Philadelphia Soccer History

Philly vs Toronto, 1905

Soccer in Philadelphia in 1905 was continuing a boom that began when the Belmont Cricket Club of West Philadelphia hosted “Bosanquet’s XI,” an English cricket team touring the States, in an exhibition game of soccer on Oct. 8, 1901 at Belmont’s grounds at on Chester Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Despite a 6-0 loss by the “Gentlemen of Philadelphia” in what was the first international friendly played in the city, the game helped to re-energized a local soccer scene that had declined during the tough economic times of the late 1890s and also provided momentum that assisted in resumption of organized league play in the city.

That positive momentum was furthered when the touring English amateur side The Pilgrims came to Philadelphia for three games in in October of 1905. The local sides again showed their inexperience and the Pilgrims won by a cumulative total of 19-1, defeating an All-Cricket Club League Best XI 4-1 on Oct. 6 before breezing past an All-Philadelphia team made up of league players 5-0 on Oct. 7 and then trouncing a team made up University of Pennsylvania students and alumni 10-0 on Oct. 24. But the crowds had been strong for each game — the Inquirer reported that attendance for the All-Philadelphia match on Oct. 7 “was estimated to be around 15,000 persons” — and interest from area soccer fans in seeing the game played at its highest level was plainly evident.

That interest was rewarded when the Inquirer reported on Nov. 15 that the University of Toronto team would be visiting Philadelphia for a series of games over the Thanksgiving holiday. Describing the Toronto team as “the association football champions of Canada,” the Inquirer reported on Nov. 17, “While the Canadians are a fast team, they are not as strong as the Pilgrims.”

The Canadians would play three games over three days. On Thanksgiving Day morning on Nov. 30, they would face an All-Philadelphia team made up of players selected from member clubs of the Association Football Leagues of Pennsylvania — which was made up of teams from Philadelphia and vicinity and is also referred to as the Allied League in press reports — at Philadelphia Ball Park, the home of the Phillies that was later known as the Baker Bowl. This would be followed by a game against an All-Cricket Club League team at Wissahickon Heights in Chestnut Hill on Dec. 1 and then a final match against the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin Field on Dec. 2.

Galt FC in 1904. Photo courtesy of A More Splendid

Galt FC in 1904. Photo courtesy of A More Splendid

Interest in the game was compounded by the fact that the Galt FC team — Galt is located an hour and a half away from Toronto and was then the soccer capital of Canada — had won the soccer championship at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis. Never mind the fact that only three teams participated, each of them club teams, the other two being the Christian Brothers College and St. Rose teams of St. Louis. The Inquirer reported on Nov. 28 that Toronto goalkeeper J.H. Roberts had been with the Galt team that was one of only two Canadian teams that had defeated the Pilgrims in the recent tour. The Inquirer added, “Last year he played in this country against St. Louis and Chicago,” although he does not appear to have been on the Galt team that won at the Olympics.

All-Philadelphia vs. University of Toronto

The All-Philadelphia team that was to face the Toronto was a much stronger side than that which had faced the Pilgrims only weeks before. As Douglas Stewart wrote in the 1907 Spalding Guide, “the reason being that the players had nearly two months practice prior to that game, whereas in the game against the Pilgrims the Committee of Selection had to pick players on form displayed by them not less than four months before—that is, on form displayed during the preceding season.”

The All-Philadelphia side was made up of players from six of the strongest teams in the Allied League: Thistles, the British Americans, Hibernians, Falls, Corinthians, and the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad Athletic Association team. Among them was center half-back David Gould of the British Americans, the National Soccer Hall of Famer who would later serve for 27 years as coach of the University of Penn team and was also coach of the US team at the 1934 World Cup. The Inquirer reported on Nov. 29, “The team chosen for this match would assuredly have given the Pilgrims a very close game, as it is much stronger, and for this reason a fast and exciting game may be expected.”

With some grandiosity, the Inquirer said of the Toronto team, “The men realize that they will be pitted against the best in this city, the American home of ‘socker,’ and with this game goes the championship of the States.”

Some 3,000 spectators were on hand at Philadelphia Ball Park on Thanksgiving morning for the game. It was a chilly morning and the Inquirer reported in a look back on the game published on Dec. 10, “A surprisingly large number of ladies braved the wintry weather. One fair damsel kept herself warm by hugging her escort by way of applause whenever a good piece of play took place. There was quite a lot of good play.”

Although the Toronto team must have been weary after arriving by train in Philadelphia only the night before, they pressed the Philadelphia defense from the start, looking to take advantage of the wind at their backs. Philadelphia weathered the Toronto attack better than the field had the two previous days of rain and soon, the Inquirer match report of Dec. 1 said, “the backs, half-backs and forwards [were] working with machine-like precision.”

Philadelphia struck first ten minutes from the halftime whistle courtesy “of a beautiful shot” from inside right T. Green in a sequence that followed a free kick after a Toronto handball. The Inquirer reported, “First blood to Philadelphia, accompanied by enthusiastic cheers from the spectators.”

With the resumption of play for the second half, Philadelphia continued to press, with Green striking a shot off of the crossbar. A Canadian player was soon out with an injury. While the Laws of the Game forbade substitutions at that time, Toronto was allowed to replace the injured player “by courtesy of the Philadelphia captain.” Philadelphia scored its second goal shortly after, a header from inside left F. Highfield assisted by Gould.

While Toronto fought valiantly “to pierce the Philadelphia defense,” center forward A. Hickling put the game to bed “with a very clever shot.”

Final score: All-Philadelphia 3-0 University of Toronto.

Writing about the game on Dec. 3, the Inquirer declared it “a success in every way.” On Dec. 7, the Inquirer reported that the All-Philadelphia players would be receiving “suitable emblems” in recognition of their participation in the event. “The day following the game the money for the purchase of the souvenirs was handed over to the secretary of the Football Association of Pennsylvania.”

Interestingly, the Inquirer noted on Dec. 10 that the Toronto team had been penalized with large number of fouls during the game as “the visitors were not quite familiar with the English rules.” Soccer historian Colin Jose notes, “It seems that over time, teams in Ontario had begun playing to a somewhat different set of rules to those in use elsewhere, at least in Britain. These rules (or to give them their correct name – Laws), permitted more violent play than the laws in use in Britain —  laws that allowed for hacking at players’ legs and tripping, while it was quite alright to jump on the back of the player with the ball.” By the time the Dominion of Canada Football Association, today’s Canadian Soccer Association, was founded in 1912, Canadian teams were playing under the Laws of the Game recognized around the world.

All Cricket Club League vs. University of Toronto

The All-Cricket Club team had been the only Philadelphia team to score against the Pilgrims in October, and they came roaring out of the gates against Toronto, scoring in the first minute of play. But the visitors were undaunted and responded with “persistent attacks” on the home team’s goal. That persistence was rewarded when Toronto center forward J. Strachan was tripped in the box. Stachan took the ensuing penalty kick and the score was soon level at 1-1. Less than five minutes of play had passed.

While the spectators were primed “for more excitement” after such a beginning, the Inquirer reported on Dec. 2 that “neither team played up to form for the next twenty minutes.” And while each team eventually took turns in the attack, poor finishing saw the scoreline remain at 1-1 at the half.

Neither team left the field at the whistle and play was resumed immediately. For the next 30 minutes play was back and forth and the Inquirer reported, “it seemed quite on the cards that the game would end in a draw.” Perhaps, as they did with soccer, the Canadians also played cards to different rules for, with 15 minutes left to play, Strachan netted his second goal of the game to put Toronto up 2-1.

“After this reverse the Cricketers went to pieces,” the Inquirer reported, and five minutes after Strachan’s goal, inside right N. Ressor made it 3-1. The visitors were not finished, however, and, going “about their work with grim determination,” continued to press for another goal. Inside left G.W. Williams soon made it 4-1 and Toronto “ran out easy winners.”

Given that the game was played on a Friday workday, the Inquirer unsurprisingly noted on Dec. 10, “The spectators were very enthusiastic, although not numerous.”

University of Pennsylvania vs. University of Toronto
Ad from the Dec. 2 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ad from the Dec. 2 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The University of Pennsylvania team had only been playing together for two months, and the 10-0 loss to the Pilgrims a month before showed they had a long way to go before they would become a competitive side. The Inquirer reported on Dec. 2, “Although the Torontonians should win out, they will find the Pennsylvania eleven no easy proposition.” Still, for Toronto, this was the most important game of their tour. “They hope to win out and thus clinch their hold on the title of intercollegiate champions of America.”

In the end, Toronto were 5-1 winners, although the Inquirer match report on Dec. 3 was quick to point out, “The University of Pennsylvania socker footballers put up a much better game against the University of Toronto than the score of 5 to 1 goals indicates. While the Canucks never had to exert themselves to win, the local men played a good game of association football in the face of big odds, especially in the last half.”

With Toronto content “to just kick the ball along the field without scoring,” Penn never threatened the visitors goal in the first half, which ended 2-0 in favor of the Canadians. The Inquirer reported, “Penn played much better game in the second half, notwithstanding they were scored on for three goals.” Penn scored its lone goal of the game fifteen minutes into the second half “on a well placed kick” from center forward H.H. James. The Inquirer reported, “The goal was well earned and merited the applause that the crowd accorded the feat.” After that, Toronto got down to work and tallied three goals, one of which was an own goal, for the final 5-1 scoreline.

The Inquirer reported that the crowd of “1,500  enthusiasts” was made up entirely of “out-and out Penn adherents” who nevertheless were “forced to applaud the Canadians for their skillful work.”

The Inquirer described on Dec. 10, “The Toronto team admired the pluck of the Pennsylvanians. Manager Reid highly praised the manner in which the Penn players stuck to their guns. In fact the whole of the Toronto team expressed themselves as delighted and surprised at the knowledge of the game shown by the Penn players.”  The Inquire concluded, “Penn was beaten but not disgraced. Well played, Penn.”

Philadelphia soccer, after so much promise in the 1890s, was beginning to again find its way. Over the next ten years, the city and surrounding area would become arguably be the strongest soccer scene in the US. During that time, Hibernians would defeat the Pilgrims when they returned for a second American tour, Corinthians would pay the city the first of several visits, Tacony would win the American CupBethlehem Steel would begin its quest to becoming the strongest side of the era, picking up their first American Cup and National Challenge Cup championships along the way, and Tacony and Bethlehem would embark on American tours of their own.

In the meanwhile, there was much to learn, including matters a simple as spelling. As the Inquirer noted on Dec. 7, “In the December number of the American Cricketer appears an article dealing with the origin of the term ‘soccer.’ The writer explains how it originated and emphasizes the fact that it is not spelled with a k.”


  1. Let’s hope that the Union fans are not “forced to applaud the Canadians for their skillful work” again. Realistically, I think that such applause for any visiting team is a little less likely in this day and age.

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    “…laws that allowed for hacking at players’ legs and tripping, while it was quite alright to jump on the back of the player with the ball.”

    Maybe Farfan still plays by these rules… Ha!

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