Philadelphia Soccer History

Philly Soccer 100: Christmas soccer, 1913

Photo: Pick of the professional Pennsylvania League vs Pick of amateurs from Allied and American Leagues, Dec. 20, 1913

Our series looking at Philly soccer happenings 100 years ago continues.

Continuing a tradition that began as early as 1889, the Philadelphia soccer calendar in 1913 featured a slate of games on Christmas Day. With the playing of organized sport on Sunday’s forbidden thanks to Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws, Saturday was almost exclusively the only match day when it came to soccer in Philadelphia at the time. Falling as it did on a Thursday in 1913, Christmas Day offered a rare opportunity for fans to see a midweek game.

But before those Christmas Day games, the Philadelphia soccer community started off the holiday season with a series of exhibition games on Saturday, Dec. 20, 1913.

Pre-Christmas exhibition games result in a big upset

The United States of America Football Association-affiliated Football Association of Eastern Pennsylvania and District had cleared the soccer calendar for Dec. 20, 1913 in order to stage a doubleheader of exhibition games. Founded shortly after the USAFA — known today as the US Soccer Federation — the Eastern Pa. and District had principally organized the exhibition games to raise funds for itself. But the ability of the young organization to clear the calendar of league games from its member leagues in Philadelphia — the professional Pennsylvania League and the amateur Allied American, United, and American leagues — was also an expression of its power as the regional representative of the USAFA.

The preliminary game of the doubleheader featured a picked team from the Allied second division against a picked team representing the United League, while the main event would feature a picked team of professionals from the Pennsylvania League against a squad representing the best of the amateurs in the Allied League first division and the American League. Another exhibition game featuring the pick of Chester versus the pick of Wilmington, Del. was also scheduled to take place in Chester.

Exhibition game adThe Philadelphia doubleheader took place at Third and Lehigh in fine conditions for a December game, dry with a high of 47 degrees. Admission for the fundraising event was 25 cents, the equivalent of about six dollars. Ladies could see the games for free.

In the first game, the Allied second division side was represented by four players from Putnam FC, three each from Manchester Unity and Fairhill Wanderers, and one from Hope Lodge. Their United League opponents all played for North Philadelphia FC with the exception of the two Derbyshire brothers, who played for P.H.L FC. Manchester Unity center forward Whitley scored the only goal of the match in the second half for the Allied League side in a game the Philadelphia Inquirer match report on Dec. 21 described as “played in a friendly spirit, there being none of the rough stuff visible.” The report noted that while the game was exciting enough to keep “the large crowd on edge until the big noise started” with the headlining game, the quality of play was more developmental and “a fair sample of what to expect from the players when they have had more experience.”

If the opening game was of lesser quality, the Inquirer match report on Dec. 21 described the main event as “one of the fastest, if not the fastest, seen on any grounds so far this season.” And to the surprise of most observers who had concluded that the amateur side “wasn’t strong enough to take a fall out” of the picked side of professionals, the amateurs won 2-0. The amateurs were conspicuous in their nervousness at the the start of the game, and the Inquirer described that for the first ten minutes “it looked as if it would be a walkaway” for the professionals. But the Allied and American leaguers settled down and soon began to give a demonstration “of the dribbling code which not only took the followers of the Amateurs in this city and vicinity by surprise, but also their professional rivals.”

Made up of players from Bethlehem FC, Boys’ Club, Philadelphia Electrics, and West Philadelphia — five of whom were themselves former professionals — the amateurs opened the scoring in the 27th minute against their professional opponents from the Hibernian, Victor, and Tacony clubs. The second goal was scored right after the start of the second half and despite some tantalizingly close chances, the professionals could not find the back of the net. As the Inquirer’s report was blunt: “The amateurs practically outplayed their opponents at every stage of the game.

Absent from the professional side were any players from Wissinoming. Their absence was something of an omen for the Inquirer reported on Dec. 26 that the team had “thrown up the sponge for the season…as the management of the club has become thoroughly disgusted with the manner in which the team has been going and also on account of the public not supporting it.” Whether the Pennsylvania League, now down to only three teams, would be able to survive remained to be seen.

Chester's Linwood Hibernians, 1913-14

Chester’s Linwood Hibernians, 1913-14

In Chester, the picked team of players from Linwood Hibernian and Marcus Hook took on a picked team largely comprised of Wilmington’s Windsor FC and defeated them, 3-0. The Inquirer reported on Dec. 21 that inside right Melling’s “spectacular ‘dribbling’ from the center of the field, placing the ball without assistance through the goal, was the best play of the game.”

Christmas Day Soccer, 1913

The Christmas Day schedule included league games in the first division of the Allied League and United League games, but the main events of the rain drenched day were the opening game of Philadelphia Challenge Cup play between Hibernian and Cardington in the morning followed by intercity games in the afternoon between the pick of the Allied League against the pick of New York’s Metropolitan League, and Victor versus Brooklyn Field Club.

The Philadelphia Challenge Cup game was also the first game at Hibernian’s new grounds at Potter Athletic Field, located at Front and Erie. Although it took the professionals 27 minutes to open the scoring, Hibs never looked back after that and finished the contest 3-2 winners over their American League opponents with center forward McNichol scoring a brace.

The picked Allied League team that faced the pick of New York's Metropolitan League.

The picked Allied League team that faced the pick of New York’s Metropolitan League.

The two intercity games against New York teams turned into goal fests for the home sides, even with both games being called before full time. As had been — and would continue to be — the case throughout the history of soccer in Philadelphia, poor conditions during winter games took their toll. On Christmas Day in 1913, the temperature never rose above 43 degrees and half-an-inch of rain fell in the region.

In the afternoon match between picked teams from the Allied League and New York’s Metropolitan League at Washington Park at 26th and Allegheny, the Philadelphia side proved to be what the Inquirer match report on Dec. 26 called “good mud horses,” scoring five unanswered goals in the first 35 minutes. Fifteen minutes after the start of the second half, the ref called the game as the already poor conditions grew worse.

The friendly between Victor and Brooklyn FC at Third and Lehigh was also cut short, but the weather wasn’t the reason, despite the fact that it was the second half of a doubleheader, the first half being a Victor AA 2-1 win over a US Marine Corps team from the Navy Yard. The Inquirer match report described, “While the game was in progress the Marine band of thirty pieces rendered selections, and despite the fact that the rain was pouring down, they never let up in their efforts to amuse the spectators, who braved the elements.”

Brooklyn FC 1913-14

Brooklyn Field Club, 1913-14

The second game on the bill began with an explosive first half in the saw Victor of the professional Pennsylvania League leading Brooklyn 5-1. After the start of the second half, the visitors fought back in the second half to make the score 5-3. Then, after 21 minutes of second half play, the referee ordered a Brooklyn player off the field. The Inquirer reported on Dec. 26 said that the player “had been continually nagging” the referee throughout the game, “but the climax came when he called the referee a foul name.” Halting play, the referee ordered that the player had five minutes to leave the field or else Brooklyn would forfeit the game. When the five minutes were up, all of the Brooklyn players walked off the field.

While the Inquirer match report concluded, “There was not the least excuse for the action of the Brooklyn players for they roughed it up at every opportunity,” the report made clear, “It was evident that the Brooklynites were bent on winning by the manner they started out, for they were all over the Philadelphians.”

In Allied League first division play, Bethlehem made the journey to Tacony to face Disston at Tacony Ball Park at State and Unruh. As it turned out, they could have stayed at home for, as the Inquirer reported on Dec. 26, after leading 2-0 with 21 minutes remaining, the referee ended the game “on account of the wretched weather.” A replay would be scheduled for a later date.

Despite the poor conditions, five United League games were played. While the match between Boys’ Club and P.H.L resulted in a tight 1-1 draw, and the “rattling good game” at 42nd and Wissahickon saw Vincome the 4-3 winners over American Pulley Company, the other three contests ended with lopsided results, the winners outscoring the losers 16 goals to two. The biggest blowout was Bristol’s 9-0 destruction of Roxborough.

It would be a quick turnaround for the Philadelphia soccer scene with the Saturday matchday coming only two days after Christmas Thursday. After that, there would be New Year’s Day games to enjoy.

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