A Short History of the USA and Soccer: We’re better than we think we are, Part 1

In the middle 1700’s the French and English had a war over…. well ,things in general. But here on this continent it was about who would keep their colonies. The British, exhibiting a flair for the unexpected, ( remember that- we will talk more about it next post) climbed a cliff near Quebec and thereby defeated the French and took the city. Thus, we colonists to the south of that battle continued to speak English and the rest of Canada did the same, except for the province of Quebec who just wouldn’t learn a new language…for 254 years now and counting.

The British climbed the cliff and we don't speak French

The British climbed the cliff and we don’t speak French

A few years later the colonists south of Canada decided that they had had enough of being “colonists” , especially since the British didn’t seem to consider them worthy of much respect ( remember that also). So, those colonists rebelled, won the war and their independence and became us… Americans.

Now the mentality of these “Americans”, out of necessity , was rather belligerent, outspoken, aggressive and increasingly confident. Meek people don’t cross oceans in little boats in order to start over in an unknown, undeveloped land filled with possible dangers. 150 years later many people from other parts of Europe and the world crossed the ocean in better boats, but still faced the unknown, just a different type of unknown. Unknown acceptance, unknown jobs, unknown future. Again, not for the meek.

Meanwhile, back in England, lots of males were running around kicking a ball for sport. Some picked the ball up and carried it, at least until someone else knocked them down. They all set up a goal ,tried to get the ball into the goal and kept count of how many times that was accomplished. In 1863, a bunch of the guys playing these games got together, drew up rules ( which banned using one’s hands) and formed the Football Association. The guys who liked carrying the ball got mad, took their balls and went home ( no pun intended ). The “no-hands” game was called football, but in order to differentiate it from the “carry-ball” game, it was often called “association football”. Since most of the time the men playing the game either had no teeth, or were filled with ale, or both, the word “association” became rather butchered and eventually became “soccer”. (I’m not really sure about the no-teeth and filled-with-ale part.) It should be noted that the “carry-ball” people eventually formed their own group and called their game “Rugby” after the school where (according to legend) the ball was first picked up. Since the term “Rugby” gained widespread use, the term “football” became the name for the no-hands game around the world and the English term “soccer” wasn’t used much.

In ancient Greece women minded the children and men played soccer, in much of the world things haven't changed, except clothes

In ancient Greece women minded the children and men played soccer. In much of the world things still haven’t changed- well, the clothes maybe

In old England "football" was serious stuff

In old England “football” was played in between towns

Over here, college boys were playing the same games, more or less, and eventually had the same decision to make; which brand of “football” would they ALL play. Being Americans ( you know-aggressive, brash, etc) ,the carry-ball game won out. After all, it allowed players to knock each other down, block each other even if the ball wasn’t around them, etc. Since a big ocean separated us and England, the rules the colleges adopted only marginally resembled Rugby and they didn’t consider using that name. They just stuck with “football” although by the time they finished fooling with the rules, feet had little to do with it.

A 1902 football game between Michigan and Minnesota- the game bore no resemblance to soccer

A 1902 football game between Michigan and Minnesota- the game bore no resemblance to soccer

“Football “grew in popularity as more and more colleges and universities picked it up. Some guys continued to play the “no-hands” game although there weren’t many. However, around the rest of the world, it was a bit different. In England, “football” or “soccer” ( are you following along?) was definitely more popular than Rugby and when the English went off on their British Empire adventures they carried their balls with them ( that’s getting old, isn’t it?). They played football in far off lands and it became popular among the natives and in not-too-many years the whole world was playing football. So when people immigrated to the USA , many brought their favorite sport with them. But here, if they went to see a “football” game, it wasn’t what they were expecting. It was our type of “football”: you know- the no-feet football. So the alternative name “soccer” became the norm for the sport that the rest of the world calls football and that very few played here- just those new to our land that didn’t want to give up their game. That was the situation for decades, until 1966.

In 1966, ABC televised the World Cup final from London on a summer Saturday morning. In a previous post I have talked about my personal experience with that game. What is important on a large scale is that the ratings that morning were far greater than anyone imagined possible. Several businessmen spotted the numbers and decided that the time was right for the introduction to the USA of soccer as a professional sport. There was more than one group and they really weren’t that successful, but something else occurred with the inspiration of those leagues. Various groups in certain areas of the country, encouraged by  the pro’s, began youth soccer leagues. These youth programs were almost always run by men who weren’t born in the USA but who loved the sport and saw an opportunity to encourage its growth among American youngsters. The youth leagues grew like crazy….in my town of Columbia,Md, the organization was formed by a German and a couple Englishmen with 60 kids in 1971. Participation in Columbia went from 60 to 300 to 600 to 1000 in just a couple years. Around the country the number of “home-grown” Americans  helping these youth leagues was understandably initially small and those who were participating were learning from the “experienced” internationals. As the sport grew ,more “knowledgeable” soccer people came to the US to help teach and coach. Although just about the whole world was represented in this influx of soccer people, our language and culture dictated that the majority came from England. And therefore soccer in this country was influenced in many ways by the English. One thing was sure, American soccer people knew they were the new kids on the block and the typical American confidence and brashness tended to be absent from them. It was a “we want to learn, we are new at this, we know we aren’t very good” mentality. And that was probably the correct way to be….in 1975. But things have changed and its time for American soccer people to understand that fact. More about that in Part 2- my next post!

6 Comments on “A Short History of the USA and Soccer: We’re better than we think we are, Part 1”

  1. Sam St-Phard says:

    I love this entry! I remember being 9 years old and being in that first “wave” of Columbia, Maryland kids in 1973. My first Soccer Coach was Doug Goodsir, who was from England and I remember that he put me on the forward line because I had the ability to score, in my little 9 year old brain, “GOLDS”(I later realized that he was saying GOALS). Coach Goodsir taught me the proper way to strike a Soccer ball with my feet, because my form was such that I would use my toe and send it OVER the Goal. I will never forget a conversation he had with me once, and it went something like this, “Sammy, I’m going to buy you glasses and write GOLD(he really said Goal, but my 9 year old brain heard Gold)on the lenses, so that you put that ball into the net.” I have the greatest memories of Coach Goodsir, and I began striking the ball with my instep and leaning over it as I followed through, on my shots. Thanks to Coach Goodsir and others like you, Al, I scored many Golds(Goals), paving the way for a great childhood, adolescence, and Collegiate experience, because of “The Beautiful Game.” Football/Soccer.


    • socceryoda says:

      Thanks, Sam! Men like Doug Goodsir definitely helped get things rolling in this country. And unlike a few of his countrymen, he was always courteous and respectful. He was a great soccer colleague and teammate. Unfortunately his country as a soccer power has fallen on hard times recently.


  2. […] A Short History of the USA and Soccer: We’re better than we think we are, Part 1 […]


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