Sandy Wood

Sandy Wood: An American World Cup Star

Club Historian John Hutchinson uncovers the story of Alexander ‘Sandy’ Wood – a World Cup semi-finalist in 1930 and a Leicester City player between 1933 and 1936.
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The first FIFA World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930. Playing at left-back in the United States side that reached the semi-finals was a Scot called Alexander Wood, known better as Sandy, who later went on to spend three seasons at Filbert Street.

This made him the first player associated with Leicester City to have played in the World Cup finals. Along with Kasey Keller, he is one of only two Leicester City players to be inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame. He was also one of the first of a long line of City players to have extensive playing experience abroad.

Emigrating to the USA

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Chicago Bricklayers

Wood's Chicago Bricklayers team-mates.

Sandy was born in Lochgelly, in Fife, in June 1907. In 1921, as a 13-year-old, he won a Scotland schoolboy international cap against Wales.

Later that year, when he was 14, Sandy immigrated with his family to the United States.

The family settled in Indiana in a town called Gary. This is quite near to Chicago, which is across the state line in Illinois.

In Gary, Sandy attended Emerson High School, before going to work for the local Union Dawn Steel Company. In 1922, he became an American citizen.

In the year that Sandy arrived in the USA, the American Soccer League (ASL) was formed. This was the country’s first professional league.

It operated primarily in the north-eastern United States, with teams like Bethlehem Steel, Providence Clamdiggers and Brooklyn Wanderers to the fore.

When he was 16, in 1923, Sandy joined Chicago Bricklayers.

Seven years later, by which time he was a well-known soccer player, an article about Sandy in the New York Evening Post provides us with some background.

It said that Wood claimed that his soccer ability was hereditary and that his father, William, played for Motherwell in 1905.

The article also reveals a fact which, until this article was researched, was unknown to Leicester City Football Club.

It states that his uncle was Johnny Duncan, ‘who played eight years for Raith Rovers in Scotland, then went to England to achieve international fame’.

However, the article does not mention was that Duncan made his name as City’s captain in the 1920s, skippering them to promotion to the top division in 1925 and to the runners-up spot in the top division in 1929, when his Leicester team missed out on the league title by only one point.

This was the highest position ever attained by the Club until they won the Premier League title in 2016.

Johnny’s brother, Tommy, also played for City and, in 1949, Johnny was the manager of the Club when it reached the 1949 FA Cup Final.

The article additionally revealed that Sandy was an all-round sportsman who had ‘played in hundreds of basketball games, did a little swimming on the side’ and that his 16-year-old sister Etta held the national swimming title for breaststroke. 

In 1925, having opted for soccer as his main sport, Sandy signed a contract with Chicago Bricklayers. At the same time, he began attending Northwestern University, later graduating as an accountant.  

Chicago Bricklayers played in the Chicago Soccer League. During his time there, Sandy never missed a game, including exhibition matches.  

In 1928, the team reached the US National Challenge Cup final. This was the first truly national cup competition in the United States. In the semi-final, they played Ben Miller FC of St Louis.

The St Louis Dispatch at the time was full of praise for Sandy’s side, labelling them as a very good, mainly Scottish side, which had won 17 and drawn one of their 18 matches so far that season.

In the final, played over two legs, the Bricklayers lost 3-1 on aggregate to ASL in the New York Nationals.

The games were played at New York’s Polo Ground and at Chicago’s Soldier Field in front of an aggregate crowd of 31,000.

The following year, in 1929, Sandy moved to Detroit to play for Holley Carburettors, who had reached the National Challenge Cup final in 1927.

In March 1930, Sandy was in their team which was defeated, after a replay, by Bruell American-Hungarians of Cleveland in the semi-final of the National Challenge Cup.   

Playing for the USA in the 1930 FIFA World Cup

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USA World Cup team in 1930

Wood lines up, fourth in from the left on the back row, ahead of the semi-final against Argentina.

It was while playing in Detroit that Sandy was asked to play for the United States team chosen for the inaugural FIFA World Cup, scheduled to take place in Uruguay in 1930. He accepted.

This invitation followed a trial match on 3 March, 1930, at Starlight Park in New York.

This game was between a USA team and the Hakoah All Stars and was part of the process of picking the final USA squad to compete in Uruguay.

An account in the St Louis Dispatch at the time praised Sandy: ‘Wood at full-back was as safe as the US Treasury. He was always there when wanted and he kicked a nice length throughout’.

Before 1930, the USA had only ever played 11 international games. Instead of a qualifying tournament, all of FIFA’s 41 members were invited to participate.

At this time England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were not members of FIFA, having withdrawn in 1928.

Because of the immense time it took to travel from Europe to South America in 1930, only four European teams – Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia – accepted the invitation to participate.

Mexico, USA, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay also accepted.

There should have been a 14th team, but the Egyptian team’s ship from Africa was slowed down due to a storm in the Mediterranean Sea and they missed their trans-Atlantic connection.

The USA squad was strengthened by professionals from the ASL. It included six British-born players, but only one of them had played professionally in Britain.

This was George Moorhouse, from Tranmere Rovers. The squad sailed to Uruguay on the S.S Munargo. They trained throughout the 18-day voyage.

There was no alcohol on the ship and they couldn’t train with a ball, but they did fitness work on the deck, played cards and had ‘singalongs’.

The USA team arrived at Montevideo on 1 July, 12 days before their opening match.

Once all the teams had arrived in Uruguay, they were split into four groups for the first round. One group contained four teams, while the remaining three groups comprised three squads apiece.

Sandy’s USA team was drawn into Group Four with Belgium and Paraguay.

There were two matches on the first day of the tournament. The second game saw the USA defeat Belgium 3-0 in front of a crowd of 15,000 at the newly-built Centenario Stadium in Montevideo.

The pitch was described as ‘a bed of wet, sticky clay with pools of water too numerous to count’.

Sandy and the USA’s second game was their final group match against Paraguay in front of a crowd of 20,000.

This was another 3-0 victory, with the World Cup’s first-ever hat-trick, scored by Sandy’s team-mate, Bert Patenaude.

This victory secured a place in the semi-finals. By this time, Sandy’s team had acquired the nickname ‘The Shotputters’, because of the impressive bulk of the USA team.

In the semi-final, played in front of an estimated 112,000 crowd at the Centenario Stadium, the USA team, with Sandy at left-back, lost 6-1 to Argentina.

Just four minutes into the game, James Douglas, the American goalkeeper, badly twisted his knee. Defender Ralph Tracey broke his right leg, but continued until half-time, with Argentina 1-0 ahead.

In the second half, Tracey was unable to continue and, with no substitutions, the USA team was reduced to 10 men. Argentina took advantage and extended their lead to 6-0.

The American midfielder, Jim Brown who, like Sandy, later played in England in the Football League, scored a consolation goal in the last minute.

Brown later recalled that the Argentinians were brutal and 'kicked the USA off the park'.

The USA team was scheduled to play the other semi-final losers, Yugoslavia, in a third-place consolation match prior to the final, but the Europeans refused to play.

Consequently, the Americans were awarded third-place in the 1930 World Cup.

Sandy was therefore the first player with Leicester City associations to be a World Cup semi-finalist.

The others were Peter Shilton (England) and Pontus Kåmark (Sweden), both with other clubs at the time, together with Gordon Banks (England), Muzzy Izzet (Turkey), Harry Maguire (England) and Jamie Vardy (England), who were all Leicester City players when they made their semi-final appearances.

In the final, Uruguay defeated Argentina 4-2 to become the first-ever World Cup champions.

Before leaving Uruguay, Sandy’s USA team played back-to-back games against Uruguayan First Division teams Nacional and Penarol (losing both) before moving onto Brazil.

There, they played top Brazilian sides, drawing with Santos and losing to Sao Paulo and Botafogo.

In addition, Sandy won his fourth and final USA cap when he was in the team which lost 4-3 to Brazil in the first international match between the two nations.  

Turning professional with Brooklyn Wanderers

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Brooklyn Wanderers

Sandy can be seen here, fourth in from the right on the back row, in a Brooklyn Wanderers team photo.

In November 1930, on his return to the United States, Sandy moved to New York, signing for Brooklyn Wanderers to play in the ASL. This was his first professional contract.

His USA team-mate, Jim Brown, also signed for Brooklyn, whose manager was Jack Coll, the USA trainer at the World Cup. 

In the first season, his new team finished runners-up in the ASL. However, the club then folded (although it was briefly re-formed in 1932) and the ASL itself disintegrated in the spring of 1933.

Although it was re-established, it would never regain the success enjoyed by the first ASL.

American soccer was entering a bleak period after a period of success in the 1920s when the ASL had been second only to baseball as the most successful professional league in the USA.

The main reason for soccer’s difficulties at this time was the onset of the depression following the Wall Street Crash in 1929. This led to a period of high unemployment and poverty. 

The bedrock of support on which soccer depended was eroded.

Moving to Leicester City to escape the Depression

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Leicester City 1935/36

Lochead's Leicester, with Sandy on the far left of the middle row.

In 1932, after a two-year break from the game and finding it difficult to find work, Sandy decided to return to Britain. This is where Leicester City enters the story.

Leicester (who had finished third in the Football League in 1928 and runners-up in the in 1929 under the captaincy of Sandy’s uncle Johnny Duncan), was an ageing side which was beginning to struggle in the top flight.

In March 1932, Peter Hodge, who had laid the foundations for City’s success in the 1920s and who had managed Duncan at both Raith Rovers and Leicester, returned to Filbert Street as secretary/manager.

On 20 October, 1932, an entry in the Leicester director’s minutes book reads: ‘A letter was read from a friend of the secretary’s informing him that a left-back was coming home from America and if we were interested, he would help us to secure his services. It was resolved to leave it in the hands of the secretary to try and come to terms for the player to come to us’. 

The minutes make no reference whatsoever to the family connection between Sandy and Duncan, who had left the Club in 1930 after the directors had refused his request to become landlord of the Turks Head, a public house opposite the gates of Leicester Prison. The connection between Hodge and Sandy’s uncle is also not mentioned. 

Hodge met Sandy on 26 October, 1932 and the player intimated that he was willing to sign. However, it was to be another four months before Sandy was able to sign for Leicester.

There was a hitch relating to the immigration regulations. In late November, Hodge and Wood went to the Home Office and to the Ministry of Labour to try to resolve this but to no avail.

The issue remained unresolved until February 1933, when the directors minutes recorded: ‘The manager reported that the player had received a permit to stay in this country and he has been signed on.’ 

The minutes went on to state that the terms specified a £10 signing-on fee and a weekly wage of £5, with an extra £1 if he was in the first team.

A month later, Sandy made his City debut against Blackpool at Filbert Street with the Club bottom of the table. He played in the remaining nine games of the season.

Leicester won five and drew two of these games. Still bottom of the table with only three games to go, City won all three and finished 19th, avoiding relegation by two points.   

The following season (1933/34), Leicester struggled again. Competing with Welsh international full-back Dai Jones for a place in the first team, Sandy established himself as first choice in January 1934.

Later that season, City reached the semi-final of the FA Cup for the first time in the Club’s history.

Having played in the victories in the fourth and fifth rounds against Millwall and Birmingham City, and in the quarter-final against Preston North End, Sandy was selected for the FA Cup semi-final against Portsmouth, who had been FA Cup finalists in 1929.

Their side contained two of the brothers of the Leicester star Sep Smith, who was on the verge of being selected for England. 

Some 66,544 fans watched the game at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew's ground. Leicester lost 4-1. The headline in the Leicester Mercury report was: ‘Bad Three Minutes and Wembley Slips Away’.

The subheading, ‘Drama of City’s Injured Player’, referred to Sandy, who broke his nose just before half-time after running into and falling over a touchline photographer.

By this time, with a dazzling sun in the City players’ eyes, Portsmouth were leading 2-1. Two more Pompey goals in the first five minutes of the second half sealed their fate and Sandy was denied the chance of adding an FA Cup Final to his World Cup semi-final four years earlier.    

Sandy missed the last six games of the season after breaking his collar bone at Sheffield Wednesday, with Leicester finishing 17th in the top flight. 

During the close-season, City’s manager Hodge unexpectedly died of stomach cancer. He was replaced as manager by Arthur Lochhead, one of the Club’s stars during the previous nine seasons.

The following season (1934/35) was the final one at Filbert Street for three of the ageing stars of the halcyon days of the 1920s.

These were Adam Black (who held the Club record for most appearances), Arthur Chandler (the Club’s record goalscorer) and England international winger Hugh Adcock.

Sandy, meanwhile, re-established himself in the first team in December 1934, missing only four league games of a season which ended in relegation after 10 successive campaigns in the First Division.  

Sandy started the following campaign (1935/36) as first-choice left-back, but soon lost his place to Dai Jones, who had been playing at right-back until the emergence of Billy Frame, who made that position his own for several years to come. 

At the end of the season, Sandy was placed on the transfer list. The directors’ minutes of 5 May, 1936 record that he applied for his transfer fee of £750 to be reduced, but on 13 May he moved to Second Division Nottingham Forest for the full fee.

He stayed there for one season, making 22 appearances.

The late Paul Taylor’s research uncovered the fact that he suffered a bankruptcy hearing in Nottingham following betting losses which left him with a bank balance of £1.

Things picked up for Sandy the following season. In March 1937, a new professional club called Colchester United was formed.

It entered the Southern League and appointed the ex-Leicester City star George Ritchie as its new skipper.

Left-half Ritchie had played 274 games for Leicester City between 1928 and 1937 and had been a key member of the side which finished runners-up in the Football League in 1929.

Recreating the left flank combination they had at Filbert Street, Sandy and George helped Colchester win the Southern League Cup at the end of their first season at Layer Road, during which time both players were picked for the Southern League representative side. 

The following season (1938/39) Sandy joined Chelmsford City. This was another newly-formed professional side about to embark on its inaugural season in the Southern League.

During that season, Sandy featured in Chelmsford’s FA Cup run which saw it progress to the fourth round, having beaten Football League sides Darlington and Southampton in the second and third rounds.

While playing for Colchester and Chelmsford, Sandy found himself in opposition, on at least eight occasions, to his USA World Cup team-mate Jim Brown, who after spells at Manchester United, Brentford and Tottenham Hotspur between 1932 and 1937, was playing for Guildford City. 

The outbreak of War prompts a return to the USA

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Sandy Wood

Sandy pictured as a Leicester player at Filbert Street.

The Second World War broke out in September 1939. A month later, after a brief spell working in a Marconi Radio factory, Sandy returned to the USA.

He went back to Gary where he worked for the US Steel Corporation until he retired in 1970 at the age of 63. 

In England, he played in the English First and Second Divisions of the Football League and in the Southern League.

It was these experiences which resulted in Sandy being inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 1986. A year later, Sandy died in Gary soon after his 80th birthday.

With thanks to Nathen McVittie, not only for his help with US soccer history, but also for putting us in contact with Jim Brown’s grandson James Brown (Society of American Soccer History and the US National Soccer Hall of Fame) and US soccer Historian Chuck Nolan Jnr. Their knowledge and archive pictures were invaluable. Several of the photographs in this piece were provided by Sandy’s grandson Bob Wood and his wife Avril. These pictures had belonged to Sandy’s son, the late William R. Wood. One result of these contacts with the Wood family was that Bob and Avril were recently invited to King Power Stadium while they were on a visit to the UK from the USA.

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