Adult Leagues

Seattle-area soccer at the turn of the last century

by Emmett O’Connell

This isn’t a thorough history of high level Puget Sound area soccer, but rather a quick overview of what I could find in a few places about the earliest soccer in the area. I drew solely from articles I could find at Chronicling America and the Internet Archive. I put my emphasis on adult intercity soccer, ignoring mentions of international soccer (there seemed to be some friendlies played in Seattle) and school soccer.

The years I was able to find resources were basically from 1906 through the early 1920’s. That said, these years seem to represent a high water mark for local soccer.

The Seattle Wanderers traveled to Bainbridge Island to play the Port Blakely team at Pleasant Beach in 1906. This game, and the Wanderers themselves, are the earliest reference to Seattle soccer I could find. Below this article is an interesting reminder of how old some issues in soccer really are. The article is about why the game itself is called “soccer,” reminding more mainstream fans of the full name of the sport of association football.

1906 Seattle Star newspaper.

The 1906/07 Wanderers played in the Northwest Soccer League, whose other members included Seattle Thistle, Port Blakely (link), Fort Lawton and Tacoma.

In the 1907/08 season of the Northwest Association Football League, Tacoma, “the Seattles,” Seattle Thistles,  and Seattle Wanderers, were joined by Rangers (also Seattle) with the Fort Lawton team dropping out.

In 1909 plans for a wider regional soccer league, the Pacific Coast Soccer League (football league) began being laid. In addition to Puget Sound teams, the league would also include a team from Spokane, several British Columbian teams and a Portland team.

SEE ALSO: PCSL Soccer Beginnings / Vancouver BC Callister Park

The Pacific Coast league was apparently in addition to local competition for Seattle teams. The 1909/10 Northwest League included Seattle Rangers, Celtics and Thistles and teams from Tacoma and Renton.

Seattle United played in the Pacific Coast league and was possibly a combination of the Seattle teams in the Northwest League. United played their Pacific Coast league games in Dungales Park, a 10,000 seat baseball stadium.

The 1910 Northwest League included Celtic, Rangers, Seattle, Tacoma and Rainiers. By 1913 the ranks of the league had grown to include Celtic, Rangers, Rainiers and Spartans (all from Seattle), Black Diamond, Franklin, Ravensdale, Everett, Tacoma and Port Blakely (again).

1908 Seattle Star newspaper.

The 1913 edition of the league is a shift from mostly urban teams to company town teams like Ravensdale and Black Diamond. The Northwest League was also accompanied by a Southwest State League, which fielded other similar company town teams like Tono.

Alex Rose wrote in the 1914 edition of Spalding’s guide about the local soccer scene:

Since soccer was Introduced in the Northwest, some twelve years ago. the game has steadily gained in popularity and to-day it ranks as one of the leading winter pastimes.

In addition to being one of the most prosperous seasons in the history of the Northwestern Soccer Association, the competitions will be regarded as some of the most noteworthy. principally for the high class article of foot ball played by the teams.

The Carbonado team was the winner of not only the P. I. Cup, but the handsome McMillan Trophy. This was its first year in soccer, and the team’s triumphant march through the season was spectacular and interesting.

The Northwestern Soccer Association of Seattle, which is now affiliated with the United States Foot Ball Association, hopes to be represented by a team at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco in 1015.

Rose again writes in 1916:

The Post-Intelligencer Cup was won by the Seattle Celtics; Tacoma was second, Carbonado third, and Black Diamond fourth and last. These teams and the Seattle Rangers and Woodland Park clubs competed for the McMilan Cup. Both cups are played for in the league system.

The McMilan Cup competition was a seesaw affair from the beginning to the end, and the winner was only decided after the last game had been played. The Tacoma team finished ahead of the Celtics by one point ; Black Diamond, Carbonado, Rangers and Woodland Park followed in the order.

Rose seems to close out the first two decades of Puget Sound area soccer in 1923:

When the Northwest Soccer Association ceased to exist with the ending of the 1919-1920 season, it was thought that the grand old soccer game would be a dead one in these parts and in fact the 1920-1921 team came and went without any senior matches being played. But with the approach of the 1921-22 season, a meeting was arranged and the outcome was the formation of a city league. Not only was senior soccer put on its feet again but the juniors were given a chance to show their skill for the first time.

Soccer football was first introduced in the Pacific Northwest some twenty years ago, but last season, strange to relate, was the first year the youngsters of Seattle had their own “Junior League.” Now they are on the map, there is little danger of them being erased from it. The skillful playing and enthusiasm shown in all the junior matches throughout the season was a revelation to every soccer fan.

Some idea of how anxious the players were to get the game going again, may be gathered from the fact that six clubs entered the senior division and ten in the junior division. The brand of football played by the seniors was easily the best and cleanest ever seen in these parts and it went a long way toward placing soccer on a high pinnacle in winter sportsdom. The West Seattle eleven, captained by Billy McGrath, won the pennant after an exciting race, with the Maple Leafs, Woodland Park, Post Office, Boeing- Aircraft, and Haas-Echarts finishing in the order named.

The big surprise of the season, however, was the spirited contests put up by the juniors. Goalless draws, 1 — 0, and like results were chalked up in the majority of the matches. The forming of this junior league was the biggest boost soccer in Seattle ever had. The junior pennant was won by the Cowan Cigar Company eleven, captained by Sam Gaston, with Washington Park, South Park, Ballard, Hawthorne, Ben Paris Billiards, Allen, Walla Walla, Louie’s Dry Cleaners and Highland Park teams, finishing in the order named.

The curtain was rung down when a double-header was played at Woodland Park, in the presence of 6,000 spectators. Two picked teams, the Blues and Grays, from the junior division, opposed each other in the opener and a very hard fought match resulted in a victory 3 to 0, for the Blues. The windup was between two all star senior elevens, with Dr. T. Galbraith and Billy McGrath as captains, and the exhibition of clean, clever and fast soccer displayed during that ninety minutes has never been seen before on any Pacific Northwest soccer field. It was a fitting climax to the ending of a highly successful season and a splendid match when the final whistle sounded with the teams in a goalless draw.

Read More: The Secret History of American Soccer

Read More: Soccer in the United States 1900-1920

Like I said, this piece is little more than a driveby of early soccer history in Seattle. There is obviously a lot more history here to get into that was I was easily able to discover. That said, there are some quick conclusions I could make:

Despite encouragement by some media (the Seattle Star in 1910 in particular), soccer wasn’t the biggest sport. In most cases, the articles I did find were short and crammed into the bottom corner of a page.

Maybe the first Cascadia Cup? The Pacific Coast League in 1909/10 might have included teams from Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. Just saying.

I sort of mentioned this before, but the makeup of soccer in the Northwest seemed to mirror that of soccer of the same era nationwide. Teams were either ethnically based (Seattle Celtic or Chicago Sparta) or company teams (Carbonado or Bethlehem Steel).

More on Emmett: Capital-area soccer fan / Oly Blogger

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2 thoughts on “Seattle-area soccer at the turn of the last century

  1. The first Cascadia Cup is arguably the match between Albion Iron Works Football Club (Victoria, BC a much larger community than Vancouver until about 1900 after the Klondike Gold Rush) and Seattle AFC on January 2, 1892.

    From 1894 onwards it appears standard for the Washington State and BC champion association football teams to have played a match to lay claim to being the best team in the PNW. Games against Portland (Oregon State Champions?) started in 1905. These are protrayed as post-season exhibitions and not for one of the Challenge Cups in any of Oregon, Washington State, or BC

    From the book Westcoast Reign by Robert Janning.

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