Following the demise of the American Soccer League in 1933 American soccer entered a prolonged rough patch. As the Great Depression intensified, football in the United States became more regionalized, more amateur, and more ethnically-based. All three changes were a direct result of the country’s increasing financial woes. The game became more regionalized because of the expenses included in running the game on a larger lever. It became more amateur because there simply wasn’t the money to play players on even a part time basis. Additionally, many players who had played on a full time or part time basis now had to devote their “full time” to finding gainful employment outside of the game. Finally, it became more ethnically-based because with the disappearance of company financed “works teams,” ethnicity was a natural theme around which to base clubs as had long been the tradition in European nations.
It’s also worth noting that soccer also faced increased competition from other sports. Baseball entered its “Golden Age” in the 1930s (it would last into the 1960s), boxing was wildly popular (Joe Louis began his career in 1934, became champion in 1937 and would hold the title through 1949), and for much of the period horse racing was the most popular (by attendance) sport in the country. If that last one is hard to believe, consider that during the lifetime of the ASL II there were nine Triple Crown winners (there have been none since 1978) and, of course, the fairy tale career of Seabiscuit in the late 1930s. It goes without saying that the arrival of war in Europe in 1939 and in the U.S. in 1941 not only depleted the player pool available to various soccer leagues but also prevented the emigration of players to the U.S. that had played such an important role in the American game since its inception.
While a second “American Soccer League” would be formed almost immediately in the wake of the first version’s demise (and it would last in some form until 1983), it was primarily a northeastern league (there were other regional leagues spread across the country) and would not expand beyond that region until its ill-fated attempt to compete with the newly-formed North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970s. As if to reinforce the change that the league had undergone, eight of the first ten ASL II championships were won by ethnically-based clubs: Kearney Irish, Philadelphia German-Americans, Kearney Scots, Brooklyn Hispano, etc.. On four of those occasions the runners-up were also ethnically-based clubs. Among the ethnicities that would be represented in the league over the course of its history were Irish, Scottish, German, Hungarian, Ukranian, Italian, Jewish, Polish, Honduran, Portuguese, and Greek. To be sure, Scottish and Scottish-American players continued to play in these leagues- Archie Stark among them- though given the amateur nature of the clubs, few records exist.
The International Soccer League, which lasted from 1960 through 1965, featured a plethora of Scottish players but that is because this league simply imported European and Brazilian clubs to play in what were essentially two short summertime tournaments each year. In each of the ISL’s six seasons there was a top Scottish club involved: Dundee F.C. (1962), Heart of Midlothian F.C. (1964), and Hibernian F.C. (1960, 1961, 1963, 1965).
The next influx of Scottish players would come as the result of the short-lived United Soccer Association (USA). Lasting for only a single season, the United Soccer Association was the brainchild of, among others, Lamar Hunt, who would go on to play an integral part in the launch of Major League Soccer thirty years later. The USA had originally intended to begin play in 1968, but with the rival National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) scheduled to start in 1967, the USA opted to begin then as well. There was only one problem- they weren’t ready. Instead of rushing to assemble teams they simply hired, renamed, and fielded entire European and South American clubs. Of the leagues 12 clubs, three came from Scotland: Dallas Tornado (Dundee United F.C.), Toronto City (Hibernian F.C.), and the eventual league finalists, Washington Whips (Aberdeen F.C.). These clubs included such players as Bobby Hope (West Bromwich Albion & Scotland), Colin Stein (Rangers & Scotland), Tommy Allan (Hibernian & Scotland), Peter Cormack (Hibernian & Scotland), Pat Stanton (Hibernian & Scotland), and Jim Scott (Hibernian & Scotland). Even the non-Scottish clubs featured a number of Scottish players, particularly Vancouver Royals (Sunderland A.F.C.), who featured seven Scottish players- six of which were capped players.
Following the 1967 season the USA and the NPSL merged to form the North American Soccer League (NASL), which began play in 1968 and lasted until 1984. The NASL was by far the biggest “thing” to happen to soccer in the United States up to that point and the diversity of the players taking part in it reflected the aims of the league. As a result, in addition to featuring more American-born players, the league also attracted players from places other than Europe and South America. Still, almost every team in the league have a several Scottish players on its roster for the duration of the league’s existence. In fact, over the course of the league’s history the list of Scottish players in the league was extensive. Even a partial list of the Scottish internationals who played in this league would be a long one: Charlie Cook (Aberdeen & Chelsea), George Graham (Arsenal), Jim McCalliog (Sheffield Wednesday & Wolves), Charlie Aitken (Aston Villan), Willie Donachie (Manchester United), David Harvey (Leeds), Willie Johnston (Rangers & West Bromwich Albion), Peter Lorimer (Leeds), Davie Robb (Aberdeen), Jimmy Johnstone (Celtic), Jimmy Gabriel (Everton & Southampton), Tommy Hutchison (Blackpool & Coventry City), Jocky Scott (Dundee), Bobby Lennox (Celtic), Archie Gemmill (Derby), Bobby Clarke (Aberdeen), Jim Forrest (Rangers & Aberdeen), and Graeme Souness (Liverpool).
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the participation of so many Scottish players- many of who were top Scottish players- during this time is that the heyday of the NASL (roughly the league’s first decade) coincided with a prolonged highpoint for Scottish football both domestically and internationally. It can be argued that the decade which began in 1967 (which saw both Celtic’s victory over Inter Milan in the European Cup and the national team’s defeat of recent World Cup winners England at Wembley, with the winning goal coming from future Chicago Sting player Jim McCalliog) and included return to the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 sandwiched around a British Home Championship in 1977 saw Scottish football at its peak (with apologies to the Aberdeen teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s). Still, dozens and dozens of players in all stages of their careers saw playing in the NASL as an appealing endeavor.
With the demise of the NASL soccer in the United States entered a lull much like the one which followed the demised of the original ASL. Luckily, this fallow period proved to be a much shorter one.
In the final installment: Scottish players in Major League Soccer.