Featured / Philadelphia Soccer History

Philly and the international friendly, part 1

As has been previously described on the PSP, the friendly has historically been an important opportunity for the transmission of new football tactics. It’s also a great way for clubs and federations to make some money and for hitherto unknown players to be seen by top clubs. From the fan’s perspective, the friendly is often a rare opportunity to see top flight international soccer and also serves as an important community builder, whether those communities are ethnic groups that identify with particular international clubs or the soccer community as a whole.

From 1905 through 1970, Philadelphia was a regular stop when international teams–some of them national teams but most of them club teams—came to tour North America for a series of international friendlies. With the understandable exception of the war years of the First and Second World Wars and the time of the Great Depression, Philadelphia-area soccer fans could see teams the list of which is as storied as it is long: Atlante, Bari, Besiktas, Celtic, Charlton Athletic, Corinthian FC, Dundee, Dunfermline, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hakoah All-Stars, Hamburg, Inter Milan, Kaiserslautern, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Nacional, Nottingham Forrest, Plymouth Argyle, Sheffield United, Sunderland, and Wolverhampton. Several years featured multiple friendlies sometimes within weeks of one another.

After 1974, Philadelphia would not play host to a friendly involving major international clubs until the USMNT played the Dnepr team of the Soviet Union in August of 1989 in front of 43,000 fans at Franklin Field.

Beginning in 1919 and as late as 1964, Philadelphia teams also embarked on international tours of their own. With the exception of the training and recruiting tour of the newly formed Philadelphia Atoms in 1973, this would not be repeated until the Philadelphia Union traveled to Mexico for some preseason friendlies in the winter of 2010.

The first international friendlies

The international friendly has always been important in the history of football as a marker for the progression of the culture of soccer around the world. The first friendly, between Scotland and England at the West of Scotland Cricket ground in Patrick, Scotland—an area of Glasgow—took place on November 30, 1872. The match was seen by some 4,000 spectators and resulted in a 0–0 draw.

The first national team friendlies involving US teams were also the first friendlies to take place outside of Britain. In 1885 and 1886, the US and Canada one game each year. Though not recognized by the US Soccer Federation as having been full internationals, the Canadians won the first match 1–0 and the US won the second match 3–2. Both games took place in East Newark, New Jersey at Clark Field, the home grounds of the ONT club, one the great early clubs in the history of US Soccer.

The first international friendlies in Philadelphia

Inquirer cartoon from November 7, 1909 about the All-Philadelphia soccer team's 9-0 loss to the Pilgrims

The All-Philadelphia team takes its licks in the Inquirer. The headline says it all.

The first records of an international friendly in Philadelphia are found in the archives of Germantown Academy which describes a match between players from the school and the “touring Bromhead Football Club of England” in 1877. While the Germantown Academy’s archives show the English team won, personal correspondence with the National Football Museum in England has uncovered no records of the Bromhead club, although they were very interested to hear of the account.

Local Philadelphia newspaper accounts in the 1890s contain multiple references to potential tours of the US by English clubs, but none got farther than the realm of possibility. Still, increasingly affordable trans-Atlantic passage combined with a well developed local, regional and national rail system meant that international soccer teams could more easily and profitably come to America by the turn of the 20th Century.

In 1901, the first international soccer friendly in Philadelphia took place on October 8 at Belmont Cricket Club, which was located in West Philadelphia on Chester Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. The game featured players from the touring B. J. T. Bosanquet cricket team against a team representing Belmont. “The Gentleman of England” defeated “the Gentlemen of Philadelphia” 6–0.

In 1905, the Pilgrims, a club largely made up of gentleman amateur players, first came to the US with the express purpose teaching North America how to play football properly. In that first tour, the Pilgrims scored 72 goals while conceding only seven, losing but one game out of twelve played over two months.

In Philadelphia, they faced a team of University of Pennsylvania students and alumni in front of 3,000 to 4,000 spectators at Franklin Field. The Pilgrims won 10–0. This process of a Philadelphia-picked team, rather than a longstanding club team, being destroyed by a touring team would be, as we shall see, regularly repeated. The New York Times, which put the crowd at 5,000, said most of the student spectators “were devotees of the intercollegiate football game” and were “a hypercritical crowd, too, as it evidently looked upon the imported game as an invader.” The crowd was “derisive in their cheering. This was not aimed at the visitors, but at the sorry showing of Penn’s team.”

When the Pilgrims returned in 1909, they played three matches in Philadelphia. As described in an earlier PSP article, although two of the three matches resulted in victories for the Pilgrims, the Hibernian club of Kensington gave the Pilgrims their first loss of the 1909 tour. The Inquirer reported following the 1–0 victory that “there was great rejoicing in Kensington last night over the victory of the Irishmen, and the defeat of the tourists will give a great boost to local football.”

Those other promoters of a particular strand of gentleman amateur English football, the Corinthians—they visited South Africa in 1897 and 1903, Central Europe and Scandanavia in 1904, Brazil in 1910—first came to the US in 1906. They faced an All-Philadelphia XI on September 3, 1906 and defeated them 12–0 in front of some 7000 spectators. The Inquirer reported that while the home team “made the visitors hustle for their points”, the Philadelphia goalkeeper “was simply useless.” Apparently he wasn’t as clueless as the next Philadelphia keeper who faced the Corinthians. When the club returned to Philadelphia on September 19, 1911, the Corinthians won 19–0.

US National team and Bethlehem Steel FC travel to Scandinavia

There were no international tours to the US after Corinthian FC’s visit in 1911 through the First World War. While hostilities had begun in 1914, in 1916 the US was a neutral and the United States Football Association, founded in 1913 and the original name of the United States Soccer Federation, organized a tour to Norway and Sweden. The US side featured several Philadelphia-area based players including C.H. Spaulding of Philadelphia Disston as well as Thomas Murray and Neil Clarke of Bethlehem Steel FC.

Bethlehem Steel working out on board ship en route to Scandinavia. Photo courtesy of Daniel Morrison.

The tour opened with a 1–1 draw against a Stockholm all-star team. The next match was the first officially recognized US international, played in front of 21,000 against a side picked by the Sweden Football Association. It was a tight match played in rainy conditions but the US won 3–2 and the US would end the tour with a 3–1–2 record. When they beat a team of all-stars from Gothenburg 2–1, several US players were attacked by local fans during a pitch invasion after the final whistle.

Bethlehem Steel FC, arguably the greatest soccer team in the US for much of the 1910s and 1920s, traveled to Scandinavia in 1919 with a squad that included six guest players from other clubs, including the legendary Archie Stark. In the twenty year history of the club, Bethlehem Steel won nine league championships, six National Challenge Cups (the forerunner to the present US Open Cup) and six American Cups. The team played 14 games in Sweden and Denmark  between August and September 1919, and returned home with a record of seven wins, two losses and five draws. The tour to Scandinavia apparently was profitable enough for a handpicked St. Louis team to make the trip in 1920. Albert Blakey, who had been on the 1916 US team and the 1919 Bethlehem team, played for the St. Louis side as a guest.

Friendlies in Philadelphia leading up to the Second World War

The formation of the American Soccer League (ASL) produced what has been called the Golden Age of US Soccer in the 1920s, with professional soccer drawing crowds in the tens of thousands and soccer being second only to baseball as the most popular professional team sport in the US. With a well organized and popular league covering much of the northeast of the US, the opportunities for international clubs to make money in the off season in front of large crowds were great. US clubs wouldn’t do so bad themselves.

The first international club team to make the trip to the US after the First World War was an All-Scotland team sponsored by the Third Lanark club of Glasgow in 1921. They played two matches against Philadelphia-area opposition, defeating Bethlehem Steel 8–1 on July 13 and the Philadelphia Field Club 3–1 three days later.

In 1924, Corinthian FC returned to the US to play a five game tour in the first two weeks of September. Four of the five matches took place in Philadelphia. Corinthian defeated the Philadelphia Freebooters 8–1 in the first match on September 1. Four days later, Philadelphia SC secured a 1–1 draw. A team made up of players from the Philadelphia Cricket Club League lost 7–1 three days later. The last match of the tour was against Haverford College, who lost 3–0. Brooklyn Wanderers managed a 1–1 draw in between.

In 1926, the Hakoah All-Stars—the all-Jewish team from Vienna—came to the US. Their match against against the New York Stars was attended by some 46,000 spectators, a record that would stand until the heady days of the New York Cosmos more than 40 years later. The last match of the tour was against the Philadelphia Field Club and was won by the visitors 3–0.

Hakoah All-Stars in 1925

1927 would include the return of Hakoah All Stars as well as visits by Maccabi FC of Tel Aviv and Nacional of Uruguay. Hakoah opened its tour against Bethlehem and Philadelphia Stars, losing both matches by the score of 9–0 and 2–1 respectively. Hakoah got its revenge against Philadelphia Stars later in the tour when the beat them 7–1.

(Throughout the rest of this article, references will be made to “Philadelphia Stars” and other “Stars” teams.  These are not some forgotten, longstanding team but simply what the picked Philadelphia team that played the touring team was called. The squad was likely made up of a cross section of popular Philadelphia teams. While a selection of all-stars may have helped increase ticket sales, the team was unlikely to have had much time to prepare for a match.)

Maccabi played a combined New York Giants/Bethlehem side in New York City early in their tour which resulted in a 1–1 draw. Later in Philadelphia they defeated the Philadelphia Stars 7–1. Nacional defeated Philadelphia 4–1.

An Italian all-star team made up of players from Bologna, Brescia, Genoa, Leghorn, Milan, Padoga, Rome and Turin toured the US in 1928. The Palestra Italia FC team defeated the Philadelphia Stars 8–3 the second game of the tour.

The first US tour by Celtic happened in 1931. Despite taking place in the depths of the Great Depression and the American Soccer Wars, the tour was a huge success with crowds at some venues being as large as 30,000. Quoting David Potter, the author of Willie Maley: The Man Who Made Celtic, David Wangerin writes that this was in some part due to the presence of so many Irish and Scottish exiles in the US, people who had been forced to flee their home countries after the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and the “Red Clydeside” labor disturbances at the end of the First World War and in the years immediately following: “To them, the visit of Celtic meant absolutely everything.”

After landing a day late due to poor weather at sea, the Celtic tour kicked off in Philadelphia against a team comprised of Eastern Pennsylvania amateurs, an “East Penn and District 1” XI. Some 12,000 crowded into Frankford Stadium at Frankford Avenue and Deveraux Street, home of the Frankford Yellow Jackets of the  National Football League. Celtic won 6–1. Said Celtic captain Jimmy McStay after the match, “we did not feel that we had to extend ourselves to the full.”

Audax SC of Chile came to the US in 1933. They defeated the Philadelphia Americans 8–3 on October 21.

In 1935 the Scotland national team kicked off its North American tour in Philadelphia with a 3–0 victory over the Philadelphia German American team. The following year Maccabi returned to the US and played Philadelphia Passon twice over the course of the tour. Maccabi won the first match 1–0 but Passon won the return match 2–0.

Charlton Athletic became the first professional team from England to play in Philadelphia when they toured the US in 1937. Predictably, they beat the East Penn Stars 7–0 when they came to town on June 26. Aside from a brief tour by a rather weak Scottish national team (that actually included a Welshman and an Englishman on the roster) in 1939 which did not make a stop in Philadelphia, this would be the last tour by a European club in the United States until after Second World War.

Clubs from the Caribbean and Central America did tour the US during the early in the war. Just three months before the US entered the war in December of 1941, the Puentes Grandes club from Cuba toured the US, playing two matches against Philadelphia teams. On September 3, the match against the Philadelphia Nationals ended in a 2–2 draw. On September 15, the Philadelphia Americans lost 4–2. In 1942 the Mexican club Atlante FC lost to the Philadelphia Stars 3–2. It would be the last international friendly in Philadelphia until 1946.

Part 2

A version of this post originally appeared on July 20, 2010 before the Philadelphia Union v Manchester United match.

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