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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!

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    King Regards