Bannockburn, Stirlingshire born centre forward Jimmy Turnbull began his football career as an amateur with Falkirk in 1899, playing for East Stirlingshire in 1900 before turning professional with Dundee in 1901. He returned to play for Falkirk in 1903, before being sold to Glasgow Rangers in 1904. In January 1905 he moved south of the border to join First Division Preston North End, and immediately made his Football League debut against Woolwich Arsenal, but he played only 13 times for Preston, without scoring, before moving to Southern League Leyton in 1906.
In May 1907 he signed for Manchester United, and it was at Old Trafford that he achieved his major successes. In his debut season he scored 11 goals in 30 appearances including an end of season appearance against Queen’s Park Rangers in the drawn FA Charity Shield match, as Manchester United won the League Championship. In 1908-09 he proved far more prolific, with 25 goals in only 31 appearances, a total which included 13 goals in the first 6 matches of the season. A hat-trick in the (only ever) replay of the FA Charity Shield in a 4-0 win at Stamford Bridge was followed by 4 goals in a 6-3 win over Middlesbrough two weeks later. The season also saw Manchester United go all the way to the FA Cup Final with Turnbull scoring a hat-trick in their 6-1 third round thrashing of Blackburn Rovers (the other 3 goals also a hat-trick from Sandy Turnbull) and he played as they beat Bristol City 1-0 in the 1909 FA Cup Final at The Crystal Palace, although the following season he fell out of favour after successive sendings off against Aston Villa and Sheffield United in October 1909.
He was transferred to Second Division Bradford Park Avenue in September 1910 after 45 goals in 78 appearances for The Red Devils, and played two seasons with Avenue, scoring 21 goals in 52 appearances before joining Chelsea in June 1912. However he struggled for regular football in 1912-13 and played only once more for Chelsea the following season before leaving the club having scored 8 times in 22 appearances. He joined non league Hurst in 1914 before finishing his career with the onset of the First World War.
His brothers Alex and Thomas both played football for Falkirk.