Norwood, Surrey born centre-half Percy Sands began his football career at Cheltenham Town, where he was undertaking teacher training, before joining Arsenal as an amateur in December 1902. He made his Football League debut on 5th September 1903 in a 3-0 home win over Blackpool, Sands would go on to play 34 games in his first full season at The Manor Ground as Arsenal were promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history as Second Division runners up. Having spent the following two years as an amateur, Sands finally signed professional terms with Arsenal ahead of the 1906-07 campaign, by when he had already received his only major representative honour when he played for The Football League in a 4-0 victory over The Irish League at Manchester in October 1905 (which suggests he was quite close to being considered for full England recognition, although this never came). He was a member of Arsenal’s 1906 FA Cup semi final team that lost 2-0 to Newcastle at The Victoria Ground, Stoke.
Known as “Mr. Reliable” he stayed with the club through thick and thin which included the leaner years and the club’s financial problems, and then relegation in 1912-13. During this time he was promoted to club captain in 1906 and still remained captain when Arsenal moved to Highbury and the club was renamed simply Arsenal until the First World War. He was the joint longest serving club captain (9 seasons) with Eddie Hapgood until Tony Adams broke their record in 1998, described in 1907 as “an untiring worker, shows great judgement in tackling, feeds his forwards well and never loses an opportunity to shoot at goal”.
Sands played in the historic Arsenal v Leicester Fosse on September 6th 1913, Arsenal’s first match at Highbury, a match Arsenal won 2-1. Sands played his final game for The Gunners on 24 April 1915, a 7-0 home thumping of Nottingham Forest, after which official competition was suspended for the duration of the First World War, during which he still played for Arsenal in unofficial wartime games. In all he had played 350 times for Arsenal, a record that was to stand for the next fifteen years, scoring 12 times for The Gunners.
During the War, Private Sands enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915 and underwent training in Aldershot, Hampshire. He would subsequently rise through the ranks and served in France and Flanders before spending 18 months on the Italian Front. Following the Armistice, Staff Sergeant Sands was transferred to the Army Reserve before finally being demobilised in late 1919.After serving overseas with the British Army, Sands returned to football in 1919 and signed for Southern League club Southend United, although he retired before Southend joined The Football League.