Friday, January 31, 2014

The Longest Game in North American Soccer League History

I am going with a shorter piece this time. The subject has been covered before, but I felt it needed another look anyway. Enjoy.

The NASL instituted several inane rules during its existence. From the infamous penalty shoot-out to its elaborate points system, the NASL inherently tweaked the laws of the beautiful game to make it more appealing to Americans. Of all of the alterations to the traditional rules of the game, the NASL’s institution of the golden-goal sudden-death overtime in the 1971 postseason is perhaps one of the most outrageous modifications. The rule inevitably led to the longest game in NASL history.

The 1971 season, the NASL’s fourth, saw the league undergo significant change with the nascent league still experiencing growing pains. The Kansas City Spurs franchise folded after the 1970 campaign while the league expanded into three new cities: Toronto, Montreal, and New York, home of its future flagship franchise the Cosmos. The new clubs brought the league total to eight. With the influx of new teams, the club owners decided to expand the NASL postseason by staging a series of best-of-three game semifinals prior to the best-of-three game final, allowing the two division second place clubs a chance at a title. Amongst these changes, the club owners, spurred on by Rochester Lancers owner Charlie Schiano, reluctantly instituted a golden goal overtime period for the playoffs to avoid ties. This led to some incredibly lengthy playoff games involving, ironically, Schiano’s Lancers.

Courtesy of Rochester Lancers
Rochester, the defending league champions, rolled through the regular season finishing atop the Northern Division with a league leading 141 points. They were paced by the league’s leading scorer, and future U.S. international, the diminutive 5’4” Carlos Meditieri. The Cosmos, a team devoid of star power at the time, ended their inaugural season in second place pitting them in a semi-final series against Southern Division champion Atlanta. Meanwhile, the Dallas Tornado finished one point shy of the South Division crown second to Atlanta, rubber-stamping their place in a semi-final against the league leading Lancers. While Atlanta swept New York in rather humdrum fashion, the Rochester-Dallas semifinal series requires more than a sentence of summary due to Schiano’s idea of sudden-death overtime.

The Lancers achieved the best record throughout the regular season and entered the series as favorites, though Schiano recognized that wins would not come easy during the semi-final showdown. Dallas, owned by soccer and NFL luminary Lamar Hunt, had a very English identity. Ron Newman, former Portsmouth midfielder and future U.S. Hall of Famer, managed the Tornado and instituted a very rough style of English play. Not to mention the club featured former Yugoslavian international Mirko Stojanovic in goal, a player Newman ultimately suspended for the first game for walking out on practice earlier in the week. This forced an injured Kenny Cooper into goal for the series opener. Dallas, a tough matchup throughout the season, sought to stymie the Lancers fluid play in the semifinal series.

Phil Woosnam, credit, Associated Press

With league president Phil Woosnam on hand, the series kicked off at 8 pm on September 1 1971 at Aquinas Memorial Stadium in Rochester, New York in front of just over 8,000 fans. On one of the worst fields in NASL history, the two teams traded goals during regulation. Dallas, physical as ever, slowed down Rochester’s creative offense by consistently playing the ball out of bounds. The Tornado dictated the slow pace of the game and ultimately forced the game into overtime. After two overtime periods and 120 minutes neither team could break the deadlock. Despite the game dragging with no end in sight, most of the fans stayed to witness the rest of the match. Everyone must have felt a sense of history watching as the game crept through several overtime periods.

Inevitably, President Woosnam sought to end the match as it progressed into a fifth overtime period after appeals from several individuals associated with the teams including Tornado owner Lamar Hunt and manager Newman. All the while, Schiano, perhaps a little embarrassed at his golden goal suggestion, insisted that the two teams play the game out, only agreeing to call the game only if the two teams had not scored by midnight, four hours after the game started. Little did anyone know that the game would actually last that long. The players, past exhaustion, searched for ways to carry on throughout the ordeal by drinking coffee and eating oranges. Salvation finally came in the form of a Calros Metidieri goal at 11:59 pm in the 176th minute. Meditieri slotted a low shot past Tornado keeper Kenny Cooper much to the excitement of everyone in attendance, including the Tornado players. The teams were four minutes shy of playing two games in one night. Following the lengthy affair, Metidieri predicted that the Lancers record victory would propel them past a broken Dallas team, which inevitably proved erroneous as the Tornado went on to win the next two games.

Beyond exhausted, the two teams met just three days later in Dallas, with the Tornado taking that game 3-1 as Stojanovic returned in goal.  The Lancers and Tornado travelled back to Rochester just a few days later for the series deciding third game. In a game that mirrored the series opener, the two teams both notched a goal during regulation and predictably entered overtime. Just as in the first game, the two teams battled through several overtime periods until Bobby Moffat scored for the Tornado in the 148th minute coming nowhere close to the record setting first game. The win granted Dallas a 2-1 victory and a spot in the championship series against the Atlanta Chiefs. Dallas, fatigued from their record setting semifinal series, dropped their first game to the Chiefs, only to win the next two games and claimed the 1971 NASL championship.

Dallas Tornado
courtest of
The league owners, upon Schiano’s insistence,  introduced the overtime rule to the NASL in 1971. Far from popular at the time of its institution, the rule did not progress past the 1971 season. The owners dropped the playoff series format and settled on single game elimination for the 1972 season, while also dropping Schino’s overtime idea. Due to the rule changes the first game of the Dallas-Rochester semifinal series in 1971 stands as the longest game in NASL history and probably professional soccer history in America. The significance of the game was not lost on either team following the season and is still talked about among the individuals who were on hand that night. The Dallas Tornado reveling in their grueling semi-final series win following their championship season even had “176” engraved on their championship rings as a reminder of the historic game.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Kazimierz Deyna in America

For my latest post, I collaborated with Christopher Lash on a piece about Kazimierz Deyna and his career with the San Diego Sockers. I am really excited about this post. Thanks to Chris for having me contribute to his blog. So, please, give it a read and share your opinions on the piece. You can find article HERE.

Keep an eye out for my next post, which is also NASL related within the coming week. While you are at it, check out the Sockers musical chops.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The First Professional Soccer League in America Part Three

For the first part of the post click here. For the second part click here

The ALPF failed for a myriad for reasons. As noted in previous posts, interest in the league existed, but the ineptitude of the owners negated any successes the league experienced before it could gain a foothold in America. Several of the owners, including Washington’s Wagner, were in favor of continuing the season regardless of the initial failure and oversights of the league. The undefeated and self-proclaimed champions of the ALPF, Baltimore Orioles did more than talk and continued to play games following the leagues collapse, joined by the Brooklyn and Philadelphia outfits. Even in the face of the U.S Department of the Treasury’s investigation, Ned Hanlon and his team of imported talent vowed to continue to play the game for “Love, Blood, Money, or Marbles.”

Ned Hanlon 1880s
Library of Congress
Following their third consecutive victory over Washington on October 2, Baltimore discovered that the ALPF was abruptly ending. Manager Ned Hanlon, A.W. Stewart, and the rest of Baltimore’s squad were utterly surprised to hear that the league ceased to exist. Hanlon, in particular, did not hide his opinions from the press stating that he felt that the rest of the league, namely New York, were afraid of losing to his team and subsequently ended the season. Hanlon’s jab at New York signaled his irritation at losing the first Temple Cup to New York, despite Baltimore posting the best record and winning the National League pennant. Hanlon further voiced his frustrations at the cancellation of the season claiming that Baltimore entered the league in good faith with every intention to play the entirety of the season. The club showed their commitment to the ALPF by “spending twice as much as any other city to secure the best professional football eleven” they could get. With their undefeated record, their investment in their club and the league, and the assurances from people who had seen the other clubs play Hanlon and Baltimore professed to be the champions of the defunct ALPF. In spite of the New York and Brooklyn clubs, Hanlon declared that Baltimore would fly a championship pennant at Union Park on the opposite end of the grandstand of their 1894 National League baseball pennant.

Feeling quite confident in the ability of A.W. Stewart and the rest of his squad, Hanlon assured that they could defeat any team within the United States and vowed not to disband for several weeks. Arthur Irwin, Philadelphia owner and the ALPF’s only president, also committed his side to continue playing following the collapse of the league. Subsequently, Irwin challenged Hanlon’s side to a series of games just two days after the league officially ceased to exist. Baltimore willingly accepted the offer. A.W. Stewart, the club’s captain and manager in every respect but name, echoed Hanlon’s sentiments and openly advocated for games against New York. Stewart, not short of confidence, stated that he and his men feared no side and claimed the only mistake his team made during the brief season was defeating Washington too badly in their first league game. By handing Washington a 10-1 defeat, Stewart and his men “opened the eyes of New York and the others” of what Baltimore were capable of, again alluding to Hanlon’s claim that New York effectively cancelled the season out of fear. With a collective confidence bordering on narcissism, Stewart and the Baltimore eleven were ready to defend the inscription on their first soccer pennant “Baltimore Champion Football Club of the United States, 1894.”

Union Park
Riding a string of consecutive victories and a collective sense of invincibility, Stewart led the Baltimore Orioles against Irwin’s Philadelphia Phillies at Union Park on October 23. Baltimore’s bravado proved to be well founded. The Orioles proved dominate once again defeating Philadelphia 6-1. Baltimore extended its undefeated run of play to six games after it defeated Philadelphia 4-0 and 6-4 in two games over the next couple of days. Notably, Charlie Reilly, the Phillies Third Baseman and future Washington Senator baseball player, worked the Philadelphia goal in the 4-0 defeat to Baltimore amid cheers from the Oriole crowd at Union Park. Following their sweep of Philadelphia, Baltimore, seeking to defend their claim as champions of the United States, committed to a two-week venture to Fall River, Massachusetts to challenge Brooklyn to a series of games.

The Brooklyn club was comprised of amateurs from several of Fall River’s teams and following the collapse of the ALPF the players returned home. Still Brooklyn in name, the club was really a composition of the best players from the industrial Massachusetts town.  Fall River was a hotbed of soccer talent and the heart of the soccer for much of the sports early history in the United States. Stewart, looking to solidify Baltimore’s status as champions, agreed to a six game championship series with Dennis (Denny) Shay, Brooklyn’s captain and goalkeeper, with three games taking place in Fall River and an addition three taking place in Baltimore after a horse show vacated Union Park. Both sides claimed superiority with Baltimore’s profession of being undefeated apparent, but Brooklyn fielded a formidable side during the short ALPF season finishing with five wins and only one loss. Dennis Shay claimed his squad, since they all primarily signed with Brooklyn from Fall River Rovers, was the best in America and Canada and held a collective record of thirty-nine wins and two losses over the course of 1894.

Shay had ample reason to boast. In several newspaper reports covering Brooklyn’s team during the ALPF season, many considered Shay the best goalkeeper on the continent. The claim may not have been far off. Shay participated in a joint Canadian-American team that toured Ireland, Scotland, and England in 1891. Though the team lost most of the games, Shay featured in goal in over forty matches against clubs like, Bolton Wanderers, Preston, and Middlesbrough to name a few. Shay turned down several offers to play overseas and the opportunity to become the first non-British person to play in the English First Division. That designation is held by his teammate during the tour, Walter Bowman. This experience gave Shay plenty of confidence as did his club record in the states prior to the founding of the ALPF. Shay and several of his teammates were so convinced of victory that they were willing to wager $500 to $1000 (roughly $13,000 to $26,000 today) on the series. Considering the effect that the economic depression brought on by the Panic of 1893 had on Fall River the friendly wager seems all the more impressive.

Dennis "Denny" H. Shay (Surname listed both ways in source material)
 Brooklyn Eagle 10-7-1894
 Baltimore and Brooklyn opened the championship series on November 1 1894.  In a rough game stifled by a heavy wind, the two top teams of the ALPF played to a 2-2 draw. In addition to charges of unfair play against the Brooklyn/Fall River eleven, The Baltimore Sun, via a special dispatch from Fall River, declared the first game of the series the greatest game ever played in that town. Over the course of the next ten days, the two sides played two more games in Fall River with Stewart and the Baltimore eleven humbled by losses to Shay and the hometown club. Following the three game series, the Baltimore club returned home, while Shay and his club were ambitiously seeking games in the United Kingdom. Upon their return home, Baltimore, in addition to challenges by several local clubs, intended to host the Brooklyn/Fall River men for the rest of their six game series, but ultimately were unable to due to the poor state of the Union Park grounds following the horse show that occupied the stadium for two weeks. Ultimately, the series between the Baltimore and Brooklyn clubs was never completed. Brooklyn, given its record in ALPF league play and games following the season, held the best record overall and could positively claim they were the real champions of the United States. The third match between the two proved to be Baltimore’s last as the team officially disbanded a week after returning to Baltimore from Fall River on November 20 1894. Ned Hanlon’s illegally imported men returned to England in an attempt to continue their careers while the rest of the league melted into historical obscurity.

Lastly, while Baltimore was parading around the Northeast defending their self-proclaimed championship, The Washington Post published an in depth account detailing how Hanlon managed to convince several English professionals to sail across the Atlantic and join the Baltimore Orioles of the ALPF. As stated in the second post covering the ALPF, Gus Schmelz discovered soon after his team’s 10-1 loss to Baltimore in mid-October that Ned Hanlon had managed to secure the services of several “ringers” for the first ALPF season. Following the collapse of the season and the complete dissolution of the Treasury Department’s investigation, Ted Sullivan, an Irish-born baseball magnate and ex-Washington owner, told the story as joke to anyone who would listen.

Ned Hanlon's MLB Hall of Fame Plaque
ALPF not included
National Baseball Hall of Fame
 As the story goes, Hanlon, completely occupied by baseball side of club affairs, waited until after the Temple Cup to completely compile a team to compete in the ALPF. Hanlon, not wanting to field an inadequate eleven, lucked out when he ran into Ted Sullivan in Baltimore during the baseball season. Sullivan, seeing the dilemma Hanlon was in, suggested that Hanlon scour the leagues of England for talent. Hanlon jumped at the idea and hired Sullivan to sail to England to obtain a few players. Hanlon's only reservation was  the legality of such a move and exactly how Sullivan  would acquire players without the news travelling back to the States. Someone within the Baltimore club, presumptively Hanlon, actually inquired about the legality of importation of English players with Secretary of the Treasury John Carlisle as far back as August, which led to Carlisle's proclamation that such a move was illegal if the players were under contract. Ultimately, Sullivan reassured Hanlon that he would be able to secure talent without anyone stateside finding out or else he would not expect a penny for his services and the two men carried out their plan.

Under these circumstances, Sullivan travelled to Liverpool and Manchester and scouted several games. He picked out seven players total, convinced the directors of the players’ respective clubs that he was from Glasgow, and asked for a loan on the players for several games over the course of a week. During that week, Sullivan promised to pay the players’ salaries and expenses. The players pleaded to go out on loan in addition to Sullivan’s request and ultimately the club directors granted the players leave. Sullivan, upon obtaining the release of his seven players, boarded a steamship bound for America and smuggled the men over the next day. The players registered as tradesmen upon boarding the ship and did not officially sign for Baltimore until they landed in New York. A few days later the team, peppered with a few American signings, walloped Washington in their first ALPF game only to have Dean, of Washington, discover their identities. The ruse ultimately aided in the demise of the league, but the story, nearly a month after the league’s last game, remained an interesting talking point and a favorite story of Ted Sullivan.

In keeping with the format of my first post, I will list some of the sources I used in making this article here instead of using footnotes. A number of primary and secondary sources were used in the making of this post including: The Baltimore Sun, The Brooklyn Eagle, The Washington Post, Colin Jose's article covering the 1891 Canadian-American tour of the UKEd Farnsworth's post concerning Philadelphia's ALPF History, Steve Holroyd's History of the ALPF,, as well as several other secondary sources.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The First Professional Soccer League in America and the Senators of Washington, Part Two

For the first part of this post, click here.

After months of meetings between its owners, and in the midst of the National League’s Temple Cup Series, four teams kicked off The American League of Professional Football (ALPF) inaugural season October 6, 1894. Bostonians, wooed to the South End Grounds by a pre-game rugby match, witnessed the Boston eleven defeat the visiting Brooklyn club 3-2, while the original New York Football Giants swept into Philadelphia and drubbed the hosts 5-0. Meanwhile, the people of Washington had to wait nearly another week to see the Senators play the first professional soccer game in the city, as the league postponed the their intial game due to the Orioles participation in the Temple Cup. Oddly, New York, Baltimore’s Temple Cup foe, was able to field an eleven to open the ALPF season a full ten days before Baltimore officially entered the league on October 17. Baltimore’s entrance into league play proved to be unique among the league’s entrants, and a defining storyline in the short history of the ALPF.

The Washington Senators

Washington Nationals Logo 1948-54
Potential badge for soccer club?
Washington’s owner, J. Earl Wagner, knew that he would need to exert significant effort to draw spectators to the stadium and make soccer a viable professional sport within America. Similar to Boston’s staging of a rugby game prior to its opener, Wagner enticed fans to the Senators’ season opener on October 11 in a number of ways. First, Wagner, who had pushed updates of his squad through the press for months, advertised a band concert prior to Washington’s first game every day in The Washington Post for a week prior to game day.  In addition to offering a concert prior to the club’s first foray in the ALPF, Wagner offered free entry to woman in possession of “complimentary books,” an offer he carried over from the baseball side of his growing sports empire. “Ladies Day” was something Wagner sought to offer two games a week prior to the season.  Wagner mailed these books to women throughout Washington upon written request, which today seems rather odd, but did not solicit any known reaction within the press in 1894.

An introductory band and free entry for women would seem to be enough to garner interest in the Washington Senators season opener, but Wagner desired more attention and more paying customers. Prior to the concert and the game, both the Senators, and their opponent Philadelphia, paraded, in full uniform, to the stadium in carriages following “a brass band on a tally-ho coach.” Any Washingtonian wishing to witness the gallant parade of players and game could enter National Park for as little as .25 cents. Entry to the game, as agreed upon with the other team’s owners, was .25 and .50 cents, the same rate for Georgetown “gridiron” football games and, ironically, admission to George Washington’s estate, Mt. Vernon. Wagner also entered into an agreement with the management of the Randall Hotel, near the White House, to fly a flag from their premises when the Senators played a game. If the flag were flying at 3:00 pm each game day, then the Senators would be on display as they were on October 11. Within such a vivacious and celebratory atmosphere, Washington played host to ALPF President Irwin’s eleven from Philadelphia.

After the ostentatious entrance to National’s Park and the advertised pre-game entertainment, 700 to 1,500 people gathered into National Park to witness their city’s initial flirtation with association football. (Newspaper sources differ on the attendance and this aggregation of announced attendances via different newspapers will be used throughout this post) Spectators filled the grandstand as well as carriages that lined center and left field of the baseball stadium. Washington, as the other clubs of the league had, took the field in the 2-3-5 pyramid formation of the period. One of Wagner’s original signings, John D. Gallagher captained the Washington club and led “his crew of gamey youngsters” against ALPF President, and Philadelphia Phillies owner, Arthur Irwin’s favored eleven. Washington, with goals from fullback Joseph Devlin and right wing George Harvey took a 2-1 lead into halftime. After a five-minute intermission, as was league custom, the Senators defended their slim lead and captured their first win in an auspicious opening at National Park.

Trying to make up for lost time, a staple of the young league, the two sides played a second game at National Park the following day, October 12. The amounts of spectators fell by several hundred despite another rousing band concert prior to the game, though The Washington Post does not give an official attendance figure. Despite their successes, perhaps luck, in their first game, Washington did not win their second game. Though the referee disallowed a potential game-tying goal, which was blamed on the lack of guard net, the Washington eleven fell to visiting Philadelphia 3-2. The referee disallowed the potential goal in question early in the second half, as he could not judge from his place on the field whether a ball went over or under the goal. The press assigned blame for the equipment bungle squarely on the club’s management, an early instance of the press meddling with the hearts and minds of supporters. Despite the loss, the press surrounding the game, and the league at large, proved to be positive up to this point in the season, but significant threats to the viability of the league were forming.

Baltimore, Washington, and rest of the ALPF’s first season

Edward, "Ned" Hanlon
Library of Congress
While professional soccer was on display in Washington for the first time, the other members of the ALPF were also playing games, save for Baltimore who were still signing and waiting for their players to arrive in the city on October 12. The baseball side of the Baltimore club had just dropped four straight games and the Temple Cup to New York, whose soccer club, opened the ALPF season on October 6 while their baseball team was competing for the Temple Cup. Baltimore’s lack of a concrete soccer eleven prior to the beginning of the ALPF season gives one the impression that the club cared little about their foray into professional soccer, which could not be farther from the truth. While it seemed Baltimore was lacking behind the rest of the ALPF sides, the club including their baseball manager, Edward Hanlon, were busy forming what proved to be the finest squad in the league. In his own words, Hanlon described the squad he rounded up shortly after the end of the baseball season:

I did not think it would be right, after giving Baltimore a good baseball team, to give it a mediocre football team, so I have hustled around the last two weeks and gotten together a first-class one. The managers of the other clubs have been sneering at our team, but I didn’t live in Detroit for several years for nothing, and I am sure that my material is the best in the circuit.” [sic]
Hanlon, though manager in name, allowed one of his signings, A.W. Stewart, to effectively manage the team as goalkeeper and club captain, making Baltimore the only club in the league managed by someone familiar with the game. In addition to Stewart, Hanlon signed a number of professional footballers he claimed were from Detroit like Stewart, but the players actually hailed from England and included; Mitchell Calvey, Archibald Ferguson, Tommy Little, and Alexander Wallace all squad players of Manchester City, and Fred Davies of Sheffield United. Baltimore’s use of English professionals would prove to be problematic despite the fact that other clubs, like Philadelphia, had signed former English professionals. With A.W. Stewart at the helm and a core of seasoned professionals, Baltimore became the last team in the ALPF to play its season opener on October 17 against Washington at Nationals Park.

By October 15, the league still did not have a definitive schedule of games beyond October 23, which again is something that illustrates the commitment, or lack thereof, of the baseball magnates to the ALPF. The lack of a prolonged schedule was one of the factors deemed potentially detrimental to the success of the league upon its formation in the first part of this post. In addition to this week-by-week schedule and the late start to the league due to the National League baseball season, another threat to the success of the league appeared at this time. Rumblings of a rival professional baseball league surfaced just after the ALPF season officially started. On October 18, the American Association of Baseball Clubs (ABA) officially formed in New York in direct competition for fans and players with the National League. The rival league threatened the monopoly the National League owners had on professional baseball, and due to their lackluster commitment to their soccer clubs, threatened the future of the ALPF. Despite these somewhat glaring shortcomings, the ALPF continued in the meantime.
Secretary of the Treasury John G. Carlisle
Library of Congress
Prior to their initial meeting with Baltimore, Washington, keeping with the close succession of games thus far, travelled to Philadelphia and dropped their second consecutive game to the Phillies 4-1 on October 15. The Senators opened the scoring early on from an own goal and trailed only 2-1 at the half, but the Philadelphia side proved too much over the course of the game. After the loss, Washington travelled back home to host Baltimore the very next day, October 16, at National Park. Wagner again deemed the game Ladies Day, and allowed free entry to women in possession of his patented “complimentary books.” Going into the game, both The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun extolled the talents of the Baltimore eleven hailing primarily from Detroit by way of England, though the players origins remained unknown, outside of Baltimore’s club, prior to the game. The praise from the city’s dailies proved well placed. A.W. Stewart and his band of seasoned professionals entered National Park and did not disappoint the 300 to 500 fans present. By the end of the game, Hanlon’s group of imported talent proved too much for the diminutive Senators, as Baltimore completely outclassed Washington and took the game by a score of 10-1.
After the game, Ralph Dean, one of Washington’s wingers, informed manager Gus Schmeltz that he recognized several of Baltimore’s players names from England, as he subscribed to a Manchester area newspaper and saw that the paper named several players of Baltimore in an article. The Washington Post broke the story the next day in their recap of the game, while The Baltimore Sun made no mention of the imported talent aside from the cryptic headline “Foot-Ball Hustlers.” Shortly after Washington’s accusations, the United States Department of the Treasury, the government entity that handled immigration at that time, opened an investigation of Baltimore’s team. The Treasury opened the investigation because then Secretary of the Treasury, John G. Carlisle, declared prior to the season that footballers were not artists and would not be able to enter the country while under contract overseas. Therefore, the ALPF’s employment of English professionals was fine, as long as they were not under contract with any club outside of the United States, as it appeared several of Baltimore’s players seemed to be. The Treasury Department’s investigation coupled with the creation of the ABA capitalized on the already glaring inefficiencies of the league and signaled the death knell of the ALPF.

Union Park, Baltimore, MD, 1897
Library of Congress
Just two days after walloping Washington at National Park, Baltimore hosted the Senators on October 18, in its first home game at Union Park in front of 2500- 3000 spectators. Baltimore’s talent proved superior once again, though they could not notch double-digit goals a second consecutive time, defeating Washington 5-1. The two sides played another game at National Park two days later, October 20, in front of only a “fair” crowd, in what proved to be the final game of the season. Baltimore, with its imported talent, defeated Washington once again this time by the score of 3-0. By this time, the ABA officially formed and, though the new baseball league denied it, directly battled the National League for fans and players while the U.S. Department of the Treasury was actively investigation Baltimore’s alleged importation of professionals under contract. The owners, not alluding to the ABA or government investigation, decided to end the first season of the ALPF abruptly on October 20, much to the protestations of Wagner, President Irwin, and the Baltimore outfit. Officially, the owners cited the leagues floundering attendance, the late start of the league, and a possible conflict with the college football schedule as the reasons they were ending the season. The owners did not admit any fault for their lack of a definitive schedule, their baffling scheduling of games during the workweek, their failure of employing individuals familiar with the game, or their complete disrespect for the American Football Association. The owners decided to honor their players’ contracts until November 1 and vowed to learn from their mistakes and make a second attempt at a league the following year. Many in the press already doubted that the sincerity of the claim, which ultimately proved prophetic as the ALPF’s first season was also its last.

Wagner, following Washington’s final game, paid his players their remaining salaries and purchased train tickets to their respective hometowns. He, along with Philadelphia Phillies owner Arthur Irwin, and Baltimore’s Harry Von der Horst, wanted to continue the season despite its rocky start. Wagner, who showed a commitment to the undertaking from the beginning, stated:

“I was for continuing (the season), even if the clubs were losing a little money. I went into the scheme with the full expectation of sinking a few thousand dollars into this preliminary season, knowing that in time the game will take with the masses and we would be reimbursed for our outlay. This was intended merely as a season of education. It always takes more or less time to develop any kind of sporting ventures and creating a liking for them with the people who want to be entertained or amused.”
Ultimately, league play within the ALPF lasted a mere two weeks from October 6-20. The endeavor perhaps doomed from the baseball magnates initial meetings, eventually succumbed to the ineptitude and ignorance of the owners, a hallmark of many professional startups within the United States. The ALPF’s failure was only the first of many unsuccessful professional soccer leagues over the course of the next century. Ironically, had the ALPF somehow survived, the league’s centenary would have coincided with the 1994 World Cup, which eventually led to the current professional league in the United States, Major League Soccer. Ddespite the failure of the ALPF, soccer survived in the U.S. and several of the founding members of the league refused to stop playing once the league folded, including the mighty Baltimore outfit. Due to the abrupt end to the season and their undefeated record, Baltimore declared the club champions of the league.

Click here for the third and final post: The real story of how Baltimore’s ruse of importing players was discovered, and what the champion Baltimore Orioles did following the league’s collapse. 

In keeping with the format of my first post, I will list some of the sources I used in making this article here instead of using footnotes. A number of primary and secondary sources were used in the making of this post including: The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The New York Tribune, The Washington Post, The Washington Star, Ed Farnsworth's post concerning Philadelphia's ALPF History, Steve Holroyd's History of the ALPF,, as well as several other secondary sources.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The First Professional Soccer League in America and the Senators of Washington, Part One

In the first post of this three-part series, I introduce the American League of Professional Football, covering its formation, rules, and participating cities. The Washington Senators also feature extensively in this initial post. This by no means is a complete history of the league or any of its clubs, but more of an introduction to America’s first professional soccer league.

When most people think of professional soccer in the United States, they usually think of Major League Soccer and, inevitably, the North American Soccer League (NASL). Granted professional soccer in America has a checkered, albeit storied, history. Americans have played the game almost as long as they have baseball and it would be na├»ve to think that the NASL was the first professional league to kick the ball on American soil. The first professional soccer league, in fact, dates back to the 19th century, preceding the formation of professional basketball, football, and hockey leagues. In 1894, a group of baseball owners, looking to create a professional sports league for the winter months, created the nation’s first professional soccer league, the American League of Professional Football.

The ALPF and its Origins

1895 Washington Senators Baseball Club

During the last decade of the 19th century, a vacuum in sports entertainment existed. Professionalism among athletes was in its nascent stages. Baseball fielded the only professional sports league in the country and held a monopoly on the summer months. College football held court in the fall months, but was considered non-professional and embroiled in a debate over the violence inherent in the game.  Sure, Americans played other sports during the winter and several amateur sports leagues existed, but by 1894 only baseball existed at the professional level.  By creating the American League of Professional Football (ALPF), the owners of several National League baseball clubs sought to fill this winter void, fill their vacant stadiums, line thier pockets, and maintain their stranglehold on the growing sports landscape.

The formation of the ALPF grew out of a series of meetings between the owners of six baseball clubs in the National League that began as early as February 1894. The idea of a professional soccer league managed by the National League owners came up during the league’s annual meeting in February and plans continued well after. A preliminary meeting took place on 19 June 1894. During this meeting, the owners announced they would create a professional soccer league starting in the fall of 1894. The owners agreed signed a three-year partnership agreement, as well as, a guarantee fund stating, “any club that refused to play, or finish a game, would forfeit $500.” In addition, the owners announced a vague schedule that would run from the beginning of October until the start of the New Year. The owners named Arthur Irwin, the Philadelphia Phillies owner, interim president. Joining Philadelphia in the league were the cities of Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, New York, and Washington D.C. The respective owners were optimistic the league would succeed, among them, Washington Senators owner Jacob Earl Wagner. From the onset, both Irwin and Wagner sought to field a successful team. In fact, both owners had a number of players already under contract by the meeting in June. Over the course of the next month, it seemed clear that despite the natural drawing power of the baseball players, the owners, fearing injuries, concluded they would not field any of their baseball stars in the ALPF. Ultimately, some baseball players would suit up for several of the soccer clubs, but they were in the minority. By the beginning of August, still in the midst of baseball season, many of the clubs had begun rounding up talent and forming their squads.

The baseball magnates formally created the ALPF on August 14, 1894 at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City. Irwin removed the interim title from his name and became president of the newly formed league. The new vendors of professional soccer, seeking to maintain their dominance within the sporting world, drew up a constitution mirroring that of their baseball league, which in effect gave them the utmost authority and left the players powerless after they put pen to paper. The owners confirmed the October to January schedule, ratified that the rules of the game, and set ticket prices at .25 and .50 cents, which was on par with what the National League charged for its baseball games. The league’s rules would be the same as those in England, save for a few minor tweaks, which, judging by the newspaper articles available seemed to include substitutions, something that was not allowed in the English League until the 1960s. In addition to the schedule and rules, the league also adopted a set of rules for the clubs uniforms. The home clubs were to wear a white uniform with black stockings, while the away clubs were to wear black or another dark color with white stockings. Lastly, the ALPF announced that Sunderland, then an English powerhouse, were to come stateside and play a series of exhibitions with its league members in 1895.

Washington Senators Manager Gus Schmelz
Despite the positivity emanating from the press, and the consistently emphatic language spewed by the owners, several factors seemed detrimental to the long-term success of the ALPF. First, the owners did not set a fixed schedule. Though the owners kept pushing an October to January schedule through the press, in reality the league could and would not begin until the end of the baseball season, which could, and did, drum on after October 1.  Additionally, the owners did not set specific game dates, only stating that they would try not to interfere with the college football schedule. In fact, well into October the league still did not have a season schedule stretching farther than the end of that month. 

Another act that seemed detrimental to the success of the league was that fact the owners refused to gather genuine soccer minds. The owners allowed the baseball managers to run the soccer clubs, though as you will see was not true for each of the six clubs. In Washington’s case, the manager of both sports was Gustavus, “Gus,” Schmelz.  This, in effect, was an attempt to keep baseball fans interested since the baseball players would not be participating in the new league, but, consequently, meant that fans would not witness the best tactics on display. In addition to retaining their baseball managers, the owners named the soccer clubs after their respective baseball clubs. This may seem odd to any American sports fan, but became common elsewhere in the world, with Real Madrid being a prime example of several sports falling under the umbrella of one club.

Outside opposition to league also existed in addition to these initial glaring oversights in the league’s creation. A little over a month after the announced formation of the ALPF, the American Football Association (AFA) the first governing body for the sport in the United States, barred any of its players from playing in the new league. The AFA, formed in 1884, oversaw the non-professional leagues throughout the East. The AFA had reason to worry, as the ALPF pulled many players from teams under their jurisdiction, including several of Washington’s players who J. Earl Wagner culled from the Trenton (NJ) Rovers and nearly all of the players competing for Brooklyn once suited up for the Fall River Rovers (MA). Ironically, the AFA’s opposition proved irrelevant after sides affiliated with the governing body engaged in friendly matches with the new professional clubs prior to the start of the ALPF season.

The Washington Senators

As previously mentioned, J. Earle Wagner, owner of the Washington Senators Baseball Club, in addition to President Irwin and Boston’s owner Arthur Soden, took the creation of the ALPF seriously from the first rumblings of its creation. This may, or may not, have been to the detriment of Washington’s baseball club, as they eventually finished 11th out of the 12 team National League posting a 45-87 record. By July 30, well before the official creation of the league, Washington had twelve of eighteen players under contract. The Washington Post featured a profile on these twelve “footballers” a short time later, which is something each city’s daily did to garner interest in the ALPF. Among the initial twelve players signed by August 5, were future captain and halfback John, D. Gallagher, and 5’4 ¼ ” goalkeeper John L. Kearns, who ultimately did not remain with the team. In addition to player profiles, each city’s press claimed that their city’s team were a quality eleven capable of winning the league, Washington was no exception. President, and Philadelphia Phillies owner, Irwin even proclaimed the Washington squad as quality prior to the start of the campaign, though no league president has ever publicly stated that teams competing within his start-up league were not quality, nor would any local press seek to turn off fans by writing about how terrible a team was.

Temple Cup

After several months of planning and the positive press emanating from the Washington Post, Washington’s roster final roster remained up in the air after announced start of the league on October 1. Washington was not the only club with a roster that remained unfilled. Each club within the league had holes within their roster for a variety of reasons. Inevitably, the National League baseball season delayed the start of the ALPF season with mangers, like Wagner, still tweaking his baseball roster while focusing on the soccer side of his club. Ultimately, the Temple Cup, the newly created championship of the National League, series dragged on until October 8 and postponed the announced start of the ALPF’s season. The inaugural Temple Cup Series is an entire story unto itself, with a feud over gate receipts, a fashionably late fixed schedule, and a rousing party welcoming the Baltimore baseball team in the city of Washington all happening prior to the ALPF season. Obviously, and perhaps from the owners perspective, understandably, the opening of the soccer season remained second fiddle to baseball. Within this atmosphere, the soccer entities, namely Washington, continued practicing, scrimmaging, and singing players.

National Park ca. 1905

Going into October, Gus Schmelz, Washington’s manager, had an idea of his squad’s makeup and the ground they would play on. Each soccer club played in the stadium of their baseball counterparts as these were the premier venues of their day. For Washington, this meant that the club played its home games at National Park, a site that the Howard University Hospital now occupies in Northwest, Washington, D.C. Wagner selected red, white, and black as the team’s colors, similar to D.C.’s current club D.C. United. The team’s uniforms consisted of “trousers of heavy white duck, the shirts of wide black and white stripes, and the skull caps, belts, and stockings of dark red.” To round out the uniform, the team had two sweaters, “the lighter one of solid red, and the heavier one of black and white horizontal stripes.”

Charlie Abbey
Washington Senators Centerfielder
and Footballer

Based on just the first twelve signings for the of Washington’s squad, we, today, would consider many of the players small. The tallest player of the first twelve to sign for Washington was halfback James Tiffany who stood just 5’7 ½” tall. Of the first twelve to sign with the club, ten remained with the club to open the season. Due to their collective height, Washington looked to utilize the players speed to compete in the league. In fact, Washington fielded several players that football experts of the day considered the fastest in the league. Joining manager Schmelz from the baseball side was Charlie Abbey, the only Senator to suit up for both baseball and soccer entities. The Post projected Abbey as a reserve keeper, but also mentioned his abilities in the field. He eventually saw action in defense. It was not until October 10, the day before Washington’s season opener, that the squad seemed finalized when their goalkeeper, John Lynch finally showed up to Nationals Park. With the team finally set, the opening game of Washington’s foray in the ALPF proved to be a rather pompous and celebrated affair.

So what became of the ALPF? Click here for part two.

In keeping with the format of my first post, I will list some of the sources I used in making this article here instead of using footnotes. A number of primary and secondary sources were used in the making of this post including: The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The New York Tribune, The Washington Post, The Washington Star, Ed Farnsworth's post concerning Philadelphia's ALPF HistorySteve Holroyd's History of the, as well as several other secondary sources.