Relatively few people know the story of the most successful World Cup entry in the history of US soccer, and even fewer know the real story.
For years, it has been held as common knowledge that the squad that reached the semifinals of the inaugural World Cup was composed of some half-dozen ringers–professionals imported from England and Scotland. In the immortal words of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, this contention is “nonsense upon stilts.” In any case, the myth is a persistent one: spreading like an airborne pathogen from source to source. Indeed, some of the best soccer writers around have fallen victim to this fallacy, including notables like Richard Henshaw, Ian Morrison and Brian Glanville.
Technically, they’re not wrong, as there were six players on the squad who were born in England or Scotland, and all six were professional players by 1930. However, going into the World Cup, the combined professional experience of the six players in Great Britain was a whopping two games, both played in the English third division. Hardly the stuff of ringers.
So they were all British born, and some even had minimal pro experience in the UK, but what is most overlooked is the fact that most of the professional minutes logged by these players came in the American Soccer League, which at the time, was a very formidable league.
Let’s take a look at each player to get a better sense of where these misconceptions come from.
Andy Auld was born in Scotland in 1901, and came stateside in 1922. Auld played for junior sides Ardeer Thistle and Parkhead in Scotland, but didn’t turn pro until 1924 with Providence–two years after leaving Scotland. Auld’s professional career was spent entirely in the United States.
James Brown was actually the most recent arrival to the US on the World Cup team, arriving just three years ahead of the 1930 tournament. Brown did not play professionally in Britain though, signing his first professional contract with New York only three months before the World Cup. After the collapse of the ASL, Brown saw time in England with Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Brentford.
Jimmy Gallagher was also born in Scotland, but did not play pro soccer until 1924, when he joined the New York-based Indiana Flooring team of the ASL. He played in the league until it folded, several years after the World Cup of 1930.
Bart McGhee’s pro career began in 1917, when he played with the New York Shipbuilding Company. There have been reports claiming that McGhee played for Hull City in England, but these reports are erroneous. The Hull City player was a John McGee, a different man altogether. Bart McGhee never played professionally abroad.
George Moorhouse did play as a professional in Britain before the World Cup, this cannot be disputed. Moorhouse was with Tranmere Rovers, a third division side near his native Liverpool, from 1921 to 1923. However, during this spell, he played only two games for the club’s first team. Moorhouse moved to America in 1923 and became one of the great stars of the original ASL.
Alexander Wood, much like James Brown, most certainly played as a professional in Britain, although not until after 1930. Wood played several seasons with Leicester City and Nottingham Forest although again, all coming post 1930.
So there it is. Clearly, these were not British ringers as has been suggested. Sure, Moorhouse played pro ball, but those two games are negligible at best when presented as evidence to support the ringer theory.
The authors of this myth completely disregard the quality of the ASL, as if it was not possible to emigrate from the UK and become a successful pro on this side of the Atlantic. This point of view disregards the reality of history, and is, as previously stated, nonsense upon stilts.
The myth of British pros on the 1930 U.S. team
The year in American soccer: 1930