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  • Alpf

    Hey,

    maybe this is a strange first post, but I feel my knowledge of the baseball game is not extended enough yet to contribute here in meaningfull way. This being said, I'd like to query you about the ALPF aka the AMERICAN LEAGUE OF PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL, a soccer league founded by baseball major league teams

    THE FIRST PROFESSIONAL SOCCER LEAGUE IN THE UNITED STATES: THE AMERICAN LEAGUE OF PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL (1894)

    by Steve Holroyd ([email protected])

    Contrary to popular myth, professional soccer in America did not suddenly erupt on the scene with the arrival of Pelé in 1975. In fact, America’s first attempt at professional soccer took place in 1894, with the formation of the American League of Professional Football. Predating the formation of professional gridiron football and basketball leagues by many years, the ALPF presented a prime opportunity for the sport to become firmly enmeshed in the American sports landscape. Ultimately, that opportunity would be wasted.

    In many ways, the United States’ first professional league presented a blueprint for all those that would follow--absentee ownership with interests other than the development of the sport, domination by foreign players, in-fighting within the soccer community, outside factors detrimental to the sport’s development, and lack of fan interest. As history has shown, however, few lessons were learned from the ALPF’s swift and speedy demise.

    On paper, the time seemed ideal for a professional soccer league. Although "professionalism" was still a dirty word in athletic circles, baseball had thrived as a professional sport for over twenty years. Moreover, England’s Football Association—modeled on the American baseball leagues—had proven to be just as successful. Thus, a professional association football league in the U.S. seemed like a logical extension of professional sports’ growth.

    Also, the game itself had finally recovered from the collegiate defection to gridiron football to make such a league feasible. The American Football Association had successfully staged the American Cup tournament for over a decade, and there was a developing fan base for the association game. The game had also grown behind its original base in the Northeastern United States, and had ceased being the exclusive province of immigrants. The Pullman Railroad Car Co. of Chicago formed a club in 1883, and the St. Louis Football Association was formed in 1886. As far west as Colorado, with the formation of the Denver Association Football Club in 1892, Americans had embraced the sport. While English immigrants dominated most of these leagues, participation by the natives was such that, as early as 1890, the St. Louis league championship was won by Kensington, a team composed almost entirely of American citizens.

    Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that the first individuals to express interest in forming a pro soccer league were men who were already well-versed in professionalism. In August of 1894, six owners of National League baseball clubs met in New York to announce the formation of the ALPF. Arthur A. Irwin, field manager of baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies, was named league president. Besides Philadelphia, clubs representing Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, New York, and Washington were also participating. Surprisingly, the National League's St. Louis franchise did not participate. Presumably, Chris Von Der Ahe, the team's playboy owner, could not be bothered.

    On the other hand, the participating owners may have decided that travelling to St. Louis would have cut into league profits. Make no mistake--for the most part, these owners had very little interest in actually promoting or developing the game. For these men, the sport was simply an opportunity to make more money for themselves. In particular, it should be remembered that baseball's owners had an absolute stranglehold on the game prior to the advent of free agency in 1976. The dreaded "reserve clause" was still very much alive, and players were little more than chattel to the owners.

    Not surprisingly, the ALPF owners were anxious to impose the same monopolistic conditions on the game of soccer. At the first league meeting, a constitution identical to that of the National League was adopted. Similarly, a form of contract identical to those used with baseball players was also adopted. Not surprisingly, the "reserve clause" was the primary feature of the standard agreement.

    The August meeting also found the owners adopting a set of playing rules. Press reports at the time describe these rules as "the same as those in use in England, with the exception of a few minor changes." These changes were never identified--however, it would appear, given some press reports, that substitutions were allowed in the league. One other innovation involved the teams' choice of uniforms: contrary to practice at the time, each team was to have a "distinguishing uniform." Essentially, the ALPF clubs adopted the practice of wearing home and away jerseys. At home, clubs were to wear a "white uniform with black stockings," while away from home the uniform would consist of a dark shade jersey and white socks. Finally, the league announced a 10-game schedule, with each team playing five games at home and five on the road. The season would commence October 1, and was to run until January 1; apparently, this plan was later abandoned, as the season would find teams playing six games by mid-October.

    As might be expected, the owners of the clubs were optimistic regarding the league’s success. However, from the start it seemed clear that they were more interested in filling their parks during baseball’s off-season than they were in promoting and developing the game. For starters, the public was often teased with stories of various major league baseball players participating in the league; from the beginning, the owners were not confident that the public would support soccer unless they could view their favorite baseball players in the process. In keeping with this parochial view, the managers of the various baseball teams were designated "coaches" of the soccer teams; again, the publicity to be gained from this move outweighed the fact that the quality of soccer was sure to suffer as a result. Finally, lest their be any doubt as to the identity of the clubs, all were named after their respective baseball teams.

    The ALPF’s arrival was not greeted with unanimous enthusiasm in soccer circles. Several other organizations, including the AFA, expressed reservations about the American League’s true commitment to the game, and viewed the baseball owners as "carpetbaggers." On September 17, the AFA adopted a rule at its annual meeting barring any footballer signing an ALPF contract from participating in an AFA-sanctioned event. Obviously, the move was designed to impede the ALPF's encroachment into the AFA's territory. For their part, however, the baseball men had the money to draw players and the top-quality stadiums to put them in. In short, they had little trouble enticing players used to playing on cricket fields for little money to play in the ALPF.

    And the players did come—in spite of being "coached" by baseball managers, the new pro teams quickly established themselves as the class teams in their areas. The New York Giants scrimmaged two local clubs, defeating them by a 10-1 aggregate. Philadelphia, meanwhile, also defeated two area teams, by a similar aggregate. Mainly drawing on local English and Irish players from local leagues, the ALPF clubs generally performed well against the extant competition.

    Although the players did come, however, they were not as easily controlled as their baseball counterparts. Two of New York's first signings were a pair of Newark, New Jersey stars, Alfred Cutler and Hugh McGee. On the eve of the season opener, Cutler and McGee bolted from the Giants, joining the Union Athletic Club of Kearny, New Jersey. Not used to this sort of activity, New York owner George E. Stackhouse was outraged, and stated "Cutler and McGee do not appear to realize that breaking contracts is a rather serious matter, and their chances of playing with any football teams in the future will be small indeed." Notwithstanding this threat, and also in spite of the AFA's purported ban on ALPF players, both Cutler and McGee played with Union, and, in fact, were in the line-up when their team played a home-and-home friendly series against the Philadelphia club in October.

    Eager to draw fans, admission to ALPF games was only $.25. This price would seem to indicate that the league's owners understood that most of soccer's support came from the working class. However, the fact that many games were scheduled on weekday afternoons, while most of these same fans were still working, showed that they did not realize just where most of their support lay. The presence of weekday games in the schedule would seriously impact on the attendance figures at many league matches.

    Upon the league’s opening in early October, it was clear that the clubs were intent on playing wide-open, attacking soccer. Utilizing the pyramid system of the era—two fullbacks, three halfbacks and five forwards—the soccer was much different from the more cautious, defensive style favored today. As a result, games featuring five goals or more were fairly common. Initial reviews in the press were enthusiastic.

    Not that many people could attest to the quality of play: from the start, attendances were disappointing. Philadelphia drew 500 to its home opener against New York, and crowds more often than not numbered in the hundreds rather than the thousands. Philadelphia drew anemically notwithstanding the presence of several baseball Phillies on the roster; for all of the pre-season hype, the soccer Phillies were the only club to actually use any of the sister club’s baseballers. Interestingly, one of these players--Sam Thompson--entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974.

    One club that was successful at the gate was Baltimore. Drawing over 8,000 to their home opener, the Orioles seemed intent on duplicating the success of the baseball club, who were the 1894 National League champions. One step in that direction was the Orioles’ hiring of an actual soccer coach, A.W. Stewart. Stewart, in turn, imported a number of professionals from the Manchester area of England. Dotting the Orioles roster were Little, Calvey, Ferguson, and Wallace from the Manchester City club, and Fred Davies from Sheffield United, all seasoned footballers. With the British pros leading the way, and Stewart himself playing goalkeeper, Baltimore established itself as the class of the league.

    The other clubs were not amused at Baltimore’s methods, however. After being thrashed by the Orioles 10-1, Washington Nationals coach Art Schmelz complained of the Baltimore club’s use of British professionals. The press picked up on the story, and a full-blown controversy ensued. Baltimore, for its part, rather unconvincingly alleged that most of its players were from Detroit.

    Meanwhile, the baseball magnates behind the league had a more pressing concern: during the season, rumors of a second professional baseball league caused the National League owners to circle the wagons, fearing a bidding war on players. Suddenly, the luxury of operating soccer clubs in the hope of filling baseball stadiums during the off-season was something no one could afford. The meager attendances of most of the clubs made the venture even less cost-effective. Finally, with the U.S. Government’s announced intention to investigate the Orioles’ importation of British professionals, the league owners decided that the time had come to pull the plug on the venture. Thus, on October 20, a mere six games into the season, the ALPF folded. The announcement was made without much fanfare in most league cities: one news item simply read "the proposed professional game between the New Yorks and Brooklyns, at the Polo Grounds today, has been declared off."

    Not all of the teams were informed of this, though. Baltimore and Philadelphia played one final match, on October 23, with the Orioles outclassing the Phillies, 6-1. A Tuesday match, only 500 fans attended the league's swan song. The fact that Baltimore drew from 4,000 to 8,000 for its weekend matches demonstrated what a decisive mistake it was for the league to schedule weekday matches. Later, league officials would claim that the weekday matches were necessary because of conflicts with college football. However, the fact that both sports drew distinctly different audiences would seem to have made that concern moot. The simple fact is, the ALPF, comprised, as it was, with owners totally uninvolved with the game at the grass roots level, did not understand the very audience they were courting.

    The cancellation of the 1894 season was not originally intended to be the death of the league. Instead, the owners hoped to draw on the "experience" of the year and reorganize play for the spring of 1895. Indeed, several owners seem to have become bona fide converts to the game by the end of the year. Both Baltimore owner H.R. Vonderhorst and Washington owner J. Earl Wagner wanted to continue the fall schedule, but were overruled by the other owners. Philadelphia, for its part, continued playing an exhibition schedule after the end of the ALPF season. Interestingly, the Phillies had a hand in the rebirth of the association game at the college level, scrimmaging the newly-formed Princeton University club in November.

    Up until recently, this league has been shrouded in mystery. The only notable mention of it is in Sam Foulds' America's Soccer Heritage, in a brief chapter. To date, no known photographs of an ALPF match exist. Indeed, so little is known about the league that glaring inaccuracies often go unchecked. For example, David Gould was elected into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1953, primarily in recognition of his coaching the U.S. World Cup team in 1934. His Hall of Fame biography states that he was a center forward in the ALPF during his playing days. While an excellent player for a number of clubs in his day, however, there is no record of Gould's ever playing in the American League.

    If the ALPF had been successful, the sports landscape in America might be much different today. In fact, the ALPF's history is dotted by quite a few "ifs." For instance, if soccer men had formed the league, or if a threatened rival baseball league did not suddenly evaporate the league’s capital, or if the league had been better marketed, it then might have survived to establish soccer as an accepted game in the U.S. Ironically, the league’s hundredth anniversary could have been celebrated during the 1994 World Cup held in the United States. Instead, it remains a barely acknowledged footnote in soccer’s long American history, and a golden opportunity wasted.

    1894 AMERICAN LEAGUE OF ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL--FINAL STANDINGS AND STATISTICS


    GP
    W
    L
    T
    TP
    GF
    GA

    Brooklyn Bridegrooms
    6
    5
    1
    0
    10
    20
    6

    Baltimore Orioles
    4
    4
    0
    0
    8
    24
    3

    Boston Beaneaters
    5
    4
    1
    0
    8
    15
    12

    New York Giants
    6
    2
    4
    0
    4
    16
    13

    Philadelphia Phillies
    9
    2
    7
    0
    4
    15
    37

    Washington Senators
    6
    1
    5
    0
    2
    7
    26


    (Notes regarding standings: Teams were rewarded 2 points for a win, one point for a draw.

    LEADING SCORERS


    GP
    G

    Bannister (Brooklyn)
    6

    Connelly (New York)
    6

    Pemberton (Brooklyn)
    6

    James Mckendrick (Baltimore)
    2
    4


    (Notes regarding scorers table: GP does not actually reflect games played, but games in which full reports are available. This table will be updated as more information is collected. It has been included, at this point, not for accuracy, but to give some indication of who the league's stars were)

    LEADING GOALKEEPERS


    GP
    GA
    ShO
    GAA

    A.W. Stewart (Baltimore)
    4
    3
    0
    0.75

    DennisShea (Brooklyn)
    6
    6
    0
    1.00


    (Notes regarding goalkeepers table: Again, GP does not accurately reflect games played. This table will be updated as more information is collected)

    http://www.sover.net/~spectrum/alpf.html

    Does anyone has more information since this league seems quite baseball-related? Or does someone know why soccer was affiliated with baseball?

  • #2
    just businessmen from the sporting industry trying to make a buck - baseball would have a substantial partnership with american football beginning in 1902

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