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Christmas soccer in 1890s Philadelphia

In the beginning days of league soccer in Philadelphia, games were almost exclusively played on Saturday afternoons. Primarily, this was due to the simple fact that players were not professionals and so had to work for a living. For most players this would mean working in factory jobs in Philadelphia’s textile mills. Understandably, many players would have been too tired to play regularly scheduled competitive soccer matches after a ten or twelve hour workday. Even if players weren’t too tired after work, because league play took place in the fall and winter months—when days are short and nightfall begins early—the absence of  lighted fields would have ruled out Monday through Friday matches.

The one day of the week which most workers would have had off was Sunday. However, Pennsylvania’s blue law of 1794 (a law which would remain in effect until 1934) prohibited “all sports and diversions” on Sundays. So, with work on Saturdays for most players being likely to end around noon, Saturday afternoon was the only time of the week available for matches. The general exception to Saturday games was holidays matches, particularly on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The first seasons of league soccer in Philadelphia
David L. Gould

David L. Gould

The inaugural 1889 season of Philadelphia’s first soccer league, the Pennsylvania Football Union—renamed the Pennsylvania Association Football Union (PAFU) in 1890—featured two Christmas matches. The Philadelphia Football Club and the Kensington Rovers met at the Athletic Baseball grounds, which was located at 26th and Jefferson. Philadelphia also played an exhibition match “according to association rules” later that afternoon at Stenton Field at Wayne Junction.

There were six Christmas games in 1891. The Frankford v Enterprise match ended in a 1-1 draw and North End walloped Athletics 4-0. The Oxford club had a busy day. They played two matches against a team that had traveled from Wilkes Barre, one of the earliest recorded inter-city matches to take place in Philadelphia. Both games ended in draws: one was a 1-1 draw, the other a 0-0 draw. A third game against Tacony ended, perhaps unsurprisingly, with a 2-0 victory for Tacony. The day marked the beginning of a “Second Eleven Championship Contest,'” or reserves championship, an event significant in itself for showing that some clubs had enough members interested in playing soccer that they could field multiple teams. That match featured the Crescentville team and the Oxford reserves and was won by Crescentville 1-0.

Because Christmas fell on a Sunday in 1892, Athletic and Oxford met on Christmas Eve. With “a layer of snow on the ground” so that “players had a hard task keeping their feet,” Athletic won the match 3-0.

1893 saw a Christmas match between Wakefield and Smearsburg, two neighborhoods in Germantown, the first of which was the site of a mill and a certain source of those early Philadelphia soccer players, immigrant British textile workers. The Inquirer described the Smearsburg side as coming from “the lower end of Germantown.” One wonders if perhaps the two teams, who were undoubtedly composed of British immigrants, were invoking the “uppies versus downies” tradition of British folk football, in which a team from the upper part of a town would play a team from the lower part of a town, in this “long-talked-of association football match.”

Attendance increases and inter-city play, but economic depression halts progress
Douglas T. Stewart

Douglas T. Stewart

The next few years saw an increase in spectators at matches as well as the briefly lived first professional soccer league in the US, the American League of Professional Football (ALPF) which included the Philadelphia Phillies-backed team. But the economic turmoil of the decade made it difficult for clubs to remain reliably active in league competition and the PAFU appears to have disbanded after 1895.

Nevertheless, a Christmas match in 1894 between Manayunk’s Jefferson team and Philadelphia Celtic was played at Washington Park. Jefferson scored first with a penalty kick. Celtic managed to score for a draw thanks to “a fine piece of combination work by Ryder, Caldwell and Grey.”

Two games were played on Christmas in 1895. One match featured “the strong Athletics,” the then current “champion amateurs of the state” against “the old-time Philadelphia team.” The Athletics won 2-1.

The second match was significant for being an inter-city match featuring the Scottish Americans, described in one report as “champions of New Jersey” and in another as “champions of Newark, N.J.” Philadelphia was represented by the Manz team, which had evolved from the Philadelphia team organized by Clement Beecroft. The game was billed as “the championship of the two cities” and it was won by Manz 3-2 in front of some 1000 spectators at the Germantown Ball Park.

The Manz team

The Manz team included David L. Gould, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1953. Gould had a long soccer career in Philadelphia. When he retired from playing he became an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania under Douglas T. Stewart, whom Gould had played for at Philadelphia Thistle. Gould, whose coaching resume eventually included being the coach of the 1934 US World Cup team in Italy, was at Penn until ill-health forced him to retire in 1938. He was replaced by Jimmy Mills, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1954.

Among his many achievements, Mills coached the legendary Philadelphia Nationals team that included Walt Bahr and Ed McIlvenny, both inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976. Bahr and McIlvenny were on the US team that defeated England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

Jimmy Mills

Jimmy Mills

Stewart, who was himself inducted into the National Hall of Fame in 1950, coached Penn from 1910 until 1942. Under his guidance, the University of Pennsylvania became a soccer powerhouse, winning numerous Intercollegiate Association Football League, Intercollegiate Soccer Football Association and Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Soccer League championships. Both Gould and Stewart were long involved with the Referees Association, which Stewart founded in 1904. Stewart also had a hand in organizing the United States Foot Ball Association, now known as the United States Soccer Federation, in 1913.

In 1896, Christmas Day featured yet another inter-city match, this time between Manz and the Kearney Athletics of Newark. The game ended with a 3-1 loss for the Manz team, their first in two years. The Inquirer reported that it was “a bitterly fought contest” and that Kearney “had advantage in weight and their play was not as clean as it might be.” The Inquirer continued, “In fact Referee Crowhurst declared that if the game had been a cup contest instead of a friendly encounter he would have  certainly disqualified two of the Kearney players. Unfavorable comments in regard to some of the Kearney kickers were heard among the spectators.”

Manz immediately returned to their winning form and, just five months later on May 24th, 1897, won the American Challenge Cup.

A version of this article first appeared on December 24, 2009.

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