Fall River Marksmen
- Scott Tann
- Tue Mar 27 2007, 8:29pm GMT
In 2004, I wrote a five-part series for MatchNight on the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It was called "A Toast to the Open Cup." This is Part 2.
Fall River, Massachusetts is a small city with a rich soccer history.
Clubs from the town fifty miles south of Boston won five consecutive American Cups from 1888 to 1892. The Fall River Rovers defeated Bethlehem Steel for the 1917 National Challenge Cup, as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was then known.
Yet one Fall River side stands out among the others.
Historians refer to the 1920s and early 1930s as the "Golden Era" of American soccer. The Golden Era's dominant team was the Fall River Marksmen.
The buck starts here
In the fall of 1922, native son Sam Mark purchased Fall River United, a club which had struggled to a 5-18-1 record in the American Soccer League's inaugural 1921-22 season.
Mark was a toy store owner with a successful history of promoting basketball in Massachusetts.
He renamed the team the Marksmen, built a stadium just over the state line in North Tiverton, Rhode Island - thereby circumventing Massachusetts blue laws, which prohibited Sunday games - and, with a pocket full of money, went in search of players.
Similar to league rival Bethlehem Steel, Mark looked for Scottish talent to strengthen his club.
Players in the UK were paid less than $25/week, so both Mark and Bethlehem Steel owner Horace Edgar Lewis - the latter offering $75/week for the right man - were able to assemble formidable squads.
Mark signed defender Tommy Martin and winger Tec White from Motherwell, and defender Charlie McGill from Third Lanark. Surprisingly, he also lured future Hall of Fame forward Harold Brittan from Bethlehem Steel.
1924 - The dynasty begins
The Marksmen finished third in the American Soccer League in 1923, but the 1923-24 season, their second under Marks, was a breakout year.
Composed of eight teams stretching from Pawtucket, RI to Philadelphia, the ASL was a popular and successful domestic league. The Marksmen compiled an impressive regular season record of 19-2-6 in 1924; they scored 59 goals while allowing just 19.
Fall River lost the 1924 American Cup final 1-0 to Bethlehem Steel - it would be the competitionís final match - but they completed the first double of the decade by winning the ASL domestic title and the 1924 Open Cup.
On May 30, 1924 - two days before Adolf Hitler was sentenced to jail for his participation in the Beer Hall Putsch - 14,000 spectators witnessed the final at High School Field in Saint Louis. The Marksmen defeated Vesper Buick 4-2.
Riding high in turbulent waters
Buoyed by strong attendance, the ASL expanded to twelve teams for the 1924-25 season.
The Marksmen went on to win ASL titles in 1925, 1926, and 1929, as well as the half-season titles of fall 1929 and spring 1930.
In the late 1920s, Fall River, as well as other teams in the northeast, began shuffling from league to league and played half-seasons during the "Soccer Wars."
These political battles were caused by the ASL's schedule conflicts with the Open Cup, but many teams, including Bethlehem Steel and Fall River, refused to withdraw from the competition.
The ASL went through a few name changes, saw teams defect to other leagues, and then went out of existence in 1930 - only to be re-born in 1933.
"The success of the ASL is significant, as the NFL was in its infancy during the 1920s, and until the late 1920s, the ASL's success equaled or even surpassed the NFL," writes historian David Litterer. "Crowds in excess of 10,000 were not uncommon, and if the league had been able to overcome its problems and continue, then the 1990s may well have seen soccer as the American national sport rather than gridiron football."
The Soccer Wars demonstrate how popular the sport was at the time - the ASL did not want interference with its lucrative domestic schedule - but they also signal the start of a tension with professional domestic leagues which exists to this day: how to deal with the Open Cup?
The ASL forbade teams to enter it. The NASL simply ignored it. MLS participates in the competition, but it's no secret that players and organizations look at it as a second priority.
Throughout the ASL's turbulent history, the Marksmen were always a top-five team - but the Open Cup was a prized title. The Marksmen won it three more times - four cups in eight years - before Sam Mark disbanded the squad in 1932.
In May of 1927, Fall River defeated Holley Carburetors 7-0 before a crowd of 10,000 at the University of Detroit Stadium.
In 1930, the Marksmen defeated Cleveland Bruell Insurance in a best of three series. They won 7-2 in the first game at the Polo Grounds in New York; attendance was 10,000. A week later, they won 2-1 at Luna Park in Cleveland in front of 3,500 spectators.
The Marksmen won their last Open Cup a year later as Fall River FC, yet their name in domestic play was the New York Yankees.
Sam Mark had moved the Marksmen to New York City and renamed them the Yankees in early 1931, but the team had registered for the Open Cup as Fall River FC.
Fall River FC defeated Chicago Bricklayers over three games in April for the 1931 title. On April 5, they won 6-0 at the Polo Grounds in front of 12,000 people. A week later, 8,000 fans watched the teams draw 1-1 at Mills Stadium in Chicago. 3,500 watched Fall River clinch the title 2-0 at Chicago's Sparta Field on April 19.
Scots Bill Harper (goalkeeper) and Alex McNab (winger), Canadian defender Bob McAuley, and Norwegian forward Werner Nielsen (member of the 1934 U.S. World Cup team) were all Marksmen.
Sam Mark built the team around English center forward Harold Brittan, who played at Chelsea before coming to America.
Brittan scored 15 goals in 20 games for Fall River in the 1923-24 ASL season and notched 7 goals in that year's Open Cup. He scored 32 goals in 34 games the following year in ASL play.
Billy Gonsalves, born in Portsmouth, RI, was an "inside right," or right forward, for Fall River in the late 20s and early 30s.
Gonsalves was a tall man known for his powerful shot. He led Fall River to Open Cup titles in 1930 and 1931, played for the U.S. World Cup team in 1930 and 1934, and won a record eight Open Cup champion medals with various teams by 1944.
Bert Patenaude was born - and died - in Fall River. He became the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup game in 1930 against Paraguay. Patenaude scored five goals in the Marksmen's rout of Chicago Bricklayers in the first leg of the 1931 Open Cup.