The myth of British pros on the 1930 U.S. team

This article appeared in the Spring 1995 issue of the SASH Historical Quarterly, published by the Society for American Soccer History.

It’s one of the most enduring myths of World Cup history. It won’t go away. It keeps being repeated from source to source.

The myth in question is the idea that the United States team at the 1930 World Cup contained a half-dozen pro soccer players imported from England and Scotland. The implication is very strong that the United States recruited a bunch of ringers for that first World Cup, thereby explaining how it managed to reach the semifinals.

This myth is not something that just crops up occasionally. It’s the conventional wisdom, rarely questioned. Listen to these statements:

From Brian Glanville, in the latest edition of The History of the World Cup, published in 1993: “The American team…was made up largely of British and Scots pros….”

From David Guiney in The Dunlop Book of the World Cup, published in 1973: “…America’s team–composed mainly of former Scottish and English professionals….”

From Ian Morrison in The World Cup: A Complete Record, published in 1990: “…many British professionals, mostly from Scotland, had emigrated to the United States since the [1928] Olympics and were now members of the American national side.”

From Guy Oliver in The Guinness Record of World Soccer, published in 1992: “Five of the team were former Scottish professionals so perhaps reaching the semi-final should not be seen as too surprising.”

From Richard Henshaw in The Encyclopedia of World Soccer, published in 1979: “The American team was….made up of five former Scottish professionals and one Englishman.”

From Paul Gardner in the latest edition of The Simplest Game, published in 1994: “The ‘Americans,’ who were mostly ex-English and Scottish professionals…”

This is quite a distinguished group of soccer writers, all making very similar statements, and making them fairly recently. Who would doubt such a chorus?

And perhaps they are right, if you want to play around quite a bit with words. Six of the 16 members of that United States team had been born in England or Scotland, and all of the six were professional soccer players by the time of the 1930 World Cup.

But having been born in Britain and having been a professional soccer player there are not the same thing. Four of those six players had come to the United States as teenagers or younger. Going into the 1930 World Cup, the combined professional experience in Britain of those six players added up to a total of two games, both in the English Third Division.

Actually, those six players were more of a factor on the 1930 United States team than just six out of 16. In a sense, they were six out of 11, because each of them played every minute of the United States’ three games, against Belgium, Paraguay and Argentina. The United States used the same lineup in all three of its games, and no substitutions were allowed.

But were they former British professionals, just because they were British born, and had become professional players by 1930? Let’s look at them one by one.

Andy Auld was born in Scotland in 1901 and came to the United States in 1922. In Scotland, he had played for junior clubs Ardeer Thistle and Parkhead. Two years after coming to the United States, he turned pro with Providence of the American Soccer League, for whom he ended up playing six seasons. After the 1930 World Cup, and the breakup of the original ASL, he played several seasons with Pawtucket Rangers. His professional career was entirely on this side of the Atlantic.

James Brown was the most recent immigrant in the team, having come from Scotland, where he was born in 1910, only three years before the World Cup. But his professional career was all still ahead of him when he arrived in the United States, still a teenager, to join his father in 1927. Brown had played local soccer in Scotland. In America, he played briefly with Bayonne Rovers and Newark Skeeters in New Jersey before signing his first pro contract, with New York Giants, just three months before the 1930 World Cup. After the failure of the original ASL, he sought his fortune playing in England. He played three seasons with Manchester United in the early 1930s, and then played a season each with Brentford and Tottenham Hotspur. He later had a long career as a high school coach in Connecticut, and his son George also was capped for the United States, playing in a World Cup qualifying game against Mexico in 1957.

Jimmy Gallagher was born in Scotland in 1901. He never played professional soccer there, however. According to his daughter Carol, who lives in Ohio, he moved to New York with his mother when he was 12 years old. He began his professional soccer career in 1924 with the New York-based Indiana Flooring team of the American Soccer League. He played continuously in the ASL until it folded in the early 1930s, after which he moved to Cleveland and played there.

Bart McGhee was born in 1899 in Scotland. His son Edward, who lives in New Jersey, says that his father came to the United States when he was “a young teenager,” but is not certain of the year. Bart McGhee’s father, who had been a professional player and manager in Scotland, came to America in September 1910, but Bart was not with him at that time. It is known that Bart McGhee played for New York Shipbuilding Company in the 1917-18 season, when he was 19 years old, and for Philadelphia Hibernians in 1920. He eventually moved to the ASL, where he played for New York Football Club, Indiana Flooring, New York Nationals and New York Giants. There have been reports in Europe that he played for Hull City in England. These are incorrect. The Hull City player was a different man, named John McGee, who played for Hull City from 1922 to 1928.

George Moorhouse is the one member of the 1930 United States team about whom there is no doubt that he did play professionally in Britain prior to 1930, albeit briefly. Moorhouse was born in Liverpool, England, in 1901 and raised there. In 1921, he had an unsuccessful tryout with Leeds United, and subsequently signed with Tranmere Rovers, a Third Division team near Liverpool. He was with Tranmere from December 1921 until May 1923, but during that time he played only two games in the first team, Third Division games against Ashington on Dec. 26, 1921 and Accrington Stanley on Jan. 28, 1922. The rest of his time there he spent in the reserves, who played in the Cheshire League. He left England in the summer of 1923, going first to Canada and then to the United States a few months later. After a few games with Brooklyn Wanderers, he moved to New York Giants, where he eventually became one of the greatest stars of the original ASL. He had a long career in New York, even after the failure of the original ASL, and was a member of the New York Americans team that won the U.S. Open Cup in 1937.

Alexander Wood is another who, like James Brown, definitely did play professionally in Britain, but not until after 1930. After all, when his family moved from Scotland to America in 1921, he was only 14 years old. He had been a promising soccer player in Scotland, playing in a schoolboy international against Wales in the spring of 1921, and he was playing for Holley Carburetor in Detroit at the time of the 1930 World Cup. After the World Cup, he moved to Brooklyn Wanderers of the ASL, and then on to England, where he played several seasons with Leicester City and Nottingham Forest in the mid-1930s.

So where are these former English and Scottish pros that everyone keeps talking about? Moorhouse is one, but his British pro credentials are anything but imposing. And by 1930, those credentials were not very recent. And the two players who did make significant professional careers for themselves in Britain, Brown and Wood, hadn’t yet done so in 1930.

What the writers quoted at the top of this article, and others, seem to have overlooked is that there was a thriving professional soccer league in the United States in the 1920s, and that for a British-born immigrant to the United States to have played pro soccer, it was not necessary that he have done so in Britain. It was quite possible in those days to build a career in professional soccer after emigrating from Britain to the United States.

Of those quotations, the strangest is the flight of imagination from Morrison, who says that the emigration of “many British professionals” was responsible for the United States team’s improvement since the 1928 Olympics. It’s true that the U.S. team at the 1930 World Cup was a far stronger one than the U.S. team in the 1928 Olympics, but that was because the United States had sent an amateur team to those Olympic Games. All 16 members of the 1930 World Cup team already were living in the United States in 1928.

The United States has had problems over the years with the use of the use of players who weren’t quite legit, although this has been cleaned up in recent years. But there were no such problems in the 1930 team. The implication that the United States’ excellent performance in the 1930 World Cup was tainted by the use of a bunch of ringers simply isn’t true. The idea that the United States team in 1930 was led by a group of players who were veterans of the English and Scottish professional leagues has been repeated so often that it tends to be accepted as fact. The strength of American soccer in 1930, a result of the ASL of the 1920s, is forgotten.