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The Philadelphia Union: Following the Ghosts of Bethlehem's Soccer Tradition

The Bethlehem Steel Football Club helped build the foundation and solidify the popularity of soccer not only in Pennsylvania, but nationwide.

 

On July 11, the Philadelphia Union will take on the Sporting Kansas City in the Lamar Hunt US Soccer Open. This game represents the first time since 1993 that a Pennsylvania team has a shot to go to the finals and compete for the Dewar Challenge Trophy.

Pennsylvania soccer teams have won 12 Dewar Challenge Trophies since the tournament kicked off in 1914. The last time a Pennsylvania team has won the trophy was in 1966 when the Philadelphia Ukrainians defeated the Orange County Football Club from California.

One of the most prolific Pennsylvania based teams to ever win the Dewars Challenge Trophy, is a team long forgotten. They share the record for most trophy wins with Maccabi Los Angeles (a prolific soccer club of Israeli expatriates). It is the Bethlehem Steel Football Club.

The club was formed in 1913, and the town quickly fell in love with soccer and the team. Some 500 people would regularly travel on trains to see the team when they would play in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.

The club began playing home games at the East End Field, but the teams instant success caused the Bethlehem Steel to build a stadium on Elizabeth Avenue in Bethlehem. For games that drew larger crowds the team would play at Taylor Stadium (which was built for by Bethlehem Steel).

This stadium on Elizabeth Avenue was the first stadium in the United States built with a grandstand specifically for soccer. Today the grandstand and the stadium exists as Steel Field and his home to Football and Track and Field.

There is a bronze plaque on the grandstand at Steel Field which commemorates the Bethlehem Steel Football Club and their achievements. The stadium and grandstand still exist on Elizabeth Avenue.

Soccer was so popular in Bethlehem that the National Open Championship Final was played at Taylor Stadium in 1915. The Bethlehem Steel Football Club won their first National Championship in Bethlehem in front of 7,500 fans. They defeated Brooklyn Celtic 3-1. 

From 1915 until 1919 the Bethlehem Steel Football Club dominated their competition. They won 4 Dewars Challenge Trophies in that 5 year period. They were in the finals of the tournament 5 straight years. Winning back to back titles on two occasions. No other amateur or professional team in tournament history has been this successful.

The team won it's 5th and record setting Dewars Challenge Trophy in 1926. That year the championship was played against the Ben Millers, a soccer club from St. Louis, MS. The Ben Millers had outscored their opponents 7-1 leading up to the championship.

The final was played at Ebbets Field in front of 18,000 fans. To date it is the 3rd largest crowd ever to attend a US Open Cup Final. In the game the Bethlehem Steel Football Club won 7-2 with Archie Stark scoring a hat trick for Bethlehem.

Stark was invited to play on the first ever US World Cup team that made the semi-finals of the 1930 tournament. However, he declined for business reasons.

Perhaps the most notable player from the Bethlehem Steel Football Club was Robert Millar. Millar played for the Bethlehem Steel Football Club from 1914-1919 and did not play at all for any club during the 1917 season. Had Millar played that 1917 season the Bethlehem Steel Football Club may have won 5 straight Dewars Challenge Trophies. Millar would go on to coach the 1930 World Cup team. Millar and Stark were inducted into first US Soccer Hall of Fame class in 1950.

So as the Union take the field on July 11th, understand that soccer's popularity in the United States as well as the foundation for major professional soccer in the United States was built on a foundation and tradition started in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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