Today marks the beginning of a multi-part series highlighting the influence and importance of Scottish and Scottish-American players to the success of the game in the United States over the last century and a quarter. Today’s installment covers Scottish involvement in the game from its arrival in the United States in the late 19th century through the first two generations of the professional game, ending in the late 1920s.
During the two decades following the American Civil War some form of “football” was played by many colleges and universities in the Northeastern United States. The rules, the size of the field, and the number of players involved all varied from institution to institution- and in some cases from match to match. As all of these variables were gradually codified into “association football” – “soccer” as we know it in the States- but the game was squeezed out of the collegiate ranks in favor of rugby and gridiron football. Soccer became, as it had been in Scotland and England, the domain of the working classes. This circumstance meshed fortuitously with the arrival of a wave of immigrants- predominantly from the United Kingdom- who settled in the Northeastern United States, giving rise to the first two hotbeds of American soccer- the factory towns and cities of Southeastern New England (Fall River, New Bedford, Pawtucket/Providence) and the metropolitan New York area (NYC, Paterson, Kearney, Newark, and even stretching to Philadelphia).
These were the areas of the United States that most closely resembled the areas from which these immigrants had emerged- densely populated and heavily industrialized. It was only natural that they would seek to create the same recreational institutions that had enjoyed at home, football foremost among them. Thus, it was in these areas and at this time that the game was formalized in the United States. Organized clubs began to replace pick-up games, in time these clubs sought out sponsors (generally the factories and companies for which the players worked), and created leagues in which to play. It was also at this point that Scots and Scottish-Americans began to appear as one of the dominant influences on the game in the U.S.. These miners, steelworkers, ship builders and their progeny would go on to form the core of the dominant clubs in the first generation of organized soccer in the United States- Bethlehem Steel, Paterson True Blues, Fall River Rovers, New York Clan MacDonald, Paterson Rangers, Newark Caledonians, and Kearney Scots/Scottish Americans.
The game continued to spread in the last decades of the 19th century, each time to industrial cities with growing immigrant populations: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.. With the growth of the game came leagues (the first professional one in 1894), cups, and even something approaching a “national team.” More important than any of these developments, however, was the increasing importance of corporate sponsorship. Businesses wanted to be associated with winners and it became clear very quickly that the clubs that won were the clubs with large contingents of foreign-born players- especially Scottish players from Glasgow and its industrial surroundings as well as the mining villages of Ayshire. The recruitment of these players-whether those already in the U.S. or those still living overseas- would eventually lead to exactly the kind of shenanigans one might expect. Unfortunately, just as the professional game was finding it’s feet in the U.S., the Spanish American War (1898-1901) broke out and it took almost another decade for the game to return to its pre-war status.
Within five years of the war’s end, however, soccer did begin to grow again. The U.S.S.F. was founded, the national team participated in and did well at the Olympics, and the American Cup and the National Association Football League were resurrected. It was in this league, and through one club- Bethlehem Steel F.C.- that the Scottish influence on soccer in the United States became the dominant one. Teams sponsored by “the Steel” were made up almost entirely of Scots during this period and, more importantly, Scots who were recruited by the company for the sole purpose of playing on its football team. All of these players had jobs at the company- and many were probably qualified for them by virtue of their work experience at home- but their actual positions were more akin to that of the marching band musician serving in the army or the work-study jobs done by scholarship athletes in the present day. Football came first and shoveling coal came second…or not at all.
The success of Bethlehem Steel’s Scottish teams (10 championships between 1911 and 1929 and 11 national cups between 1915 and 1926, and several “doubles”) naturally led to imitation and soon all of the best clubs- and especially those in the Northeastern states- featured large numbers of Scots on their rosters. As the NAFBL (National Association Football League) gave way to the first of three subsequent “American Soccer Leagues” in the early 1920s, the success of clubs with Scottish foundations like Bethlehem Steel and Kearney Scots was mimicked by clubs like Fall River F.C., New Bedford Whalers, J & P Coats, Boston Wonder Workers as the hotbed of American soccer shifted back to Southeastern New England. Fall River Marksmen would eventually replace Bethlehem Steel as the dominant club in American football by poaching players from sides like Celtic, Clydebank, St. Mirren, Hibernian, Forfar Athletic, Brechin City, Greenock Morton, and Motherwell- something that did not go over well in Scotland where club owners resented having to increase player wages in order to prevent an exodus to the States.
Next: The heyday of the ASL, the rise of the Marksmen, and Archie Stark- America’s first football superstar.