Hurlford, Ayrshire born inside left Sandy Turnbull began his football career with local junior club Hurlford Thistle in 1901 and was Second Division Manchester City in July 1902, making his Football League debut at Bristol City the same November, scoring in a 3-2 defeat, soon establishing himself as a first team regular. In his debut season he scored 13 goals in 23 appearances as City won the Second Division Championship. He was the joint top scorer in 1903-04 with Billy Gillespie, scoring 21 goals in the campaign including five goals in 6 FA Cup ties, which featured a brace in the 1904 FA Cup semi final victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Goodison Park. He also played as City beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in the Final at The Crystal Palace to seal the club’s first Cup Final triumph.
City were among the title favourites for the 1904-05 season, with Turnbull now firmly established as the club’s main goalscoring threat. Another prolific season followed with Turnbull notably scoring a hat-trick against Sunderland on 3rd December 1904 then 4 goals in a 6-0 win over Derby County two weeks later and City went into the final game, away against Aston Villa, hoping to beat Newcastle United to the title. Tom Maley’s side had to win in Birmingham and hope their rivals lost at Middlesbrough, however a 3-1 defeat eventually saw them finish third behind champions Newcastle and Everton, who claimed second. With 20 goals in the campaign he was comfortably The Citizens’ leading goalscorer.
Later in 1905, it was alleged Billy Meredith had offered Aston Villa captain, Alec Leake, £10 to “throw” the game in City’s favour. The subsequent enquiry proved catastrophic for the club as Meredith, perceiving a lack of support from his employers, lifted the lid on routine financial malpractice that saw the Welsh international and his team mates handed illegal bonuses to circumvent the £4 maximum wage. City was found guilty of malpractice relating to payments of its players, and the entire squad was suspended from playing football. When the ban was lifted on 31st December 1906, Turnbull moved to City’s crosstown rivals Manchester United, along with Billy Meredith, Herbert Burgess and Jimmy Bannister, having scored 60 goals in 119 appearances for Manchester City. His first game for United came the next day, 1st January 1907, against Aston Villa, Turnbull scoring in a 1-0 victory. He helped the club to their first League Championship in 1907-08, top scoring with 27 goals including 4 goals against Woolwich Arsenal and hat-tricks against Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers.
Turnbull then scored 4 times in United’s 1909 FA Cup run, including a hat-trick in their 6-1 third round demolition of Blackburn Rovers (the other 3 goals also a hat-trick from Jimmy Turnbull), and crucially he scored the only goal in the 1909 Final, as they beat Bristol City 1-0 at The Crystal Palace, the goal coming midway through the first half when a shot from Harold Halse hit the crossbar and the ball fell to Turnbull, who fired the ball past goalkeeper Harry Clay and into the back of the net.
In February 1910 Turnbull scored Manchester United’s first goal at their new Old Trafford Stadium in a 4-3 loss to Liverpool and in 1910-11, their first full season at their new home, he went on to score 18 League goals as United once again won the League Championship, Turnbull finishing one behind “Knocker” West in the scoring charts, scoring a goal in the crucial 5-1 final day victory over Sunderland that gave them the title. Turnbull continued to appear for United until peacetime football was suspended due to the outbreak of the First World War, received a lifelong ban from football in 1915 along with several others players after being found guilty of match-fixing following the Good Friday 1915 match with Liverpool, playing his final game in a match at Sheffield United later that month having scored 101 goals in 247 appearances for Manchester United.
Turnbull enlisted in the 23rd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment (2nd Football) during the First World War before being transferred to the 8th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. After being promoted to the rank of lance-sergeant, Turnbull was killed during the Battle of Arras on 3rd May 1917 aged 32. Turnbull’s body, if recovered, was never identified. He is commemorated on the Arras memorial. Turnbull was posthumously re-instated from his lifetime football ban.
His sons, Alexander Jr. and Ronald, signed amateur forms with Manchester United in August 1932, but neither managed to follow in their father’s footsteps and they were released before making an appearance for the club.