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.