Centre forward, goalscorer, FA Cup Final hero, murderer, outlaw, felon – the life and times of Sandy Young resembles a Hollywood epic. But in an extraordinary life, the Scottish centre-forward traversed the peaks and troughs of human existence and was, within the space of a decade, a nationally renowned figure and a notorious villain, banged up in an Australian jail and awaiting a likely death sentence for the murder of his own brother.
Young, who was no relation to the 1960s ‘Golden Vision’, joined Everton from Falkirk in 1901. Born in the Stirlingshire village of Slamannan, Young started his career with Slamannan Juniors, attracting attention with his goalscoring feats, which included seven in a single Stirlingshire Cup tie against Bannockburn. In 1899 he joined Scottish First Division team, St Mirren, but spent just a year in Paisley before returning to Stirlingshire and Falkirk, who still competed in amateur leagues at this time. Two years later, aged 21, came the move to Goodison and Young’s life changed forever.
The Scottish forward made his Everton debut on 28 September 1901 against Aston Villa, but it took him until December to register his first goal in a royal blue shirt. Indeed Young was never prolific in his first few campaigns for Everton, but it is clear that his selfless play allowed others – notably Jimmy Settle and Jack Sharp – to thrive. Everton were perennial nearly men in this time, and they ended Young’s debut season runners up to Sunderland.
The rookie had scored just six league goals in this first year at Everton and would add just a further five during the 1902/03 season, as Everton stumbled to a disappointing finish of twelfth – the lowest in their history. But come the 1903/04 campaign, Young was leading Everton’s resurgence – finishing the campaign top league scorer with ten goals as Everton rose back to third.
Young’s fine late season form carried on through the 1904/05 season as goals started to come more freely. Everton led the league table from January and going into April seemed destined to take the League Championship. However, a lengthy FA Cup run, which saw Everton reach the semi finals, and a series of postponements, including a match the previous Autumn at Woolwich Arsenal that was abandoned with Everton leading 3-1 with 15 minutes remaining. It left a build up of fixtures through April 1905 that Everton needed to conquer in order to lift the title for the second time.
The run started well with Young scoring the only goal of the game against Woolwich Arsenal at Goodison on 5 April. Three days later momentum was maintained with a draw at Stoke. On April 15 Young scored in the win against Small Heath. But then things went badly awry. Everton met Manchester City at Maine Road and the scoring touch proved elusive for Young as Everton fell to a 2-0 defeat to a team with title ambitions of its own. After the match Everton journeyed immediately south for the rearranged fixture at Arsenal. Tired, and with momentum waning, Everton lost 2-1. Young failed to score again.
Everton then travelled to play Nottingham Forest, who they beat 2-0, but had to wait helplessly to see if Newcastle would win their last match of the season against Middlesbrough and in doing so pip Everton to the Championship. Newcastle emerged 3-0 winners; Everton who had led the table for the previous three months, fell down to the runners up spot at the death. ‘Shakespeare wrote of “The uncertain glory of April”‘ quipped Everton historian, Thomas Keates. ‘This April is remembered a shocker.’
Might Everton have won it had Young been a more reliable goalscorer? Certainly at this point of his career, he was like an early version of Tony Cottee – scoring freely against weaker opponents, or in various routs, but going missing when the going got tough. A Liverpool Echo pen portrait of the period was revealing: "Sandy Young, the centre-forward, is a variable sort of man who plays one good game in three on average. He takes the bumps a centre-forward must inevitably expect smilingly and determination makes up for lack of skill at times."
But when Everton got their chance to wreak revenge upon Newcastle a year later, Young showed that he was the man for the big occasion. With the exception of a second round strike against lowly Chesterfield, goals had proved elusive to Young throughout Everton’s 1906 FA Cup run, which brought them to a final against Newcastle at Crystal Palace on 21 April, 1906.
It was, reported the Daily Mirror ‘the tamest final for many years’ and its reporter accused Young of marring his ‘dashing display’ with ‘a good many petty tricks, which Mr Kirkham [the referee] generally noticed and always promptly penalised.’ But Young was on fine form. On 53 minutes he found the net, but the goal was ruled out for offside (‘He was standing almost under the bar,’ said the Mirror). 25 minutes later Jack Sharp was sent free down the wing, evading the pursuit of the Newcastle left back Carr, who had not previously given the Everton wideman an inch. Sharp beat Carr and another defender, and sent in a beautifully weighted cross, which Young slotted home for the game’s only goal.
‘Thrice has the battle been waged, and twice the victory denied, but the third time pays for all,’ recorded the Daily Post of Everton’s first FA Cup Final win after three attempts. ‘Bravo the Blues!’
Young’s FA Cup Final winner was, in many respects, the defining moment of his career. But his goalscoring through the 1906/07 season threatened to outshine even that achievement.
With the onset of the 1906/7 season it looked as if Everton may wrest the First Division title from Liverpool, quickly rising to the top of the table. Their results at home were hugely impressive and included a 9-1 thrashing of Billy Meredith’s Manchester City – a record league win. In all they won sixteen times at Goodison, drawing twice and losing just once; but their away form was disastrous. At the season’s end they had managed just four away victories, which cost them the title. Everton finished third, Newcastle gained their revenge for the Cup Final and finished six points clear. For Sandy Young it had been a season of personal triumph: he ended the campaign as the First Division’s top scorer with 28 League goals.
Yet Young did not match those goalscoring feats in the FA Cup, where for the second season running, Everton reached the final. He scored just once in the seven match path that led Everton to the Crystal Palace, where they met the previous year’s semi-finalists, Sheffield Wednesday. In a poor game Everton fell behind, equalised through Sharp and lost 2-1 after a late goal. Young’s scoring touch had again proved elusive. ‘I doubt,’ the Football League’s founding father, William McGregor, said ‘If we have ever had a final in which there has been more loose play… [It was] one of the poorest finals.’
Young’s goalscoring exploits during the 1906/07 season earned him a Scotland recall for the fixture against Wales in Wrexham in March 1907. It was his second and last cap – like many so-called ‘Anglos’ he found himself overlooked in favour of players who remained in their homeland. Even 60 years later, Alex Young, his namesake and successor as Everton number nine, would find himself excluded by Scotland’s selectors on similar grounds.
Although Young still managed a goal every other game through the 1907/08 season, Everton dropped to eleventh. In an effort to revive fortunes, Bertie Freeman was signed late in the campaign from Woolwich Arsenal and took Young’s berth. Thereafter the Scot would find himself overshadowed by Freeman’s extraordinary exploits and would often be forced to play as an inside forward. He managed just two league goals during the 1909/10 season, and although he showed signs that he may wrest back the number nine shirt the following season, Everton’s selectors deemed Young – now aged 30 – to be past his best.
In the summer of 1911 Young was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £500. His spell in London was brief and inauspicious and he returned north within a year, signing for Manchester City. There followed spells with South Liverpool and Burslem Port Vale. By the outbreak of the First World War Young had dropped out of professional football and emigrated to Australia.
What followed is shrouded by a combination of mystery and urban myth. Some sources have said Young was hanged for sheep rustling – which is not true – and others have said that he lingered in an asylum for years after killing his brother.
However it seems that a variation of the latter story actually happened. In Australia, Young joined his brother, John, who was a dairy farmer in Victoria. But their partnership took a tragic turn. In December 1915 Sandy was charged with John’s murder. Following the intercession of English football officials, who testified that Young was prone to boats of ‘temporary insanity’, this was, in June 1916, downgraded to manslaughter, and he was given a three year prison sentence, rather than an execution.
It seems he was then detained in an asylum for some years, before winding up back in Scotland. In October 1945, the Everton board received a letter regarding his ‘circumstances’, but after considering it, decided to refer the matter to the public assistance officer in Stirlingshire, where Young was seemingly now based. The next years remain a blank, until news of Young’s death in September 1959 in an Edinburgh nursing home.