20: Alexander Sanders Robertson – 1891-92

A while ago Andy set a fiendishly difficult twitter question:

“Who was the first Invincible to sign for the club?”

After a number of incorrect answers that included the likes of Ray Parlour and Martin Keown, the correct player was named.

With that in mind here is the information we have on the chap, a very interesting fellow called Alexander Sanders Robertson who was the 20th player to appear for the club in a competitive first team match. He was at Royal Arsenal between 1891 and 1892, before apparently falling foul of the curse of many players.

He was born in December 1860 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Sandy started his football career with local Edinburgh club Hanover, aged 17 and after playing at County level being captain of Edinburgh, he was enticed down to Preston in 1883 from Edinburgh St Bernards. He made his debut for Preston in January 1884. Of the famous North End Invincibles squad he was the unluckiest, missing both the 1887 and 1888 FA Cup Finals through injury.

“Invincible” ‘Sandy’ Robertson played 21 of the 22 games for Preston North End in their unbeaten season of 1888-1889. At Preston he played well over 100 pre-league games, but he became disillusioned and his final appearance for Preston was on 18th January 1890 versus Newton Heath in the FA Cup.

Just over a year and a half later he played for Royal Arsenal during the 1891-92 Season as right half back. In the AGM of July 1891 it was mentioned that Sandy Robertson “would occasionally assist”, which indicates he had been talking to the committee in the summer, and it appears he was employed initially to train the team.

His capture was a “red letter day” for the club as his experience and tact were seen to make him qualified as an ideal experienced professional. Indeed he was also made Captain a week after his debut. It was a position that in the first season of professionalism apparently was a difficult position to fill as at least six players including Robertson were given the job that season.

His first game against Birmingham St Georges did not occur until 3rd October 1891. However a month after he signed, the Woolwich Gazette reported rumours that the committee and himself could not agree terms. But this seemed to be pushed to the background as on 19th December 1891 he played against his old team Preston North End who won 3-0 at Plumstead, and he also appeared in the FA Cup heavy defeat at Small Heath.

And though he was 30 when he turned up in Plumstead which meant he was relatively old for this period as a footballer, he showed he was still skilful. ‘Redshirt’ (the Woolwich Gazette football reporter) describing him as “more than a football player, he is an artiste”. He was called in reports by his first name, like Peter Connolly was known as Peter, a rare accolade showing his status and how well Sandy was thought of by the press and crowd.

His final game against Grimsby was on 23rd January 1892 and up to this point he had been ever present in all the 30 games between his first and last match. Nothing was said in the Woolwich Gazette about it being his final game and as he was captain, this suggests his departure was not planned at least not by the club.

In the next game he was said to be “indisposed”. Then on 26th February the Woolwich Gazette stated he had been given notice to quit and his engagement at the club had been cancelled.

Later on 4th March 1892, many weeks since he was last seen playing, ‘Redshirt’ tells a comic drinking tale with a Scottish character called Sandy knocking back Scotch, and says that Sandy Robertson went in mysterious circumstances and noted there had surprisingly been no official announcement regarding his departure, considering his status. It was also rumoured Robertson asked forgiveness, but his repentance fell on deaf ears at the club. On 18th March a new trainer James Blair was announced as having been employed.

The inference being from ‘Redshirt’ that Sandy Robertson had left, or been asked to leave, due to his fondness for the drink, maybe over a period of time or maybe due to him being “indisposed” for a match on 30th January which as Captain and Trainer he had a responsibility to appear in. It is said he then became a steward on an Atlantic liner by July 1892.

He was a brave man as at 54 in 1914 though far too old, he reputedly lied about his age to join up, and fight in the First World War. He was badly wounded with shrapnel injuries. He later emigrated to South Africa where he died in July 1927, aged 66.

Many thanks to Preston FC Historian, Ian Rigby of www.pneformerplayers.co.uk for additional information.

This article was originally published 19 April 2013 on www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk

A more detailed biography for Sandy will appear in our forthcoming book that will tell the story of Arsenal’s formation and early years.

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The books…

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