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New Year’s Day soccer in Philadelphia, 1913

A winter storm on Christmas Eve 1912 had blanketed Philadelphia with nearly eight inches of snow and resulted in the cancellation of the many scheduled Christmas Day games in and around the city. But with Christmas falling that year on a Wednesday, area soccer fans could look forward to a quick turnaround for Saturday’s scheduled games, which include a slate of games from the three divisions of the Allied American Football Association, Philadelphia Junior League and Northeast Junior League games, as well as inter-city matches between Brooklyn’s Crescent Athletic and Belmont Cricket Club and Staten Island Cricket and Football Club and the Philadelphia Cricket Club. The weekend’s big matchups would see Hibernian hosting the Caledonians of Newark, NJ at Second and Allegheny on Saturday and Tacony on the road to play Jersey City on Sunday in third round American Cup ties. And on New Years Day the following Wednesday, Pennsylvania League leaders Victors were scheduled to host New York Celtics at the grounds at Third and Lehigh in an exhibition game. At the Second and Allegheny, Hibernian would be hosting Brooklyn Celtic, amateur champions of New York State.

Philadelphia soccer boosters had good reason to feel proud. A review of the game’s progress in the Dec. 29, 1912 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, “Soccer football during the last year has gained legions of friends…It is nearly twenty-five years ago that the game was first played in this city, though it is only during the last six or seven years that it has made such headway, until at the present time there are over 100 clubs alone in this city.”

While for fans a quick turnaround from the cancelled Christmas games would mean there would be little waiting for new games to attend, for the clubs it meant there was little time to clear area grounds of snow, a situation that was made worse when more than an inch of rain fell between Dec. 26-27. The headline of an article in the Saturday morning edition of the Inquirer on Dec. 28 made the matter clear: “Outlook Bad For Soccer: Few Games Will Likely Be Played This Afternoon.”

American Cup game goes ahead in Philadelphia

As it turned out, ground conditions saw the cancellation of every scheduled game in the city except for Hibernian’s American Cup match against Newark Caledonians. For the visitors, things got off to a poor start and went from bad to worse. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s match report on Dec. 29 described, “The Irishmen were the better team all through the game, as the Newarkers had to call upon the services of four substitutes to fill in at the last minute, and were only able to garner ten men after calling upon one of their ticket collectors to make the tenth man.” Pointing to the condition of the field, and claiming that the Hibernian management had not given sufficient notice that the game would be played so that only six of his regular starters was available, “Manager McHardy” announced before the game the his team was playing under protest.

Unsurprisingly, Hibernian were up 3–0 by the end of the first half.

The shorthanded Caledonians made a tactical switch for the second half and began playing  “the one back game,” which “nullified the efforts of the opposing forward line to get within striking distance as they were pulled up for offside play nearly every time they started their passing machinery into motion.”

The Caledonians also made a goalkeeping switch but neglected to tell the referee so that when the new goalkeeper handled the ball, a penalty kick was awarded. Incredibly, the keeper not only saved the penalty kick, he also saved the ensuing shot from his rebounded save. Hibernian added one more goal before the final whistle and the game ended 4–0.

Meanwhile, it was announced on Saturday night that the scheduled American Cup match between Tacony and Jersey City had been postponed “on account of the Jersey grounds being covered with seven inches of snow.”

Victors, Hibernian host two Celtics on New Year’s Day

The “large crowd of spectators” who gathered at the Third and Lehigh grounds for the inter-city exhibition game between Philadelphia Victors and New York Celtics on New Year’s Day were in for a treat. The Inquirer’s match report on Jan. 2, 1913 praised the visitors for showing “some of the best scientific stuff that has been exhibited on the Lehigh grounds this season, their short passing game, coupled with their combination, proved the outstanding features.” Additional praise was given to the spirit of play demonstrated by both sides. “It was a contest where roughness was eliminated entirely,” described the Inquirer, “”where both teams played the game in the proper spirit, which was generally commented upon from all sides of the field.”

The match also featured a player with connections to both teams. The Inquirer reported, “One of the best forwards on the field was Phillips, the centre forward of the New Yorkers, who also assists the Victors in their league games.” Phillips would score one of the Celtics 3 goals on the day but, in the end, it mattered little: Victors sunk 4 goals in the first half and finished 6–3 winners on the day.

The Inquirer noted that the final scoreline did not fairly reflect the run of play, “for the New Yorkers were little, if anything, inferior to the locals.” Simply, “The Pennsylvania champs through their ability to make use of their opportunities, for they proved more deadly in front of goal than what has been their wont in any game they have played this season, besides showing improved form.”

Meanwhile, Hibernian made quick use of Brooklyn Celtic, defeating them 5–2 in what the Inquirer match report kindly described as “one of the most interesting and scientifically played games that has been seen at Second street and Allegheny avenue this season.” Future National Soccer Hall of Famer Tommy Swords, who had not played in the American Cup game against Caledonians five days before, scored two of Hibernian’s goals.

Looking ahead

With the American Football Association, the governing body of the American Cup tournament, deciding that the result between Hibernian and Newark Caledonian should stand, the Philadelphia team was through to the semifinals. There they would face the winner of the match between Tacony and Jersey City, which had been rescheduled to be played on Jan. 5 at Jersey City’s home ground.

The Inquirer described that game as “one of the hardest and most exciting played here…one of those old time cup games which has made the English Cup tourney one of the features of the English soccer season.” Two minutes before the final whistle, Tacony’s “crack inside left” Miller scored the sole goal of the match, setting up a semifinal bout between the two crack Philadelphia teams on March 5 at Tacony Ball Park on New State Road and Unruh Street. Tacony would prevail 2–1 to host Paterson, NJ’s True Blues in the final on April 12. Weather was again a factor, this time more rain, and the 1,500 in attendance were fewer than expected. Tacony would squander a 2–0 lead and the True Blues would score a last minute equalizer to force a replay at the same grounds on April 19. After scoring first through a penalty kick to take a 1–0 lead, Tacony again conceded another last minute equalizer. The third and deciding game of the final was played at Morris Park in Newark on April 29 before 5,000 spectators. Again, Tacony took an early lead only to give up two quick goals at the start of the second half, the second of which came from a disputed handball. Unlike Tacony in the first two games, this time the home team would hold on to their lead and the True Blues ended the day American Cup champions.

Meanwhile, Victors, who had started the season so strongly in Pennsylvania League play, would be surpassed by Hibernian for the league title.


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