Bethlehem Steel: Back again

In US football history, there are two clubs that are known for their winning – New York Cosmos and Bethlehem Steel. Bethlehem may at this point only be known as a name from the past or for the retro junkies who like wearing apparel from football clothing companies.

They were the Cosmos before the Cosmos and they had the talent before it was the done thing to import players over. Steel were the recreational team for the Bethlehem Steel company in Pennsylvania. Unlike football nowadays, where players do get some breaks during the year, Steel got only holidays and a couple days off in the middle of July. They’d end the year on the week of 17th July and start again a couple of days later.

They played in Leigh Valley of Pennsylvania, this is an area very akin to Wolverhampton, or other mining areas in the world. Steel was part of the first era of the sport in the States, to use foreign players, albeit at a different level than is done now. There weren’t transfer fees, or scouting, players moved here to the States to escape their previous life, if it was hard, or war torn. One of the best players in the early days of American soccer played for Bethlehem Steel was Scottish forward Archie Stark. And he actually was born in Glasgow. They were the first American team to travel to Europe when they went to Scandinavia in 1919.

Where did they play? At the start, they played at East End Field in Bethlehem, then the company built new stands and a field at Elizabeth Avenue. Now this field is owned by Moravian College and the American football team at the college plays there. There’s even a bronze plaque at the stadium recognising the accomplishments of the club.

Bethlehem Steel had a lot of firsts, but they also had a lot of trophies. Here they are listed below:

  • Six-time American Cup winner – 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919 and 1924.
  • Five-time National Cup winner (now the U.S. Open Cup) – 1915, 1916, 1918, 1919 and 1926.

Billy Sheridan was their manager for the end of their existence from 1924-1930 when they folded. The company that founded them has also folded in the late 1900’s. With the great depression in 1930, Bethlehem Steel had to close up shop like the rest of the clubs in that time. The Great Depression wrecked football for a long time here in the States.

Clothing companies here have been printing up Steel shirts for years, and there have been calls for the team to reform. In 2015 Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union, due to nostalgia, created a lower division club in the United Soccer League called the Bethlehem Steel. This new club isn’t a continuation of the last club though, so it can’t add to the US Open Cup wins that the old club achieved. It’s the same argument Rangers has with their titles, and debt. The new club was brought about in the same area because Major League Soccer wants teams to have an outlet for developing their own youth players.

By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @yellowcardSCB