Studying mythology

The idea that the United States team at the 1930 World Cup included a group of ringers, former British professional players induced by American money to costume themselves in United States uniforms, is one of the longest-standing pieces of fiction in American soccer. I may already sound like a broken record on this subject, since I’ve written about it in several places, but I’ll give it another go-round here, while being sure to emphasize that things aren’t as bad as they used to be with this canard.

For years, this myth really had legs. It was repeated from one writer to another, including some good ones. Brian Glanville said in his Story of the World Cup that the 1930 American team was “made up largely of British and Scots pros.” Paul Gardner, writing about that World Cup in The Simplest Game, spoke of “The ‘Americans’ who were mostly ex-English and Scottish professionals.” A lot of lesser writers picked up on these flights of fancy and made them the conventional wisdom, and a seemingly logical explanation for the United States’ strong performance in that World Cup. Fortunately, in recent years newer writers like American David Wangerin, Englishman Cris Freddi and Canadian Colin Jose have gotten the story straight.

Let me quickly go through the facts.

There were six players on that team who had been born in Britain, five of them in Scotland and one in England. All six of them played every minute of all three of the United States’ games. However, only one of them had ever played professional soccer in Britain, two games eight years before.

  • Bart McGhee was born in Scotland and had come to the United States with his family in 1912, when he was 12 years old.
  • Jimmy Gallagher was born in Scotland and had come to the United States with his family in 1913, when he was 12 years old.
  • Alexander Wood was born in Scotland and had come to the United States with his family in 1921, when he was 14 years old.
  • Andy Auld was born in Scotland and had come to the United States in 1922, when he was 21 years old.
  • James Brown was born in Scotland had come to the United States in 1927, when he was 17 years old.
  • George Moorhouse was born in England and is the only one of the six who had ever played a professional minute in England or Scotland. His British pro soccer career consisted of two games for Tranmere Rovers in the English third division in 1922. He had come to the United States in 1923, when he was 22 years old.

In 1930, the six of them had been in the United States for a combined total of 62 years. I don’t know how many of them were American citizens by 1930, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all of them but Brown were. With the exception of Moorhouse, all of them had played their entire professional soccer careers in the United States, primarily in the American Soccer League, which was a thriving league in the 1920s, with teams from Boston to Philadelphia. Wood, who lived in Indiana, had not played in the ASL, although he did in late 1930 and early 1931. Both Brown and Wood played a few seasons in England in the 1930s, after this World Cup. There also have been reports that McGhee played for Hull City in the 1920s, but this was a different person, named John McGee.

There are a number of factors that contributed to why the United States did well in that World Cup, including the soggy conditions, much like what ASL players were used to, and the fact that many European powers didn’t enter. Ringers in the American team is not among those factors.

The basic fact that those who have written of British pros on the 1930 U.S. team seem unable to grasp is that being born in a place and being a professional soccer player in that place are not the same thing.

A version of this article first appeared at Roger’s Big Soccer blog on Oct. 18, 2011.

One Comment

  1. Hi Roger
    Good, succinct reiteration. I hope I am not one of the lesser writers!! I note the two you cite are both English. The only points I have to make is
    1) that you should say that Bart McGhee’s Dad was a former Sottish international so Bart would have been tutored from an early age and I cannot believe that Dad did not coach in Philly.
    2) that what we are concerned about here at my scotsfootballworldwide and at the Scot Football Historians’ Group is style of play not personnel or origin.
    3) That the boss, Bob Millar, had been a pro in Scotland and that his brother, Harry, had been a substantial one here so Bob was not just raised in the Scottish game but in the family tradition of it.
    4) That the 1930 US team played Scots football, that is the Scottish rather than the English game. Even the Argentine assessments of the team point to that. And that all the Scots boys would have been playing that style since they could walk and even at 12 were well and truly inculcated.
    So to sum up. If we have been guilty of stressing the Scots origins of the the five it is not about claiming the players themselves but their style, their philosophy of play. We are proud of it, and, of course, them, whatever flag they played under.
    Keep it coming.
    Iain Campbell Whittle
    Tigh na Tilleadh
    201 Polbain
    Scotland IV26 2YW
    T: 01854-622473
    M: 07904-244554

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