On a warm rainy morning in August of 1888, a group of young Canadian soccer players made their way up the gangway of a ship in New York harbour.
They were about to sail on a journey that was to make history. The 18 players, all from southern Ontario, were to play 23 games in Ireland, Scotland and England, some of them against the finest British teams of the day.
The tour began in earnest, in Belfast on August 28, with a game against County Antrim, and was followed by games against Belfast Distillery and Belfast Clarence, all of which were won, and then by a tie against Belfast YMCA.
Crossing into Scotland, the WFA selects tied 1-1 with Glasgow Rangers, lost 3-1 to Queens Park, and 4-0 to Ayr before beating Hearts 3-0, and finally losing 4-0 to a Scottish all-star team.
The visitors record and growing reputation, preceded them south of the border where their first game in England, against Sunderland, attracted 10,000. Sunderland fell 3-0 to the tourists and then came victories over Middlesbrough 3-2 and Lincoln City 3-1.
Sheffield, long considered the oldest football team in the world, was held to a tie, but Notts County inflicted a defeat by 2 goals to nil. Next was Newton Heath, now known as Manchester United, and here the Canadians triumphed 2-0 on goals from Bowman and Webster.
On October 23, 1888 The Toronto Globe published the following comment from the Football Times.
“The Canadians played their first match in Lancashire and a grand game they played too. There is no doubt that the Colonists are quite fit to cope with our best clubs. They know how to play Association Football and some of our clubs cannot quite get over it. Yes, it is perfectly true that the team from Canada, now invading our football strongholds, are a smart lot of men, and clever as well as smart, for they have taken down some big clubs and quite surprised a host of people.
I may also say that the Canadians merited all the applause they received at the Newton Heath match, for they not only played a pretty game, but proved themselves true sportsmen.”
Two days later the Canadians played Blackburn Rovers and were leading 1-0 at half time, but in the second half the tiring schedule took its toll and Blackburn ran out winners by four goals to one.
The Blackburn Telegraph had this to say. “Before the Dominion team came over their chances against our best English teams appeared rather remote, but the visitors have given ample proof that they know how to play clever and scientific football out in Canada.
The Dominion men are without a doubt a very gentlemanly lot of fellows and it is something to their credit that there is not a professional in their ranks all the players being in that position in life at home which enables them to undertake the long journey and absence from home unmindful of cost and quite prepared to lose forty or fifty pounds, or even more on the “out.”
There is an impression abroad that the Canadians are merely imported Scotchmen, but that is a fallacy, for we are able to state positively that every man in the team was born in Canada, and the only exception, Mr. Forsyth, was born in Scotland and taken to Canada when hardly twelve months old.”
That the English were surprised at the high standard of soccer played by the Canadians is summed up in the London Sporting Life of the time. “The generally good form shown by the Canadian football team since they opened their tour in Belfast a month ago naturally caused a considerable amount of interest among association players of the metropolis in anticipation of the two matches they were to play in London.
Their success against some of the best Irish, Scottish and English clubs had been greater than most of the followers of the association game at least expected and indeed, considering the formidable opponents they have met over here, they have made themselves a deservedly high name as all-round exponents of football.”
The players who made the never to be forgotten trip to Britain 122 years ago included. Goalkeeper: Alexander Noble Garrett (Toronto Varsity). Full Backs; Solomon Brubacher and Fred Killer (both Berlin Rangers). Half Backs: Carl Kranz (Berlin Rangers), Harry Pirie (Dundas and Queens University), Wilfrid Pirt Mustard (Toronto Varsity) and Edward Payson Gordon (Toronto Varsity). Forwards: Alex Gibson, Tom Gibson and Walter Bowman (all Berlin Rangers), Walter Proudfoot Thomson (Toronto Varsity) and E.H. “Aime” Webster (Galt F.C.).
They were led by a man who was to become a legend in Canadian sports history – David Forsyth. The tour ended in London on October 31 with a 1-0 loss to the Swifts. Of the 23 games played nine were won, nine lost and five ended in ties.
The Canadian team that toured Britain in 1888 was made its first Team of Distinction by The Soccer Hall of Fame in 2003.
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World War Two was a disaster for soccer in Ontario. Basically the governing bodies of the game ceased to exist. The CSA of the day folded its tent in 1940 and didn’t put it up again until 1946.
The Ontario Football Association effectively shut down for ten years, while the National Soccer League stopped playing from 1941 to 1947. There was a disconnect between soccer before the war and soccer after.
One man bridged the gap and picked up the pieces, his name Arthur Arnold. The Hamilton businessman had been involved with the National Soccer League before the war and he was appointed by the CSA to put the game back together. Also the war came on the heels of the world’s financial disaster of the 1930s.
Before the war soccer in Ontario was dominated by the British, Canadian soccer players were as rare as a snowflake in July. After the war immigrants from all over Europe flooded in, creating serious problems for those trying to administer the game. Arnold as president of the OFA and the NSL had the almost impossible job of keeping all the warring actions apart.
However, by the late 1950s the ship seemed to be sailing along less in stormy seas, and the time seemed to be ripe, going into the 1960s, for a new venture.
In the days when a soccer game might have been televised once a year, the game seemed to be crying out for something new. It came in the form of the Eastern Canadian Professional Soccer League (ECPSL).
Over the Christmas of 1960 two men, George Gross and Peter Bosa got together around the tree and an idea was born. Gross takes up the story in the May 1971 edition of the Toronto Soccer paper.
“Bosa mentioned he had some friends in Hamilton, who would be interested in forming a professional team in that city, providing we could come up with two teams in Toronto and one in Montreal.”
“There was no problem with the first team in Toronto because Bosa had the backing of his executive to move the Italia team from the NSL to a would-be, new pro league.”
Now Bosa told Gross that the onus was on him to move the idea forward. “I’ve done my share by committing the Italia team and arranging the Hamilton entry. It will be up to you to come up with the second Toronto entry and a team in Montreal.”
Gross arranged for Dr. Ernest Stastny to take care of the Montreal entry and set about building a second team for Toronto. “I turned to some friends to help, “ wrote Gross. “After several meetings Laddy Myslivec, an industrialist, Ed Fitkin, then a broadcaster, and Steve Stavro, a well-to-do businessman and soccer fanatic, joined me in forming a club which became known as Toronto City Soccer Club.”
By now it was mid-March of 1961, and Toronto City had no players. So Gross and Fitkin set off for England to try to sign some, and sign some they did.
Somehow they managed to sign Stanley Matthews, Danny Blanchflower, Jackie Mudie, Johnny Haynes and Tommy Younger, some of the biggest names in British soccer in the 1950s and 60s, “Watch It, Chaps, Here Comes Soccer” was the headline in the Globe and Mail.
A crowd of 16,509 took in the opening game at Varsity Stadium as City took on Toronto Italia, in the first of a 24 game schedule for each of the four teams in the league.
Thus it was that the ECPSL began operating in the Spring of 1961, with four teams. The ECPSL brought in players from Britain, Italy and Argentina in particular and the average wage for imported players was said to be $125 a week, plus board and lodging and travel from and to their homeland.
The two Toronto teams played their home games at Varsity Stadium where the total attendance for 18 league games and six play off games was 145,479, in that first season, for an average of 6,061 per game.
The average ticket price at Varsity was $1.50. Hamilton played at what is now Ivor Wynne Stadium, while Montreal made its home at Delormier Stadium.
The league opened on May 15 with Hamilton Steelers beating Montreal Cantalia in Montreal. But the major attraction came five days later when Italia and City clashed at Varsity Stadium before 16,509 fans with Italia winning 3-2.
On that night it looked as if the league was well on its way, but attendances in Hamilton and Montreal didn’t come up to those in Toronto. Even in Toronto only one other league game topped the 10,000 mark.
Attendances in 1962 and 1963 remained on a par with 1961, with Italia being the most popular team. However, attendances fell away in 1964 when ticket prices rose and the league went downhill from that point on.
But the beginning of the end came on January 8, 1966 when Toronto City announced that it was dropping out of the league.
Directly across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires in Argentina, lies the Uruguayan city of Colonia del Sacramento. Today fast ferries transport people across the river in 50 minutes.
However, in 1930 reports say that boats of every shape and size ferried soccer fans across the river as thousands of Argentines crossed into Uruguay to watch the 1930 World Cup final played between the two countries.
Bitter rivals on the soccer field, then and now, Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay where the first World Cup was played lies 200 kilometres down river from Buenos Aires.
The final was played in the newly constructed Centenario Stadium in Montevideo, the ground surrounded by a moat and its capacity reduced, by all accounts, from 100,000 to 75,000 for security reasons.
Argentine centre half Luisito Monti had received a death in the days just before the final and fans were searched for weapons on the way in. The referee John Langenus from Belgium was dressed in his usual plus-fours and demanded a guarantee of protection and is said to have had a quick escape route planned to a ship in the harbour in case of trouble.
Before the game he was faced with a critical decision. Which ball to use? Argentina wanted to use a ball made in that country, Uruguay wanted a ball made in Uruguay. Langenus was diplomatic, and chose a different ball for each half of the game. Pablo Dorado opened the scoring for Uruguay in the 12th minute, while Carlos Peucelle equalized for Argentine in the 20th minute. Guillermo Stabile gave Argentina the lead eight minutes before the interval.
But it was all Uruguay in the second half with Pedro Cea leveling the scores after 57 minutes and Santos Iriarte putting Uruguay ahead in the 68th while Hector Castro made it 4-2 one minute from the end.
FIFA awarded the honour of holding the first World Cup to Uruguay at the Congress held in Barcelona in 1929. In addition to Uruguay, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands had all applied to be host.
But, the small South American country, celebrating its centenary in 1930, offered to pay all the costs including the accommodation for the teams. At the time Uruguay were Olympic champions having won the gold medal in 1924 and 1928.
However, teams from Europe were reluctant to enter, due to political differences and the time it would take by ship to reached South America.
Then at the time the British nations, and Canada, were not members of FIFA having withdrawn in 1928 over broken time payments to amateurs in the Olympic Football Tournament.
Consequently only 13 nations took part and were divided into four groups. Group One included Argentina, Chile, France and Mexico. Group Two, Bolivia, Brazil and Yugoslavia. Group Three, Peru. Romania and Uruguay. Group Four, Belgium, Paraguay and the United States.
The U.S. team sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey on board the S.S. Munargo on June 13, 1930 and arrived in Montevideo on July 1, after a stop over in Brazil. It was winter in the southern hemisphere and the players reported being bothered by the cold and the penetrating dampness.
The American team contained six players who were born in Britain, five Scots and one Englishman. However, despite many stories to the contrary only one of those players was a former British professional.
In fact most of them had come to the U.S. before they were teenagers, and like most of the rest of the team were playing in the professional American Soccer League of the day.
On opening day the Americans played Belgium and won 3-0, while France played Mexico and won 4-1. The early part of the competition being played at the homes of the great Uruguayan clubs Nacional and Penerol, the main stadium still being under construction.
On July 17, the U.S. won its second game also by a 3-0 score with centre forward Bert Patenaude, scoring all three goals. The first World Cup hat trick, and this qualified the Americans for the semifinals.
Argentina with wins over France and Mexico also qualified for one semi-final and would play the U.S, while Uruguay and Yugoslavia would meet in the other. Both semi-finals were played in the new Centenario Stadium.
Argentina led the U.S. 1-0 at half time, in their game, but the Americans had goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas injured early in the game and centre half Ralph Tracey is claimed to have broken his leg and didn’t play in the second half.
With ten men and an injury to left half Andy Auld, the U.S. with virtually eight fit men, eventually lost 6-1. Uruguay won the other semi-final by the same score thus leading to an all South American final.
Four years later the second World Cup was staged in Italy. Champions Uruguay stayed home piqued by the snub of the European nations who failed to attend in 1930.
This time it was a sudden death competition, one loss and you were on your way home. Italy won beating Czechoslovakia in the final.
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