result they were all suspended by their club. The same thing happened to seventeen Sunderland players who also refused to leave the AFPU.
The players put their careers in jeopardy by staying in the union. As Charlie Roberts pointed out: "I had a benefit due with a guarantee of £500 at the time and if the sentence was not removed I would lose that also, besides my wages, so that it was quite a serious matter for me."
Colin Veitch, who had resigned from the AFPU in order to carry on negotiations with the Football Association, led the struggle to have players reinstated. At a meeting in Birmingham on 31st August 1909, the FA agreed that professional players could be members of the AFPU and the dispute came to an end.
When the Manchester United team played in the first match of the season on 1st September, 1909, they all wore AFPU arm-bands. However, it took six months for the players to receive their back wages. Charlie Roberts never got his benefit match and like other union activists was never picked again to play for their country.
In June 1910 Ernest Mangnal purchased Enoch West from Nottingham Forest. He replaced Jimmy Turnbull in the attack and had a great season scoring 19 goals in 35 games. West formed a great partnership with Sandy Turnbull and together they scored more than half of the team's goals. On the last Saturday of the season Aston Villa led Manchester United by one point. United had to play third-place Sunderland at Old Trafford whereas Aston Villa had to go to Liverpool.
Manchester United won their game 5-1. Charlie Roberts told the Manchester Saturday Post what happened next: "At the end of the game our supporters rushed across the ground in front of the stand to wait for the final news from Liverpool. Suddenly a tremendous cheer rent the air and was renewed again and again and we knew we were the champions once again." Aston Villa had been beaten 3-1 and Manchester United had won their second championship in four years. Turnbull had two championship and two FA Cup winning medals.
Sandy Turnbull left Manchester United on the outbreak of the First World War. He had scored 90 goals in 220 games. In 1915 he joined the Footballer's Battalion and was killed at Arras while fighting on the Western Front on 3rd May 1917.
Whilst 'Sandy' Turnbull's colourful career was closely associated with the Manchester district, it could easily have been a different story. In the summer of 1902 he had agreed terms with Bolton Wanderers. In the interval between the arrival of the necessary papers, he received a better offer from Manchester City and went back on his promise to the Wanderers. A native of Hurlford, a colliery village on the outskirts of Kilmarnock, Turnbull was a coiled spring of a striker who cleverly conserved his energy for when it was most required. His quiet, deliberate methods often strangely contrasted with the helter-skelter tactics of the other forwards. He was also one of the most accurate headers of a ball, and 'nodded in' countless crosses from Billy Meredith - a prolific partnership that continued right through his career, During his time with Manchester City he won a Second Division championship medal in 1903 and an FA Cup winners' medal in 1904 before becoming one of a number of City players banned by the F.A. over an illegal payments scandal in 1906.
Charlie Roberts had been the first to hear that he and his team were to be suspended for publicly stating that they would not resign from the Union: he had read about it in the evening papers delivered to his newsagent's shop: "I had a benefit due with a guarantee of £500 at the time and if the sentence was not removed I would lose that also, besides my wages, so that it was quite a serious matter for me."
The club had told him nothing, however, so he and the rest of the United team turned up as usual at the ground the following Friday to see whether they would receive any pay. No one was prepared to talk to them except an office boy who told them there was no money.
"'Well, something will have to be done,' said Sandy Turnbull as he took a picture off the wall and walked out of the office with it under his arm. The rest of the boys followed suit, and looking-glasses, hairbrushes and several other things were for sale a few minutes later at a little hostelry at the corner of the ground. I stayed behind a while with the office boy who was in a terrible state over the players taking things away and he was most anxious to get them back before the manager arrived. 'Come along with me and I will get them for you,' I said. `It's only one of their little jokes.' I soon recovered the lost property for him. But it was funny to see those players walking off the ground with pictures, etc. under their arms."
Being barred from the ground, the Manchester men decided to continue their pre-season training at Fallowfield, the Manchester Athletic Club ground, secured for them by Broomfield. This turned out to be a publicity coup for the Union, as reporters and photographers arrived to interview and photograph the famous rebels. During one such session Roberts had the happy inspiration that helped create a legend:
"After training a day or two a photographer came along to take a photo of us and we willingly obliged him. Whilst the boys were being arranged I obtained a piece of wood and wrote on it, 'Outcasts Football Club 1909' and sat down with it in front of me to be photographed. The next day the photograph had a front page of a newspaper, much to our enjoyment, and the disgust of several of our enemies."