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Philly soccer, 100 years ago today

As the days of March moved toward April in 1911, readers of the Philadelphia Inquirer began to turn to reports from “the Inquirer’s Ambassador” at the Philadelphia Phillies training camp in Birmingham, Alabama, where they could learn that newly acquired pitcher Jack Rowan “is at least 18 pounds overweight.” Rowan’s “heroic methods” for reducing his weight included “running around the park with a rubber undershirt and several sweaters on and a vigorous kicking of an association football.”

At the end of one training session, the March 8 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, Rowan reported he had lost six pounds.

Back in Philadelphia, Tacony FC and Philadelphia Hibernian, the two remaining local teams in the American Football Association’s American Cup competition, prepared to meet Ansonia FC of Connecticut and Howard and Bullough FC of Rhode Island in the semifinals on March 4. While both teams prepared for the American Cup, each had Pennsylvania League play to think about as well.

1911 American Cup Semifinals

Tacony were the reigning American Cup champs and had defeated Wilberforce FC and Philadelphia Thistle to reach the semifinals. Philadelphia Hibernian had defeated Jersey AC and the professional team Clan MacDonald of the New York State Football Association. Anticipation for a possible all-Philadelphia final was great.

“The followers of the game in this city are jubilant over the prospects of two local teams being left in the tourney, and are counting on either the Hibernians or Tacony to win the cup for this old berg,” reported the February 20 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Let’s hope the Hibernians and Tacony win their next round,” the article concluded, “which will give the dribbling code the biggest boom it has ever had since it was first introduced in this city.”

Alas, for Tacony, it was not to be. Traveling away to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Tacony lost 2–1 to Howard & Bullough.

But for Philadelphia Hibernian, the quest for the Cup was still alive.

The Ansonia team were the reining champions of the Connecticut League and had yet to lose a match in league play in the 1910-1911 season. Composed of “fast, gritty players,” Ansonia had arrived in Philadelphia to face Hibernian confident of their chances in “eliminating the Irishmen from the tourney.”

Detail from Inquirer cartoon from March 8, 1911 showing Phillies pitcher Jack Rowan training with a soccer ball. "The heavyweights are giving the old soccer ball an awful battle."

Their confidence was misplaced.

The match was held at Second and Allegheny. “Playing unbeatable ball,” the Inquirer reported, “the ‘Hibs’ gave one of their best displays and it is a question if there is a team in the country could have lowered their flag.”

With “their forwards combining like clockwork,” Hibernian went ahead 1–0 on a goal from Godfrey at inside right with eight minutes left in the first half. Ansonia answered just before the half time whistle “with a long high one from Simcox.”

Whereas the visitors had benefited from the wind in the first half, Hibernian had the wind at their backs in the second “and it seemed only a question of how many points the homesters would score.” Unfortunately,  inside left Smith “seemed to have left his shooting boots in the dressing room” and center forward Gallagher “also was off form in finding the net.” It was up to Godfrey to add another goal to his tally, with right fullback Danks scoring one more to finish the match 3–1 for the home team.

In this era of no substitutions, Ansonia had played part of the second half with only ten men, “Miller having to leave the field on account of a bad attack of cramps.” Still, the Inquirer reported, “the Hibernians will  take some beating in the final game if they repeat the form they displayed in yesterday’s game, and it is more than likely that they will win the cup for the first time in their career.”

Not their opponents seemed daunted. On March 28, the Inquirer reported that “Manager Love of Howard and Bullough is of the opinion that his team will not have much difficulty in trimming the ‘Hibs.'”

All would be decided on April 9 at the Championship final in Newark.

Pennsylvania League play

The 1910 American Cup winning Tacony FC

Although Tacony was out of the American Cup, they were still top of the Pennsylvania League when they faced Collingwood at Fairhill Ball Park at State Street and Lehigh on March 11, 1911. The “Collies” had upset Philadelphia Celtic the week before. They produced another upset with a 4–2 win over Tacony, their first league loss in two years.

Hibernian continued their good form with a 5–0 win over Celtic. Godfrey scored two of the goals and this time Gallagher found the net twice.

The league standings published in the Inquirer on March 13, 1911 showed Hibernian at the top of the Pennsylvania League with the Tacony “Reds” in second with two games in hand. Their meeting on March 18 at Tacony Ball Park at State and Unruh Street thus took on the feel of a championship game. The Inquirer reported on the day of the match that Tacony was “bent on taking revenge on the Irishmen” for their losses in the American Cup and to Collingwood in league play while the Hibernian “players are in great shape and bank on winning the game.” The two previous meetings between the teams had ended in draws.

In the end, it was Tacony who showed “splendid combination” while Hibernian seemed “unable to get going in the first period.”

Tacony took the lead after only five minutes of play when “fine headwork” from Montieth put the ball to Kemp to score. The Inquirer’s match report said “although the ball was just over the line Referee Phillips, who was close in, had no alternative than to allow the goal.” The decision “did not meet with the approval of the majority of the spectators, but there was no denying the fact that the goal was legitimate.”

Hibernian equalized on a corner kick from Smith. “The shot seemed easy, but Goalkeeper James, who was having his first tryout in a league contest, seemed to be taken unawares and made no effort to stop the shot.”

But Tacony went ahead again when Hibernian left fullback Wilson whiffed a clearance, which allowed Tacony center forward McDonald “to have a clear try for goal, which he made no mistake with the opportunity, [Hibernian goalkeeper] O’Donnel not having the semblance of a chance of stopping it from going into the net.”

A hand ball by Tacony left fullback Allen—”It was evident to all who were near Tacony’s goal that Allen had committed a breach of the rules”—was not seen by the referee, depriving Hibernian of a penalty kick and a chance to tie the game.

The Inquirer described “the game was fast,” but that “there was entirely too much fouling on both sides.” With a defense that had difficulty containing Tacony’s fast combination work, the match report concluded that Hibernian “will have to show decided improvement when they tackle Howard and Bullough in the American Cup final to win the trophy.”

Hibernian had a little more than three weeks to improve.


  1. I always enjoy reading these… thanks for posting them!

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