Archive for the ‘Philadelphia Soccer History’ Category

Philadelphia's own Tacony FC, winners of the 1910 American Cup

At the beginning of the 1909-1910 Pennsylvania League season, Kensington’s Hibernians, the reining league champs, seemed a sure bet to repeat as champions. But the Tacony team had other ideas. Led by what the Philadelphia Inquirer described as “the splendid half-back line” of team captain Hector McDonald, former Scotland junior international Robert Morrison, and Percy Potts, the Tacony team defeated the Hibs 2-0 on October 23, 1909. The Hibs would prove their resilience when they gave the visiting English team The Pilgrims the first loss of their 1909 tour a few days later, but Tacony would never look back in league play and would dethrone the Hibs as champs. Along the way they would also win the American Cup.

After a great burst of soccer in Philadelphia in the early 1890s, the late 1890s and early 1900s were a time of little growth and some retreat. The reason for this was the severe economic depression that swept through industrial America in the mid 1890s. The immigrant English, Irish and Scottish neighborhoods of Philadelphia that had been instrumental in establishing the city’s first leagues were particularly hard hit by the economic crisis. Clubs and leagues folded as their members faced the more pressing concerns of daily existence in a depression. (more…)


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It will probably come as no surprise that the history of English football snobbery directed toward America is almost as long as the history of the game itself. But such snobbery is not necessarily a bad thing. In 1905 and 1909 a team of gentleman amateurs called the Pilgrims landed in America to show the natives a thing or two about how the game ought to be played. Kensington’s own Philadelphia Hibernians had a few lessons of their own to share.

It probably goes without saying that because the Pilgrims were amateurs it didn’t mean they weren’t good. In the decades immediately following the creation of the FA in 1863 the amateur spirit had for a time been ascendant over attempts to create professional teams. When the FA legalized professionalism in 1885, followed soon after by the formation of the Football League in 1888, amateur teams could no longer expect to compete at the top flight. Amateur players could and the Pilgrims had many such players, including team captain Fred Milnes, who played for Sunderland, as well as players from Woolrich Arsenal (now known simply as Arsenal), Fulham, Notts County and Southampton. Philadelphia hadn’t fielded a professional team since the mid 1890s. (more…)

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This concludes the two-part “Great Philly Soccer Teams: Philadelphia Atoms.” You can read Part I here.

Before Atoms coach Al Miller took the young team to England to train and to scout for some British players to fill out the roster, back in Philadelphia, Atoms general manager Bob Ehlinger’s marketing skills were put into play. In addition to players,the team needed a name. So a name-the-team contest was held with the winner being awarded an all-expenses paid to the FA Cup Final. Press coverage was cultivated. Given the woeful state of Philadelphia professional sports at the time, the local press enthusiastically covered the new team. Favorable coverage was aided by the fact that throughout the season Miller proved to be a natural with the press.

The Atoms first game was away to the St. Louis Stars. Like the the Atoms, the Stars also fielded a squad filled with Americans, as they had done for years. It proved to be an inauspicious start as the Atoms lost 1-0 in front of a paltry 6,782 spectators. Concerns about whether the Atoms would be any good aside, some wondered if teams filled with Americans would be able to draw fans: with the exception of the Stars and Atoms, only 19 Americans were on the rosters of the other seven teams then in the NASL.

Steve Holroyd writes, “Skeptics around the league expected that the ‘Philadelphia Experiment’ would also fall flat. Philadelphia soccer fans thought otherwise: a league-record 21,700 fans went to the home opener at Veterans Stadium on May 11, “after a parade of 3,000 youngsters in full soccer dress welcomed the team.” The debut home game was against Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornado, a team that had won the NASL championship in 1971 and had made it to the semifinals in 1972. Though the match ended as a scoreless draw, the Atoms had shown they could hold their own against the league’s best. Throughout the season the fans kept coming. By the end of the season, attendance at Atoms games would be nearly twice the league average with 11,382 per game. (more…)

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Philadelphia Atoms LogoThe Philadelphia Atoms joined the NASL as an expansion team in 1973. They were the first expansion team to win a championship in its first year in any American professional sport. That they accomplished this with a squad managed by an American coach that was largely made up of Americans – many of whom were local products – led to the first Sports Illustrated cover to feature a soccer player. Their victory was in no small measure responsible for saving a then faltering NASL from dissolution.

Philadelphia soccer history has many important examples of teams that were backed by businesses: the John A. Manz team, who in 1897 became the first team from outside of  Southern New England/Northern New Jersey to win the AFA’s American Cup, was backed by a brewer; Bethlehem Steel FC, the most dominant team in American soccer of the 1910s and 1920s, by the steel company; Uhrik Truckers, winners of two ASL championships in the 1950s, by a trucking company. All of these teams, however, competed in leagues that were either amateur or semi-professional against teams that were largely backed by the kinds of ethnic social clubs that have contributed so much to American soccer history.

The Philadelphia Atoms were part of a new trend in American soccer toward professionalism in which teams, backed by business owners or groups, would have unprecedented media coverage on a national scale. The resulting soccer explosion of the 1970s led to the rapid expansion of youth soccer programs across the country. This in turn led to the movement of soccer into the national sport consciousness, the rise of the US national team as a legitimate power in world soccer, and the eventual establishment of a stable and growing professional league.  (more…)

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Ukrainian Nationals CrestThe Ukrainian Nationals, also known as “Tryzub” Philadelphia, played in the American Soccer League (ASL) from 1957 until 1970. Along the way they won six national championships, four U.S. Open Cups and two Lewis Cups. They won “the double”  – the league championship and U.S. Open Cup –  in 1961 and 1963. They won “the mini double” – the league championship and the league cup or Lewis Cup – in 1964.

Like so many teams in the history of soccer in Philadelphia, the Ukrainian Nationals’ beginnings can be traced to an ethnic social club. As the Philadelphia Ukrainians, they first took the field in 1950 and by 1956 had reached the finals of the National Amateur Cup, losing to St. Louis Kutis S.C. The Philadelphia Ukrainians decided to turn pro after that and joined the ASL for the 1957-58 season. For reasons that are at present unknown to me, the Philadelphia Ukrainians were suspended by the United States Soccer Football Association one week into the season. The Ukrainian Nationals were formed in their place, taking part of their name from the by now defunct Philadelphia Nationals. They went on to finish second in the ASL their first season. During their time in the ASL they never finished lower than third. (more…)

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In the years immediately following the codification of the rules of football in 1863, soccer as it was played would have borne little resemblance to the game we see today on television, let alone play informally with friends or formally in organized leagues. Some differences would have been obvious. For example, goal kicks weren’t introduced until 1869 and goalkeeper wasn’t a recognized position until 1872. Crossbars weren’t mandatory on goals until 1882 (tape or a section of rope was typical before then), nets weren’t required until 1892. It wasn’t until 1909 that the goalkeeper was required to wear a differently colored shirt than his teammates and not until 1912 was he restricted to handling the ball only in his own box.

As Jonathon Wilson explains in Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, what we think of a “shape,” or the formation or position of players on the pitch, and how this influences the development of tactics, would take several decades to approach even a basic form that would be recognizable today. By the time organized soccer began in Philadelphia in the late 1880s, the first soccer formation that would begin the mature development of the diverse tactics of the modern game, the 2-3-5, was firmly in place. (more…)

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It is very difficult to overstate the importance of the Lighthouse Boys Club not just in the history of soccer in Philadelphia but in the history of soccer in the United States. Aside from providing the richest source of soccer talent for Philadelphia clubs at all levels of the game for much of the 20th Century, Lighthouse also provided a model for the community-based soccer clubs that were intrinsic to the youth soccer boom that began in the 1970s and continues to grow to this day.

The Lighthouse Boys Club, which was established in 1897 at a building on Lehigh Avenue was itself a project of the social reform organization The Lighthouse. Founded by Esther W. Kelly Bradford, The Lighthouse can trace its beginnings to the establishment of a settlement house in Kensington in 1893. The purpose of the organization was to provide the residents of Kensington and North Philadelphia with “an alternative living and social space in which neighbors could mingle, train for employment, take advantage of educational opportunity and locate necessary resources for day-to-day living.” The absence of government assistance programs combined with the unstable economic climate of the late 19th century and early 20th century insured a valuable place for The Lighthouse in the community.

In the first month of the Lighthouse Boys Club’s existence, 350 boys joined. Membership grew so rapidly that by 1902 a new center was opened on Somerset Street. By 1924, the Boys Club had 19,000 members.

A wide range of activities was available for members of the Boys Club. But the activity that would bring it international recognition was soccer. (more…)

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