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Christmas soccer in Philadelphia, 1912

Memories of Thanksgiving soccer matches were being replaced with anticipation of more holiday matches in the minds of area soccer fans as Christmas 1912 approached.

Christmas fell on a Wednesday that year and so provided a rare opportunity for a midweek match. The previous weekend had seen some 21 games across three leagues and several different divisions as well as eight exhibition games. Among those exhibition games were teams from the city’s Pennsylvania League and American League, who had no league game scheduled because of the first round of Philadelphia Challenge Cup ties. In cup play, Pennsylvania League champions Tacony were downed 2-1 by current league leaders Victors at Third and Lehigh, their second victory over the Sawmen of the season. Earlier in the year, the Victors had advanced as far as the semifinals of the 1911-1912 American Cup, playing eventual Cup winners the West Hudsons to two draws before losing the third game 1–0 in extra time.

Continuing a tradition of holiday matches that stretched back at least to the late 1880s, Christmas Day 1912 would feature more first round Challenge Cup matches as well as league matches. But two exhibition games stood out on the schedule: Allied League leader Bethlehem would be hosting an Allied League Best XI while Hibernian would be hosting Brooklyn’s Clan MacDonald, who had finished second in the New York’s top league two years in a row.

There was history between Hibernians and the Brooklyn team. After first playing to a 3–3 draw, Hibs had defeated the MacDonalds 2–1 in the quarterfinals of the 1911 American Cup on their way to the Cup final where they were downed 3–1 by Howard & Bullough of Rhode Island. It was sure to be a great match.

And then around 11pm on Dec. 23 it began to snow.

White Christmas

While the headline of the Dec. 25 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer read “A Merry Christmas,” the lead stories were about the effects of the winter storm that had continued through Christmas Eve.

Nine hours after the American Line steamship Merion’s 10am departure from its berth at the foot of Washington Avenue on Christmas Eve with 136 passengers aboard bound for Liverpool it collided with the inbound Norwegian steamship Oceano and had to be beached in order for emergency repairs to be made for a return to Philadelphia. Meanwhile, eighty-seven passengers and crew aboard the fruit steamer Turrialba fought for their lives after the ship, bound for New York from the West Indies, grounded 12 miles north of Atlantic City. The Inquirer reported that a “blinding northeast snowstorm flung before a thirty-mile gale” had driven the stricken ship eight miles down the coast from where she had first beached before finally coming to rest in shallow water at Brigantine.

Hibs v VictorsPhiladelphia, covered in nearly eight inches of snow, was at a standstill on Christmas Eve. An Dec. 25 article in the Inquirer entitled “City in storm’s grip battles in vain with snow” described streets in the central section of the city as being “almost impassable.” The article continued, “With no contract for the work and no appropriations made by Councils, the Department of Public Works was caught unprepared. Teams and men were secured on credit to remove the snow, but despite their efforts little headway was made.”

Needless to say, the snow put into doubt the soccer games scheduled to take place throughout the city.

Christmas soccer…?

The morning edition of the Inquirer reported on Dec. 25, “Already there are a vast number of important games that were scheduled for this morning and afternoon, but the majority of them have been called off on account of the various grounds being unplayable.” Among the cancelled games was the exhibition game in Bethlehem, which had been called off on Christmas Eve night.

Hibernian had also cancelled the inter-city match against Clan MacDonald. But arrangements had been made to play Pennsylvania League rivals Victors. It promised to be an exciting contest for, less than two weeks before on Dec. 14, Hibs had handed Victors their first loss off the season, defeating them 1–0 at the Hibernian grounds at 2nd and Allegheny Avenue. The Inquirer reported, “The Hibernian management is making preparations to have the ground cleared of the recent snow so that the players will not be handicapped by playing on a heavy ground.”

…Twas not to be.

The efforts of the Hibernian management proved not to be enough. As the Inquirer reported on Dec. 26,  “[T]he grounds were covered in snow at least five inches deep, and despite the fact that the Hibernian management tried to get the snow cleared in time for the contest by carting it away, the task proved too difficult, and a large crowd of spectators which had gathered at the various entrances to the grounds were disappointed when the management of the two clubs decided to cancel the game.”

Not that it was worth dwelling on the subject. Third round play in the American Cup was to begin on Dec. 28 with Hibernian hosting the Newark Caledonians and Tacony traveling to face Jersey City the next day. And on New Years Day, Victors would be playing New York Celtic in an exhibition game.





  1. Dig this history stuff, man!

  2. Very cool.

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