How Harvard helped to kill America’s enjoyment of Soccer.
How Harvard helped to kill America’s enjoyment of Soccer.
I received this article from Andy Harris. I thought you’d like to read it.
AMERICAN SOCCER HISTORY ARCHIVES - Many have suggested that baseball and football are solely American inventions. Yet soccer,
football, and baseball evolved in virtually the same way. Just as
baseball developed out of modifications made to the British game of
rounders (the Abner Doubleday myth has been proven thoroughly
unfounded), and football evolved from an unorganized version of English
rugby, so soccer grew out of informalized versions of a game that had
been played for centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. The same
precursor to soccer played in England was recorded in Boston in 1857.
The first recorded soccer club formed in the U.S. was the Oneida
Football Club, which played on Boston Common from 1862-1865. This
predates the formation of the English Football Association in 1863. The
idea that soccer is originally less American than baseball and football
was invented much later, with little basis in historical fact.
Though soccer made a brief appearance as an intercollegiate sport in the
Ivy League between 1869 and 1875, Harvard had refused to compete under
the soccer rules, proclaimed the rugby rules more "manly." Harvard had
been the center of the Muscular Christianity movement since the 1850s,
and their inclination toward more physical games had long been
demonstrated in the annual "Bloody Monday" - a free-for all brawl
between sophomores and freshmen. In a powerful display of Harvard's
prestige, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale coalesced and switched from
soccer to rugby at the 1876 formation of the Intercollegiate Football
Association in order to compete with Harvard. By 1900, Ivy League rugby
had metamorphosed into American football, which Walter Camp, the father
of American football, hailed in Harper's Weekly as a great scientific
advancement over the unorganized kicking game that was football's
The popular press was quick to glamorize American football as the
crowning portrayal of America's cultural and intellectual superiority
over the rest of the world - particularly its English forbearers.
Newspaper and magazine articles regularly compare American football and
English football - and invariably found the American game more manly and
more progressive. They took incredible license in concocting tales to
prove football the ultimate American game. The New York World claimed in
1885, just nine years after rugby rules had been adopted by the
Intercollegiate Football Association, that "when George Washington's
father was a boy learning his ABC's the lads of Yale College used to
play foot-ball. Long before the blue stars of the American flag were
born the boys of Princeton played the same game." In 1889, the New York
Evening World even published an illustration of what it claimed to be
"The Original Football Game, 4-11-44 B.C.," complete with the markings
of aged parchment. Football games were turned into fashionable
spectacles for the trendy social elites, and anyone wanting themselves
identified as truly American was strongly encouraged to cheer on their
favorite Ivy League team.
Such outlandish attempts to prove football's supreme destiny served to
relegate soccer to insignificance. While coverage of six or seven
college football games every fall averaged 3-4 full pages each including
illustrations by 1895, the hundreds of amateur soccer teams throughout
the northeast garnered no more than 2-3 column inches in the local
But just because soccer had vanished from the college campuses did not
mean it did not exist. On the contrary, soccer continued to be
passionately played and followed by millions of first or second
generation Americans, sponsored by social clubs and industries scattered
throughout the major industrial centers. Even in San Francisco in 1909,
senior league matches drew crowds between six and seven thousand. Teams
like the Brooklyn Wanders, Fall River Rovers, and Bethlehem Steel
Football Club regularly produced great teams and great players from both
American and foreign-born stock. Fall River beat the legendary
Corinthians of England 3-0 in front of 8000 fans in 1906. An American
player who starred on one of these teams often found a professional
career waiting for him in England or Scotland.
But despite the number of American-born soccer players and youths who
had learned the game in the states, soccer was continually tagged as an
ethnic sport. As early as 1915, a New York Times article quoted the
physical director at Northwestern (IL) saying, "We do not believe in its
[soccer's] success in the ordinary college community. It takes a leaven
of good Scotch, English, and Scandinavian boys to make it a success."
The derisive "ethnic" tag continues to be a stumbling block to the
success of soccer in the mainstream. . .
While football was portrayed as a manly, virile game representing all
that was good about capitalist America, soccer was reintroduced as a
return to the gentlemanly ideal of amateur sportsmanship. Football was
often called "a moral agent" or "a training for life." In a 1905
editorial in The Independent, the author proclaimed football to be the
very "epitome of our commonwealth, the real national game, the symbol of
our civilization." . . .
However, football was never a participation sport. It was a battle for
survival, weeding out the lesser men through a contest that demanded
stature, strength, character, and the ability to play with pain. Soccer
was all-inclusive; a game where everybody could enjoy the benefits of
outdoor, physical exercise. Though it was a good argument for a gym
class, it stripped soccer of its ability to create collegiate heroes
like the football gods worshipped weekly in the popular press.
Soccer could not embody the essential American character traits because it was either ethnic or exercise. Had soccer been presented as a fiercely
contested game that taught the fastest, strongest, most intelligent team how to win through determination and teamwork, the history of soccer in this country might have been much different.
Posted on 20 Jul 2006 by coachgianni