Guides to American soccer's past

Today, American soccer fans have no shortage of information sources about the sport, particularly those fans with Internet access. It once was very different.

Newspaper coverage of American soccer was surprisingly good in the first half of the 20th century, surprisingly at least to present-day fans used to decrying the news media's treatment of soccer. The records of the American Soccer League apparently were discarded when that league folded in 1983, but much of the ASL records, from 1921 up through about 1945, have been recreated using the hundreds of ASL box scores printed by newspapers in New York, Newark, Fall River, Philadelphia and elsewhere. But those were only a few newspapers, concentrated in one part of the country, and many other sources of information that fans take for granted today didn't exist back then.

What did exist, and what saves the day for many researchers into the history of American soccer, was the annual guides. There were two in particular. The first was Spalding's Official Soccer Football Guide, published from 1904 to 1924 by the A.G. Spalding sporting goods company. The second was the "Bill Graham Guides," published from 1948 to 1972, initially by Graham, a part-time New York newspaperman, and later by the U.S. Soccer Football Association.

The two followed somewhat similar formats, with Graham seemingly having used the earlier one as a model when he began compiling his. There were articles about major events such as the U.S. Open Cup, wrap-ups of leagues in the New York area, and reports from state associations around the country, with standings of dozens of leagues from Massachusetts to California. There were reports on American tours by foreign teams and token articles about European soccer, especially English. There were dozens of team pictures, and a few action shots. And there were occasional long and vague articles about the wonderfulness of soccer.

What interests researchers more than anything else is that amidst the window dressing and self-congratulation there is a lot of hard information about scores, dates, standings, attendances, lineups and so forth. There is a lot of stuff to be plowed through, but the guides are a treasure trove of information.

The Spalding Guides were published by A.G. Spalding as part of its series of guides on various sports. The intent was self-serving. Presumably, the creation of greater interest in sports would increase sales of basketballs, baseball gloves, tennis racquets, soccer balls, etc. But if the intent was self-serving, the result was admirable. The Spalding Guides provide a tremendous window into American soccer in the early decades of the 20th century.

Spalding stopped publishing its Official Soccer Football Guide in 1924, but it had also been publishing a guide to college soccer. That one continued, and eventually became the NCAA Soccer Guide and the NSCAA College Soccer Almanac.

When Graham published his first guide in 1948, he called it the U.S. Annual Soccer Guide. In 1950, he changed the name to North American Soccer Guide. One thing it didn't have that many of the Spalding Guides did was official reports from officers of the U.S. Football Association. The reason why the Spalding Guides had them was that for many years the secretary of the USFA and the editor of the Spalding Guide were the same man, Thomas W. Cahill.

Although Graham printed reports from a number of correspondents around the country, compiling, editing and publishing the guide was largely a one-man operation, financed by Graham himself. Graham only manged to do this up through 1956. There then was a three-year gap in the guide, but publication was resumed in 1960, with the guide published by the USSFA and edited by Graham. Graham continued editing it through 1969, and the guide lasted another three years under other editors after Graham's departure.

There is no question that the Spalding Guides and Bill Graham Guides led the way for the many media guides in American soccer in more recent years, such as those produced by the USSF, the NASL, MLS, the USL and the WUSA.