Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New England Soccer History: Part 1

As mentioned before, we have been working on a piece to help bring the heritage of this game back to it's fans in New England. This area has a rich soccer history, which dates back to the origins of not only the game in this country, but also the development of the actual game itself. Soccer in this country has had a rough time mostly because of stigma's that are not justified. People believe the sport to be new and invasive. When in reality it has been here as long, and in most cases longer, than the sports we have adopted as our national birthrights. The games biggest rival in this country, or at least the fans who push it back the most, are usually American Football fans. The irony here is that the two sports were essentially born from the same game, and if not for evolution, would still be the same game. Separated only by a fork in the road, a sort of national condemnation has taken place by American Football fans trying and resist this game of Soccer.

We are not the first who want to bring this history back to the fans. Others have written, and researched these topics before. We just want to be another outlet for you fans to be able to access the information. The biggest problem this game ever faced was organization (or lack thereof) and the broken continuation of the evolution of the game. The sport has endured hundred of broken leagues, thousands of defunct teams and a sporting culture that has intentionally resisted it as something foreign, for decades. There are those in the media and fans who wonder when the game will "arrive." Well the game arrived a century and a half ago, and it never left. We as fans just need to understand our history, especially if the powers that be in this country don't want to help us.

Origins of New England Soccer:
Where and when the game of football (soccer) actually began is a topic for hot debate. While trying to steer clear of the actual origin of the game, we are going to do a quick run through of it's early days. We aren't going to get into the rehashed explanation of the origins of football from ancient Rome to Victorian England and beyond. Instead we are going to pick up where the game matters most to us...here in New England.

Just prior to the start of the American Civil War, a Boston area sports club was born, and played a major role in the birth and evolution of the game in this country. The Oneida Foot Ball Club was formed in 1861. The club played a form game that has been debated for years. What cannot be debated, is that the club was one of the first (if not the first) organized club in this country to play a form of football. Both Association Football supporters, and American football supporters claim the team as their own. What is certain is that the team played an early form of the game of football.

The story behind this club is as foggy as the style of football in which the organized themselves. There are stories which live as almost folklore. During their existence, the club played their games on the Boston Common, against local area college clubs. The legend has it that the team was rarely, if ever defeated. Today there is a plaque on the common which commemorates the team, and claims that the team was never even scored upon during their time (1862-1865). Of course there are no official records of game results, so claim will stand as a legend which we may never truly understand. It is believed that the club was disbanded as the American Civil war began to boil over in 1865.

During the war, the game of football, in one of its various forms, began to flourish at the collegiate level. As the game itself evolved into its many forms (Association Football, American Football, Rugby Football, Gaelic Football etc...), the city of Boston, and area of New England were at the forefront of all this development. The game(s) was vastly influenced both here, and in the UK, by collegiate athletes. Yale University in Connecticut is said to have adopted the English style rules of the game we now know as Association Football, or soccer. However, with their growing rivalry with Harvard University, Yale was convinced to play a sort of hybrid style one-off game which resembled both soccer and rugby. Yale ultimately lost the match, and decided to adopt the Rugby style rules to become more competitive with their New England Rivals. This was said the be the pivotal moment in the direction of soccer in this country. Soon the collegiate game became almost entirely rugby style carry ball, and then later gridiron football.

The fate of the game in this country seemed to be decided. However, soon after soccer’s death at the college level, the game was quickly picked up by other locals. By the 1880’s the game was fully revived again, in another grassroots incarnation. This time rather than being a game of rich college kids, the teams and leagues were born on the backs of working class immigrants, mostly French and Irish. American football remained popular at the collegiate ranks, and especially in the Midwest. But here in the Northeast, Association Football ruled amongst the people. Urban areas like Boston, New York, Southeastern Mass/Providence, Northern New Jersey and Eastern PA. were the original hotbeds of the game of soccer.

At this time the city of Fall River, Ma. had began to boom, mostly due to the textile industry. With the industrial economic boom came many working class immigrants into the city and surrounding area. These immigrants began to form local sporting clubs which adopted the game of modern Association Football. Working class workers would work throughout the week, and then blow off steam on the football pitch on Saturdays throughout the region. Fall River Rovers were only one of a number of clubs formed by these working class immigrants at this time. They were the areas most dominant team. Other teams in the city included the Fall River East Ends, Fall River Olympics and the Fall River Pan Americans. Teams from Boston, New Bedford and Providence were also competitive at this time.

Fall River, New Bedford, Providence...The Golden Triangle, or so it is refered to now. This area of the country was the original hotbed of soccer in this country. Leading up to the turn of the century, this area was football mad. During this time, American soccer began to become a bit more organized nationally. The formation of the American Cup, in 1885, paved the way for the first club national championships. The competition was created by the American Amateur Football Association (AAFA). The Fall River Rovers and Fall River East Ends each won two of these titles, and Pawtucket Free Wanderers, Pawtucket Olympics, and the Fall River Olympics each won 1 cup. This early dominance by the region put the Golden Triangle on the map of the soccer world in the U.S. and even overseas.

From there, the organized game quickly evolved. Although leagues came and went as quickly as the years turned over, it was evident that there was a growing interest for the game in the region. The Golden Triangle region would begin to really asserts its dominance in the sport as the 20th century came around. to be continued...

Much of what has been written here, has been written before, and researched by many others. We have taken elements and research from a number of places, and tried to make them a more New England centric, and condensed version for the fans to understand. If you wish to delve deeper into the rich history of the sport in this country, we suggest checking out David A. Litterer at the American Soccer History Archives. The information provided there is top notch, and very detailed. We are in no way trying to steal the research others have done, but rather trying to make it more accessible and condensed for the fans of this region. Litterer also partnered with a few other colleagues to produce a definitive guide to the history of the game in this country rightly called The Encyclopedia of American Soccer History. It really is a must read for those of you who want to know more about the great history of the game in this country.

Our purpose is to help soccer fans understand that they aren't alone, and that they aren't different. Too often in this country soccer fans are miscast as different, or foreign. The game in this country dates back long before basketball, or hockey, and the roots of American Football grow from the same tree as this great game of soccer. Even some soccer officials in this country think the game began in 1996, or others that think the history only dates back to the 1970's. When in reality, this country has been shaped by the game for a century and a half now.

In our next segment we look at the turn of the century, and the first truly professional leagues in this country. We will detail the importance of the Southeastern Region of New England, and especially the teams from Fall River, most notably the Fall River Marksmen. We hope to have the segment finished by this time next week, and will post it as soon as we have it finished.


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