Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New England Soccer History: Part 2

...continued from part 1.

Turn of the Century:

As the century turned over, so did the many leagues in the New England area. Although the area was a hotbed of soccer at the time, it had a hard time keeping continuous teams and leagues afloat. Immigrant populations began to turn over generations as well, and with that came desire to gravitate towards American created sports, most notably baseball. The desire for immigrant populations, and especially their children, to become more 'American' left the game constantly needing to rely on new immigrant populations to feed the game. Of course the Southern New England area was booming with immigrants at the time, due to industry, so the turn over was quite quick, and helped fuel the love of the game year after year. This infatuation with becoming more 'American' didn't undermine the importance of soccer in the region at the time, but rather stunt the long term growth. Still, the area was poised to help justify it
's name as soccer's Golden Triangle.

With the new century came the countries first true professional league. The American League of Professional Football was very short lived, only lasting a season. However, the league was important, because it showed the hunger for a professionally organized game in the country. The six team league comprised of teams from the Northeast, included a team associated with National League Baseball team from Boston. The Boston Beaneaters were the forebears of the Boston Braves, which now reside in Atlanta, with the same nickname. Immigration issues cut short the life of the league, as t
eams were accused of illegally employing players from the British isles, who were not proper U.S. citizens. The pressure caused the league to fold after just one season of play, in 1894.

For about 12 years following the collapse of the APFL, the game remained entirely amateur in this country. Teams like the Fall River Rovers, Howard & Bullough F
.C. (Pawtuckett, R.I.) and various predicessors to New Bedford F.C. (which later became New Bedford Whalers) had endured years of league changes, and amateur style football until the formation of the Southern New England Soccer League.

The rival league at the time, the National Association Foot Ball league had also sprung up around that time. The league included a few Boston teams such as Bunker Hill F.C., and Essex County F.C. This league also included a team which would soon become the greatest rival to the New England areas dominance, Bethlehem Steel F.C. N
either of the Boston teams ever won the league.

The Fall River Rovers were still among the best teams at the time. They carried their American Cup success over to the National Challenge Cup (which is known today as the US Open Cup). They reached three consecutive finals, between 1916 and 1918.
However, they managed just one trophy, in 1917. The Rovers were met in the finals all three years by legendary Pennsylvania club, Bethlehem Steel F.C. The first meeting of the two clubs (1916) would cement this rivalry as maybe the most fierce in the United States. The hotly contested Cup Final was one of the first indications of fan violence in the region. The game controversially ended with a penalty being awarded to Bethlehem late in the match. Near the conclusion of the game, another controversial call went against the rovers, and a pitch invasion ensued. Tensions between these two clubs were also heightened by nationalistic ideals and pride. The Rovers were made up almost entirely of locally born players from the, where as Bethlehem was a club with a heavy British influence.

The 1917 National Challenge Cup Final saw the Rovers exact revenge from the game of the previous year. They beat Bethlehem 1-0 on an early goal. In 1918 Rovers and Bethlehem would play the rubber match of their cup rivalry. This time the game fittingly was tied after regulation. In those days overtime was not a part of the rules of the game, and a replay of the match was scheduled. Bethlehem handled Fall River in the replay, 3-0. This would be the last time the two teams would meet, and although they only met 3 times, the rivalry had become something of a legend that would unite the two soccer hotbeds as rivals throughout the next decade.

During their time the Fall River Rovers (1884-1921) saw impr
essive amounts of success. Two American Cups (1884,1889), one National Challenge Cup (1917), winners of the New England League in 1909, and a league cup in 1917.

Another dominant team in the Southern New England Soccer League was the New Bedford Whalers. The winners of the first two league titles in 1915, and 1917 (no champion was crowned in 1916). This team would only last a few seasons, before coming back again in the next decade. They two had a rivalry with the Rovers. Local star Thomas Swords, and U.S. International player, moved from New Bedford back to Fall River
after just one season, sparking a fierce rivalry, as it shifted the fortunes of the two clubs.

J & P Coats (Pawtuckett, R.I.) won in 1918. The next season the league would take two seasons off due to World War I. When the league resumed play in 1921, Fore River of Quincy, Ma. won it’s first title. They had been robbed of a title in 1916, when the league was shut down due to financial reasons, even though they were leading the league at the time.

ASL Beginings: By 1921 the game of soccer was growing in popularity, and in the Northeast it was probably only less popular than baseball. It was time for organizers to develop a real national league. The rivalries between clubs in the two main leagu
es at the time, the Southern New England Soccer League, and the National Association Foot Ball league had paved the way for a league that spanned over a larger regional foot print. In 1921 the American Soccer League (ASL) was formed, and most of the most dominant teams from the NAFBL and the SNESL joined to form the new national league.

In the 1921/22 season, only J & P Coats moved over from the SNESL. The SNESL had folded at the conclusion of the 1921 season, and so some of the other teams collapsed. With the collapse of these clubs, came the births of a few new clubs. H
olyoke Falcos (from Holyoke, Ma.), joined J & P in the leagues inaugural season. The other teams in the league were also mainly from the Tri-State area. A team not mentioned though, was also a local team. This team would become truly legendary, and would carry on the great traditions of New England soccer, especially that of the Fall River area. In 1921, after their predecessors the Fall River Rovers disbanded with the collapse of the SNESL, Fall River United formed. This club formed with a lot of the same players and management of the Rovers, but were a different organization entirely. Though United’s first season in the ASL was rather bleak, it would not be a sign of things to come, as this would become one of, if not the signature clubs of the American Soccer League. After that first season, the club was purchased by Sam Mark, who quickly changed the name of the team to represent his own namesake. The club would now be known as the Fall River Marksmen, and they would go on to dominate the next decade of American Soccer.

It would be irresponsible of me to not dedicate an entire section of this multipart piece to that of the Marksmen. They are too important for this area, and even the entire country, for me to just mention them in passing. With that being said, I guess this will be a sort of teaser heading into our rather lengthy next part which will be almost entirely dedicated to the Marksmen and the old ASL.

Until then, check out our friends at Bump Pitch, and the cool shirts they created to keep the heritage of US Soccer alive. There are a few shirts of old ASL teams, and most notably, the Marksmen.
Go to their website to check them out www.bumpypitch.com.

Again, don't forget to check out the great archives at http://www.sover.net/~spectrum/ and help preserve our heritage.

Glory Glory New England!

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