By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jul 23, 2018) US Soccer Players – Soccer is a sport where there are no longer any substantial breaks. One tournament ends, league play begins. It's a transition that both players and fans understand, but it also separates soccer from the other professional sports in North America. The offseason isn't much of one, as we're watching with the summer club tours already in full swing.
The annual International Champions Cup, which features some of the best European club teams, officially started this past Friday. USMNT star Christian Pulisic started for Borussia Dortmund in their 1-0 shutout of Manchester City at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The World Cup ended just five days earlier.
While European clubs have been coming to America for decades, the number of games and venues has grown exponentially in recent years. Teams figured out they could market themselves to new audiences hungry to see their favorite players up close. These preseason matches have their roots in the years immediately following World War II.
It was 52 years ago when Liverpool embarked on a trailblazing set of games in North America. As Liverpool prepares for its game on Wednesday night against Manchester City at MetLife Stadium in suburban New York City, both clubs will be part of a legacy started by the Reds more than five decades ago.
Europe was a very different place in 1946. The continent had just emerged from World War II. The Allies had defeated Nazi Germany, but left behind nations destroyed by years of bombings. When Liverpool decided in 1946 to travel to North America to play a series of games, it was a novel idea for its time. The tour – the brainchild of the club’s chairman William McConnell – only came about because of food. Yes, food. In those days, tours had nothing to do with jersey sales and everything to do with nutrition.
As the owner of a large catering business in England, McConnell visited the United States in 1945 representing the British Ministry of Food. Post-war rationing in Great Britain meant even staple items were scarce. McConnell proposed that Liverpool tour the US and Canada during the summer of 1946, prior to the start of the first full English club season since the end of the war. It would be a great opportunity to gain an edge over its league opponents in the process.
The food available in the United States compared to food-rationed Europe allowed the Liverpool players to bulk up. The Liverpool players indulged in plenty of steak and eggs during their time here, according to a look back at the tour on the club's official site.
New York Times columnist Arthur Daley, on the eve of its final friendly published on June 8, observed: “They (Liverpool) seem to be getting better and sharper, too, a combination of continuous play and unrationed food. Don’t snicker at that food item, either.”
Following a six-day sea journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the 22 Liverpool players docked in New York City on May 10, 1946. They embarked on the 10-game tour that was to take place at eight different venues including one game in Toronto over the span of a month. In the end, Liverpool dominated throughout, winning all its games and scoring 70 goals in the process. Jack Balmer, the team’s star striker, recorded 19 of those goals. Balmer had come from a soccer family. His uncles, Walter and Bob, previously played for Everton. Known for scoring goals, Balmer would tally 111 of them in 315 matches by the time his career came to an end in 1952.
The Reds would finish the 1946-47 season in first place, edging out Manchester United and Wolverhampton by a single point in the standings. It’s a victory that many now claim had its roots in America during preseason.
That summer’s tournament included the blessing of the American Soccer League, one of several regional leagues that made up the hodgepodge of this country’s domestic game for much of the 20th century. The ASL was a 10-team league at the time that enjoyed enormous popularity along the East Coast. Liverpool’s presence drew lots of fans as well as media attention. So successful was that first tour that Liverpool returned to play in 1948 and ‘53.
The closest any team got to beating the English club was a New England All-Star team made up of some of the country’s best players. The All-Stars featured many players from the 1947 US Open Cup champions Ponta Delgada from Fall River, a soccer hotbed in Massachusetts. After a remarkably tight first half, Balmer put Liverpool ahead in the 44th minute to take a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. Liverpool would score two more after the break, but the undeterred New England side pulled two back in an effort to grab at least a draw. Ed Souza, a member of the US team that would famously defeat England at the 1950 World Cup, notched the second goal much to the delight of the 7,000 fans in attendance.
In its final game of the trip, Liverpool defeated a group of ASL All-Stars on June 10. The 10-1 victory took place at Ebbets Field, famous for being the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. In that June 8 column, Daley noted how soccer players in Britain earned less compared to athletes like baseball players did in this country. In interviews with manager George Kay and team captain Willie Fagen, both acknowledged that the ticket sales for games in England were affordable – about 70 cents – and that the players can’t earn more as a result. They also blamed taxes on gate receipts for cutting into the club’s profits.
How times have changed.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- 5 World Cup players for MLS
- Q&A with Sean Johnson: "We live to play games"
- The importance of training facilities in MLS
- Q&A with Kellyn Acosta: "We have to take it game by game"
Logo courtesy of Liverpool FC