The Start of Soccer in Bethlehem
F. F. B., apparently one of the pioneers of soccer in this section, writes in a reminiscent mood on the origins of the dribble game hereabouts and discloses some interesting data on the start of the sport. "The origin of soccer in Bethlehem," says the writer, "has been the subject of frequent discussion and varied opinions," and then continues with the following communication:
"Quite a lot has been said about soccer in Bethlehem but nothing of the first real soccer game. In 1904 a soccer ball was brought from Scotland and kicked around on a vacant lot on Buttonwood street facing the plant of the Bethlehem Steel Co. and later used on a more adapted lot at the rear of the O'Reilly grocery and dry goods store on East Third street. The introduction of the ball in this city created quite a lot of excitement among the athletically inclined and old as well as young would scramble to get possession and lay their boot against the sphere and to see the more adept display accurate control in handling it without the sue of their hands. The first real soccer game played that Bethlehem took part in was against the West Hudsons, champions of America, at Harrison, N. J., on November 17, 1907, and the local dribblers were defeated by the score of 11 to 3. They had more nerve than football ability when they tackled the West Hudsons. However, instead of being discouraged those interested became more determined and development followed rapidly. The first real soccer game in this section was played at Rittersville and that was a return game against West Hudson. The contest attracted considerable interest and quite a number of people from Allentown and Bethlehem witnessed the game. Bethlehem was again defeated, this time by the score of 9 to 0, but the outcome was more or less anticipated. Less formidable opponents were then secured and victories were frequent. The brothers McKinnon and a few Allentonians got together and played a few games among themselves. Lansford, Reading and a few other cities and towns later took up the sport. Horace Williams, Ned Kelly and H. E. Lewis became interested as players in 1907. The only players still located in Bethlehem who took part in both games with West Hudson are Wattle McKinnon, Bob McLaughlin, Ned Kelly and Jack Cassidy."
In supplementing this communication it is not amiss to recall some of the other interesting sidelights which entered into the development of soccer in this vicinity and which eventually grew into a big sport with Bethlehem represented by a championship team for years and today recognized as one of the few real soccer clubs in the country. Often has been heard the incentive in inspiring great interest in the sport of one certain individual who prior to that time had never played soccer but since has become known as the daddy of the sport in Bethlehem and has spared neither time nor personal expense in putting across the team which today sports the colors of the Bethlehem Steel F. C. "It seemed uncanny to see a player get a twist on the ball with his foot and curve it toward the net, a feat seeming impossible." Realizing after numerous trials that it was quite an art to accomplish only served to stimulate a determined attitude to master with the result that the ranks were quickly increased and soccer started on a rampage of development in leaps and bounds. Quite a few of those who assisted fostering the sport in the early days have since passed away but with their demise the foundation was established and others assumed the work where it was left off. Most peculiar in the entire soccer situation has been the apparent lack of interest in recent years, which, however, during the past season gave evidence by the attendances of the old time fervor being revived. IN the early days crowds numbering thousands gathered to witness the game but finally dwindled to a mere "corporal's guard." Perhaps it was the long standing supreme superiority of the Bethlehem team over all rivals and the matter of turning in victories and annexing championships a foregone conclusion. The spirit of competition was lacking. However, of recent years the sport has developed with leaps and bounds and there is hardly a club in the American Soccer League, mentioned for the fact that this loop is regarded as the strongest professional soccer team in the country, that cannot boast of a galaxy of big league celebrities. The day of the foregone conclusion is past and victory is garnered only after spirited fight against equal competition. During the past season it was more than once demonstrated the lowliest club in the circuit, regarded as such by their position in the club standing, created most havoc among the championship aspirants. That element of doubt that will exist in the future in all soccer games, it is believed will be the spark to kindle the interest once manifest and that the ranks of local soccer enthusiasts will be increased to compare favorably with those in other cities and reward the efforts of those fostering the sport who in recent years did so in the face of most discouraging conditions. Statistics reveal that soccer during the last season experienced the greatest success ever. Success in every angle and the few kinks that will exist to completely popularize this sport are rapidly being ironed out. The Bethlehem management is not divulging any plans for next season. Biding time, maybe, waiting for opportunity. Suffice it to say that when the soccer season rolls around next September the Bethlehem club will again be rated with the greatest in the country and will make a more determined bid than ever to taste the fruits of some of the glowing laurels of yesteryear which has not been the lot of the local clan for several seasons.