In the Beginning

When it first arrived in this faraway corner of the Union, it was simply known as football or, in a publication’s initial reference, association football. It was the sport of immigrants, and during 1880s immigrants were among the tens of thousands pouring into the territory and, by November 1889, the newly admitted State of Washington. During that decade alone, the state population grew by nearly five-fold (most of it in the final five years of the century), and in the next 20 years it would triple again.

Western Washington was densely forested and rich coal reserves had been discovered on the Cascade foothills, and, whether it was the timber or mining industries, workers were in great demand. By 1900, 20 percent of the state population was foreign-born, over half from northern Europe, where association football had taken root. Black Diamond Mining Co., founded in 1884 in the southeastern King County foothills, featured a workforce of mainly Irish, Welsh and Italian heritage. Awaiting them was a local sporting culture of gridiron football, baseball and horse racing. Cleaving to what they knew, the immigrants brought association football, a game associated with Europe’s working class.

Those laboring in mining and lumber had dangerous jobs and little free time a typical work week was six 10-hour-days. Yet they thoroughly enjoyed competing, the game was growing throughout Cascadia, and beyond picking teams for after-work games, it was common to challenge other work camps and neighboring towns to a match.

The first published word of association football surfaced in 1890, both in rural Washington and urbanized Puget Sound. A spring team had formed in the southwestern logging community of Chehalis, and a Christmas Day match was played at Tacoma’s baseball park versus a side from Portland. By 1893, transcontinental rail service and association football had reached Seattle, where a challenge match against Everett took place on the shores of Lake Washington, at Madison Park.

With precious little recreation time and challenging travel conditions throughout the region, regular intercity play was not possible at first. Seattle Association Football Club (AFC) sailed up to Vancouver Island in May 1894 only to be humbled by British Columbia champion Victoria Wanderers, 5-1, for unofficial bragging rights of Cascadia.

Thanks to generous donors, prestigious prizes were at stake. In 1894, the Great Northern Railway donates “at great expense” a silver challenge cup as a prize for teams to compete throughout Washington and Oregon. In 1899, more silverware was donated by Thomas Lippy to winner of the state championship, to be settled on Thanksgiving Day. A second Seattle club, Thistles, was formed and by 1905 they were joined by Wanderers, soldiers from Fort Lawton and millworkers from Port Blakeley, on the eastern side of the Sound. It was sufficient to form the Northwestern Association Football League, which would feature six charter members, including Tacoma, opens in January 1906. Lumberman Jack McMillan’s trophy was the most recognizable. The McMillan Cup was presented to winners of several different competitions over a span of 35 years (1913-1948).

There was good reason to be optimistic about the game taking hold. Big matches had moved from Madison Park to Woodland Park, which was served by a trolley line. The City of Seattle had purchased the park from Guy Phinney in 1899. Five years later, the Olmsted Brothers-designed park, featuring a zoo, opened. An athletic field was situated at the park’s southwest corner and known as Upper Woodland. Crowds were soon flocking to the field an estimated 2,000 watched Wanders and Thistles play in March 1906.

Across the nation and in Washington, the game was getting a new name to better distinguish itself from American football after initially spelling it ‘socker,’ then soccer. Newspapers chronicled league play, major friendlies and even schoolboy leagues. Quality play was termed ‘fast,’ referees often received marquee billing and occasionally complete lineups were listed, usually prior to the match.

It’s a winter sport, with league play beginning in mid-November, concluding in late February. A knockout tournament follows, keeping each club engaged to the end. Friendlies continued to be played, more often than not on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Those would involve either established clubs or picked (all-star) sides meeting Canadian counterparts. By 1908, in addition to the Northwestern League, a picked team, Seattle United, was admitted to the B.C.-based Pacific Coast City League and holds it own (2-2-1). Ultimately, however, the costs of added travel are too much to bear they do not return for a second season.

Improved transportation makes local travel much more practical, however, allowing the miners from Black Diamond, Carbonado and Renton to join – and dominate – the league, which grows to 10 members for the first time, in 1913. The economy, with logging once more prosperous, is strong and interest is widespread. In the southwest corner of the state, communities and logging camps form a senior league. Youth play is introduced to schools in Seattle (Green Lake, in 1910) and Spokane by 1912, and women seek to play informally around Seattle.

As the state approached its fourth decade of soccer, the sport was booming but looming was U.S. involvement in the Great War. Since the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914, Puget Sound becomes a thriving manufacturing and shipbuilding center. Skinner & Eddy opens the largest shipyard in the Pacific Northwest in 1916, and by 1918 there are 13 yards launching steel- and wood-hulled vessels. Five shipyards – Skinner & Eddy, Seattle Construction & Dry Drock, Ames, Duthie’s, Todd and North Pacific – form teams and join the league, and during the war years the power shifts to from the hills to the docks.

These are heady times. A booming wartime economy, automobiles beginning to shrink the distances between communities and, for soccer, seemingly endless possibilities. Alas, the Twenties would begin with a whimper rather than a roar.

Notable Senior Clubs
Aimes Shipyard, Black Diamond, Carbonado, Celtics, Duthies Shipyard, Fort Lawton, Franklin Town, Port Blakeley, Rangers, Rainiers, Seattle AFC, Seattle Construction & Dry Dock, Seattle United, Skinner & Eddy, Sparta, Tacoma AFC, Thistles, Wanderers, Woodland Park
Notable Junior Clubs/Schools
Adams Grade School, Green Lake School, Pacific School

1890-1919: In the Beginning

From the formative days of statehood on through The Great War, the game of association football arrives and begins to thrive, particularly among immigrant communities.

Victoria Rules Cascadia
May 24, 1894

Provincial champion Victoria Wanderers defeats Seattle AFC, champions of Washington State, 5-1 at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, giving Wanderers the unofficial title of Pacific Northwest champion. They won all 7 games (47-5 GD) that season.

NW League Affiliates With US Governing Body
January 24, 1914

Northwest Association Football League president Howard C. McPherrin announces the organization is affiliated with the newly-formed U.S. Football Association, the nation’s governing soccer body. McPherrin expects the state association to soon have representative on the USFA council. Later in the year, FIFA accepts the United States as a full member.

New League Forms, Begins Play
October 30, 1910

The Northwestern Association Football League is formed. It features seven clubs: Celtics, Rangers, Rainiers, Shamrocks (all from Seattle) and Tacoma, Everett and Port Blakeley. In the inaugural matches, Rangers blast Celtics, 5-1, at Woodland Park and Tacoma posts 2-0 home win over Rainiers.

Armistice Prompts Lifting of Flu Ban
November 11, 1918

With the public celebrating the World War I Armistice and Seattle health officials unable to keep citizens separated and masked, the influenza ban is lifted. Northwestern Soccer League president Charlie Goodenough promptly puts in motion plans to start the season. The Public School Athletic League conducts an abbreviated season, with A.C. Pelton stating there will be no grade school city championship match.

Seattle Wins Inaugural Title
April 1, 1906

Seattle AFC wins the Northwestern Senior League's first championship by defeating Thistles, 2-0, at Woodland Park to complete inaugural season undefeated. They are presented the silver cup April 28 at Germania Club.

Everett Brings Supporters by Boat
March 5, 1893

Snowed out in January, a rescheduled match between Seattle and Everett is held at Madison Park, and the visitors charter a boat and “bring a large party of backers with them.” Jimmy Beggs scores three times in Seattle's 6-0 rout.

Contentious Seattle-Carbonado Match
January 18, 1914

Four of Black Diamond’s top players play for Carbonado in a 4-3 win over Seattle United in Tacoma, prompting a protest. Clarke, playing in goal, punches the referee in the jaw after a penalty was called. The match ends with spectators on the pitch. League president Howard McPherrin suspends Clarke for the remainder of the season.

Seattle-Tacoma Exhibition Benefits Soldiers
November 17, 1918

Six days after the WWI armistice, the league schedule is suspended to play an Intercity exhibition. Picked teams from Seattle and Tacoma play at Liberty Park, with the /Pierce County visitors bringing 200-plus fans in large automobiles. Over $100 is raised for the United War Work Fund, to help boost American soldiers' morale and provide them with recreational activities.

Great War Maims Former Player
June 6, 1917

Frank Metcalf, known as enthusiastic player for Seattle Construction and Dry Dock, has lost his right leg in fighting near Somme, France. A bomb killed the rest of his gun battery. He’s a member of 47th battalion of Fusileers in Vancouver, BC. His two brothers reside in Seattle.

Chaotic Calls Prompt Protest
December 2, 1907

Tacoma players allege 4-1 loss to Seattle Rangers entirely attributable to 'Referee Ross,' who made one-sided decisions, including a penalty call for Rangers. The kick was saved by Tacoma, but Ross ordered a re-try that was converted.

League Leaders Desire Own Playing Venue
March 29, 1917

Representatives of the soccer and baseball communities meet with city business leaders and park board members, seeking to establish a facility that can accommodate sports and large crowds. The Seattle League Park Association, which includes principals of each state league club, promises to fund and build a park where fans can be seated and admission collected to offset cost of club operations. A location at the base of Queen Anne Hill is mentioned.

Railway Sponsors Cup
December 20, 1894

Great Northern Railway, which began transcontinental service to Seattle 18 months earlier, donates a silver challenge cup “at considerable expense” as a prize for teams representing the North Pacific Amateur Athletics associations located in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Port Townsend, La Grande, Astoria and other communities. The cup stands 16 inches and features a statuette of “Victory,” in the form of a female, from whose extended right arm depends the laurel wreath.

Seattle Joins Pacific Coast League
July 27, 1908

Seattle joins the BC-based Pacific Coast Association Football League during a gathering at Victoria’s Driard Hotel. Seattle United will be made up of the best players from the state league teams and join four other clubs from British Columbia: Vancouver United, Victoria United, Ladysmith and Nanaimo.

Lippy Donates Trophy
November 28, 1899

Thomas S. Lippy donates a silver cup for winners of the Washington state championship. Lippy, formerly general secretary of the Seattle YMCA, recently returned from making a fortune prospecting gold in the Klondike.

First League Formed
December 28, 1905

Northwestern Senior League forms with Seattle AFC, Wanderers, Thistles, Fort Lawton and Tacoma. Port Blakeley, though owning an active team, opts out.

Soccer an Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expo
July 26, 1909

Representatives of the Northwestern Soccer Football Association meet Major William Inglis, fair director of athletics, and agree to have teams play BC teams during Seattle's Alaska-Yukon Exposition. Five-a-side exhibitions are held in late September, with Tacoma AFC most impressive of the local entries.

Rangers Lift McMillan Cup
March 30, 1913

Rangers upset Celtic, 1-0, to win the McMillan Cup, a 5-team competition featuring those teams along with Black Diamond, Rainiers and Fort Lawton’s 14th Infantry.

Interlake Reigns Among Schoolboys
December 10, 1925

Forced into a replay following a scoreless draw the first time around, Interlake dispenses with Hawthorne, 3-0, for a third straight Seattle grade school championship.

Soccer Growing Among Grade Schools
September 30, 1917

William Ellis, director of Seattle grammar school athletics, announces that while football is being dropped for a lack of players, soccer programs are growing: 26 in Class A (more than 11 classrooms) and 20 in Class B. Public Schools Athletic League also lengthens halves from 20 to 25 minutes to lessen frequency of ties.

Benefit Match for Vets
January 6, 1919

Seattle all-stars defeat Victoria Fragments of France (Canadians who fought in WWI), 4-2, before overflow crowd at Seattle's Liberty Park. Proceeds benefit the Overseas Club which cares for returned soldiers and sailors.

Black Diamond did not send a team to play at Carbonado. There is a demand for coal now and most of the players were working in the mines yesterday.
Seattle Times, Dec. 27, 1916, explaining the postponement of a league match
A little of a good thing is OK, but it can be carried too far and become too obvious.
Seattle Rangers player McKinley, after officiating blatantly favor his team vs. Tacoma on December 2, 1907
There are players enough in Seattle now to get up two teams, and as all the old players are taking an interest in the game with Tacoma, some sort of league may be formed for next year...Almost every man who spent his boyhood in the British Isles knows the game of ‘socker’ well, and a great many of the miners come from that part of the world.
Seattle Times, February 19, 1905
Soccer’s increasing popularity in both schools and colleges has been attributed to the fact that it is a game that any boy with staying power can play. The spirit of getting everyone in the game has been growing in the Tacoma schools each year.
Richard Kelly, Supervisior of Physical Training, 1917-18 Spalding Guide
Boosters figuring that, like most of the White River Valley teams, they were only second raters. This idea was soon dispelled when Celtic came home from the mining town on the short end of a 2-1 score...Encouraged by their success the Diamonds got hold of a few stars and after that it was only a question of how many (goals) when the Stripes (jerseys) went on the field.
Black Diamond's debut league season, as described by Richard Kelly in 1912-13 Spalding Guide
I think that within a very short time now my girl’s socker [sic] football team will be completed and everything ready for practice. Numbers of young ladies have called me to talk over the plan with me and a large number have signified their willingness to play. I want you to say in the Star that I want more good, strong, healthy girls for the squad and perhaps we can organize two teams.
Miss Kington, girls team organizer, as quoted by Seattle Star, November 4, 1905
The exhibition of unsportsmanship (sic) on the part of the spectators and several members of the Carbonado team, it is more than likely that Carbonado’s days as a soccer town, at least as far as the Northwestern Association Football League is concerned, are numbered.
Seattle Times match report, referring to chaotic Atmosphere of Carbonado-Celtics Match Oct. 24, 1915
Senior Honor Roll
Year League ChampionKnockout Cup
1905 Seattle AFC
1906 Seattle AFC
1907 Tacoma
1908 Seattle AFC
1909 Tacoma
1911 Tacoma
1912 Black Diamond
1913 Black Diamond
1914 Carbonado
1915 Carbonado
1916 Tacoma
1917 Skinner & Eddy
1918 Duthies
1919 Skinner & Eddy
On this Day in History