By Ryan Ferguson
Who was the first Englishman to play in a World Cup? It’s the kind of trivia question likely to cause a stir in pubs and football grounds across the country. England didn’t enter the competition until 1950, which often leads to confusion. But the answer, quite spectacularly, is George Moorhouse, a one-time Tranmere player who eventually moved to New York and represented the United States at the Finals of 1930 and ’34. His is a colourful tale deserving of greater recognition.
Moorhouse was born in Liverpool on 4th April 1901, and he initially served in the Marines during World War I. A competent footballer, he caught on with Leeds United once the conflict ended, before joining Tranmere in December 1921. At such a young age, George played mostly for Rovers’ reserve side, before graduating to make two senior appearances, at home to Ashington and away to Accrington Stanley. Tranmere lost both matches, and Moorhouse never played for the club again. He seemed destined to receive only a minor footnote in Rovers’ history books, but achievements away from Prenton Park solidified his place in the lore of Tranmere and world football generally.
From Birkenhead, Moorhouse emigrated to Montreal, Canada, where he appeared for a team named after Canada’s Pacific Railway. While playing in Quebec, Moorhouse piqued the interest of Nat Agar, a trailblazing figure in American soccer who owned the Brooklyn Wanderers. Moorhouse was duly wooed to the Big Apple, where he represented the Wanderers for two months before transferring to the New York Giants, inter-city rivals in the American Soccer League.
A fine outside-left, Moorhouse stuck with the Giants for the next seven years, making over two hundred appearances and scoring forty-five goals. Although the soccer club had no direct link with the famed New York Giants baseball team, they did co-habit the Polo Grounds, a beguiling ballpark of unending mystique. Moorhouse played alongside distinguished European players such as Béla Guttmann, who later coached Benfica to European Cup glory before placing a curse on the club after failing to secure a pay rise.
The likeable Liverpudlian grew in popularity, and was granted American citizenship amid his Giants stay. Moorhouse then won his first international cap in November 1926, helping the US beat Canada 6-1. The Giants were expelled from the ASL in 1928, and Moorhouse was not selected for any internationals during that season, but they returned a year later, which affirmed his selection for the 1930 World Cup.
Moorhouse made history on 13th July that year, when he became the first native Englishman to appear in the Finals as America defeated Belgium 3-0 before 18,346 spectators in Montevideo, Uruguay. George also played in a further group victory over Paraguay, only for Argentina to thrash an injury-ravaged US side in the semi-final. The result was 6-1, but, for Moorhouse, the experience of playing in front of 112,000 fans at the fabled Estadio Centenario was a far cry from the corner of Borough Road and Prenton Road West in Wirral, England. He had every right to be proud.
The US didn’t play any further games until the ’34 World Cup, held in Italy. Domestically, Moorhouse enjoyed a fairly nomadic career in Gotham, with stints playing for the New York Soccer Club and the New York Yankees, a team with no known connection to the vaunted baseball juggernaut. When the next World Cup rolled around, Moorhouse was selected as team captain, although the US didn’t progress past the first round.
After the tournament, Moorhouse joined the New York Americans, a club located in the Bronx, where he remained until retirement in 1937. The Americans reached two US Open Cup Finals, winning the second one in Moorhouse’s final season to provide a fitting farewell gift for a beloved player.
After hanging up his boots, George settled in Long Beach, Long Island and ran a local post office. There is some debate about the timing of his death, but most reliable indications point to a heart attack while George was driving in October 1943. A key figure in the game’s expansion in America, Moorhouse was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1986, a tremendous and richly deserved honour.
And so, while his impact at Prenton Park in the shirt of Tranmere Rovers was minimal, George Moorhouse made a major contribition to the spread of global football. In the annals of our great footballing country, so replete with innovators and superstars, his story is often overlooked. But Moorhouse was the first man from these shores ever to play in the grandest football tournament of all, which should be a source of pride for Tranmere, no matter how slender his connection to our club was.