Liverpool chows down

Touring foreign soccer teams have come to the United States for a lot of different reasons over the years, many of them tied in one way or another to money. In 1946, Liverpool came to the United States for lunch. No, not to have American teams for lunch, although they seem to have done that, too. They came here to eat.

The English first-division team made United States tours in 1946 and 1948. The two tours resulted in part from the fact that Liverpool chairman Bill McConnell owed USSFA secretary Joe Barriskill a favor. They contributed to reversing a difficult financial situation for the USSFA. Liverpool got a lot out of the deal, too. A major objective of the tours was to give Liverpool an advantage over its English rivals, who were suffering through the post-war food rationing that affected Britain in the late 1940s. It may have worked. The two months that Liverpool players spent eating at American tables was said to have been an important factor in helping them to win the English first-division championship in the 1946-47 season, the first post-war English League season.

Liverpool also did quite well on the field during its American tours. During those two tours, the English team won every one of its 21 games, 10 of them by five goals or more. Overall, Liverpool outscored its opponents by 133-26. Most of Liverpool's games on those tours were against local all-star teams in New York, New Jersey, Fall River, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis. It also played three games against American Soccer League all-star teams, three games against Canadian teams and one landmark game against a touring Swedish team, Djurgarden. That game, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on June 18, 1948, was the first time that two European pro teams who both were touring the United States played a game against each other. Liverpool won, 3-2, on goals by Jack Balmer, Ken Brierly and Billy Liddell. Many American fans today criticize a Barcelona or an AC Milan for playing each other on American visits rather than American teams, but this trend has been around for awhile.

Liverpool was a little different from a lot of European teams that made American tours decades ago. Nearly all were hailed as being superteams, thus taking advantage of the fact that Americans supposedly wouldn't know any better. Liverpool actually was very good. The last previous English team to make an American tour had been Charlton Athletic in 1937. Charlton had played in the English first division that year, but it was in its first season in the top division and was only a few seasons removed from the third division. Promoters advertised it as the "wonder team of Europe."

At two of the games of the 1948 Liverpool tour, a spectator in possession of a crystal ball might have seen the shape of things to come. Liverpool played a New York all-star team twice on that tour, on May 16 at Randall's Island and June 9 at Ebbets Field. It won both easily, 5-1 and 5-2, but in both games, goals were put into the English team's net by a Brookhattan forward named Joe Gaetjens.