ENGLAND: 1 cap
V Wales, Wrexham, 16 November 1932
Teddy Sandford entered the international history books as one of those great unfortunates, the one cap wonder. Leaving aside the oft aired point, in these pages at least, that those who select the England team down the ages have had the same kind of anti-Albion bias you expect to find amid those of the refereeing persuasion, we must ask ourselves what kind of mind it is that offers a single cap, then refuses to give a second chance?
Playing for your country, making your international debut, must be simultaneously both the proudest and most nerve-wracking occasion of a footballer’s career. You’re on the greatest stage of all, playing alongside people you’ve only ever lined up against, and with whom you’ve barely trained. Everything militates against you producing the best football of your career on that first time out of the box to the point where, surely, you should at least get a second chance to prove your worth?
In the days of Teddy Sandford, it’s perhaps easier to understand just why there were so many one cap men because the selection system was simply incomprehensible. There was no England manager – Walter Winterbottom didn’t take up that role until after the war – and the side was selected by committee, a bizarre and outdated concept that persisted until Alf Ramsey kicked it into touch in 1962.
In an age when there was no World Cup to build towards – it existed, but the FA was having no truck with some greasy tournament set up by Johnny Foreigner – internationals existed in isolation, the annual punch up with the Scots the focal point of the national calendar. There was no need for long term planning, because there was nothing to plan for. Thus, each England XI was based upon far more temporal concerns. It might be true that form is temporary, class is permanent, but the selectors were often looking for form over substance, simply to win the next match. Equally, some caps were handed in the way that OBEs are today, offered to players for services rendered to the game. Some might even get the call because, if we may be cynical for a moment, the international was being held at their home ground and the officials wanted to stick a few thousand on the crowd.
Yet when Teddy Sandford got his chance for England, in a game taking place in Wrexham, he was less than a month beyond his 22nd birthday, and therefore a coming talent in the game, surely a player that England were grooming to be a stalwart in the national team for time to come?
The Handsworth born boy had burst onto the scene as a teenager, breaking into the immortal Albion side of 1930/31 that did the unique double of winning promotion and the FA Cup. He had a subdued first season in the top flight, in terms of his goals return anyway, contributing just eight in 40 games, but he was in good nick early in the 1932/33 season, good enough to catch the eye of the selectors.
He scored four goals from his position as an inside-forward in the early weeks including one in the 3-2 win over Chelsea on the Saturday before England travelled to Wales for the midweek fixture, just one fewer than his great striking partner, WG Richardson, who had to wait a further three years for his solitary taste of international action.
Sandford lined up at inside-left, the legendary David Jack his inside-forward partner on the other side. Facing him in the Welsh line-up at right-half was his Albion colleague, Jimmy Murphy, while Wales also fielded a Throstle at outside-left, Walter Robbins. The two sides cancelled each other out in a broadly uneventful game which ended goalless. And that was your lot Teddy, thanks for taking the trouble to come, here’s your cap.
Sandford continued doing the more important things in life – ie playing for the Albion – scoring in the 4-2 FA Cup Final defeat of 1935 against Sheffield Wednesday. He moved back to a centre-half role in succession to Bill Richardson, giving what many say was the best performance of his Albion career there when the Throstles beat Arsenal 3-1 in the sixth round of the FA Cup in front of a record crowd of 64,815. The Baggies went on to lose the semi to Preston in the wake of chairman Billy Bassett’s untimely death.
He left Albion in March 1939 to join Sheffield United, but like so many of his generation, he had his career ended when Hitler sent his forward line into Poland. By the time football resumed, Sandford was nearly 36. He had a spell as a coach at The Hawthorns in the early 1950s then as a scout in the 1960s, but also settled to running a cafe on the ground’s doorstep – he can be glimpsed serving up a brew in the great 1962 documentary, “The Saturday Men”. Gi’ing a bloke on’y the one cap? It’s loike taking the sugar out of a mon’s tay when he ay lookin’.