Drew Turnbull

Great Britain
Heritage Number


Over the years, Hawick had become almost exclusively a Fartown preserve, with Alex Fiddes, Dave Valentine, Jock Anderson and Bob Robson currently wearing the claret and gold of Huddersfield. All the more sensational, therefore, was the news that the Leeds Football Chairman, Mr A. B. Sharman, and Secretary ‘George’ Hirst had swooped during the weekend of 26th/27th June 1948, to poach two of the Border club’s outstanding threequarters: centre Tommy Wright, who had one Scottish cap to his credit from the previous season; and 17-year-old right winger, Andrew Turnbull, who must have been over the moon, since just a week earlier his mother had promised him a wristlet watch providing he turned down a tempting offer to sign for Huddersfield. Yet here he was, with the watch, and a cheque for £2,000! Trust ‘Drew’!

Hopes that Wright, the 22-year-old plumber, would develop into another Fiddes were doomed almost from the start, a nagging shoulder injury restricting his professional career to a mere seventeen appearances; but his young partner, who had captained the 1946 Scottish Schools XV, proceeded to justify fully Cliff Evans’ recommendation to sign him at whatever cost.

And so to his debut some two months ~ter, with 20,000 thronging the Headingley terraces to greet not only the two Scots but also Bob McMaster and Ken Kearney, who had made such an impact on tour with the 1947-48 Wallabies. The occasion was special, the game mediocre, with the Loiners understandably lacking cohesion as they struggled to salvage a 7-7 draw, against a Bramley side inspired by the incisive running of their Australian centre, Bob Bartlett. Even so, for all he had precious few opportunities to show his paces, the Hawick flier had the satisfaction of scoring the face-saver, his thrilling Batten-like leap over an opponent raising the biggest cheer of the afternoon.

Barely given time to settle in, before he was called up for National Service in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, ‘Drew’ notched up only 22 tries in his first couple of seasons, but thereafter developed into one of the most dangerous wingers in the game, with terrific powers of acceleration, electrifying pace and a strike-rate to match! Indeed, with 35 tries to show from 22 appearances in 1952-53, and a further 42 from 26 games in 1954-55, one can but wonder what his tally might have been, had injuries not intervened all too frequently.

As it was, in attaining as near as doesn’t matter a remarkable try-a-match average, he stepped up the Club post-war record season by season with admirable consistency:-

What matter he was guilty now and again of lapses of concentration, here was a potential match-winner, as so many devastating opponents found to their cost. Off all his many fantastic touchdowns, none perhaps was more spectacular than that against Oldham at Headingley on 26th September 1953. A break by ‘Shanks’ Watson from inside his own 25, a one handed pass that carried all of twenty yards, and the Flying Scotsman was away at speed, a gravity-defying swerve to the touchline, to leave Platt sprawling, to swerve inside, wrong footing Pitchford, before a momentary application of the brakes, inducing Emmitt and Davies to collide head-on and then, the zoom towards the posts, with a crescendo of cheers exploding into a deafening thunderclap as he launched himself into a breathtaking swallow-dive. Three points? It was worth more than that!

Unfortunate to be at Headingley during the barren years between the Wembley Finals of 1947 and 1957, and prey twice to soul-destroying semi finalitis in 1951 and 1954, ‘Drew’ had to settle at club level for a couple of Yorkshire League Championship medals as scant reward for a splendid eight-year stint.  As for representative honours, the 21-year-old looked to be on the threshold of a long and successful Test career, following a two-try dream debut versus New Zealand in 1951, but crippling Fate would have none of it, recurrent injuries compelling his withdrawal from the team to face Australia in the 1st Test in 1952, and enforcing a premature return from the 1954 Tour after just two games.

Released by Leeds in 1956 on termination of his contract, ‘Drew’ rounded off his career at Thrum Hall, and promptly found himself back at Headingley of all places for his first appearance in Halifax colours. Needless to say, he scored! And collected winning pay! 228 tries in 230 games.