Who is Barney Kempton? Not somebody very many Big Soccer readers are familiar with. Not somebody I'm especially familiar with, for that matter, although I have skimmed past his name on lists of Hall of Famers hundreds of times.
He is not one of the more prominent Hall of Famers, even though he was part of the first induction class in 1950, along with more familiar names like Billy Gonsalves and Archie Stark. But in February 2011, as I was putting printouts of bios from the old Hall of Fame website into sheet protectors, I happened to read Barney Kempton's bio and realized that he typified something that I found interesting.
I have long championed the idea that American soccer is not something that just started a few years ago the way some think it did. My signature on posts in the Big Soccer forums says: "American soccer did not just begin in 1994, or in 1975, or in 1950, or in 1930, or even in 1913." And the story of Barney Kempton, who was born in Ireland in 1890 and died in Seattle in 1959, says much the same sort of thing. So here is that bio, which is short and to the point:
"Barney arrived in Los Angeles in 1910 from Belfast and almost immediately signed on with the Los Angeles Rangers, making his debut at the same time as Scottish international Tommy Low of Glasgow Rangers fame.
"Later he moved up the coast to San Francisco for six years, where he played for the Independents, and subsequently for the Thistle and Celtics. Then it was on to Seattle in 1916 to play in the Northwest League, later moving across the border into Canada for a while to play in Vancouver and Prince Rupert. In Seattle he played alongside Johnnie McLean, Johnnie Wood, Jim Daly, Billy O'Toole, Hugh Harvey, Harrison and others. He retired as a player in 1934 and became Secretary of the Washington State Association, then Junior Commissioner and finally a soccer writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer."
Now 1910 isn't all that early in terms of American soccer. There was soccer in the United States for more than 40 years before that. But this isn't Fall River or Kearny that we're talking about. This is the other side of the continent (and the population of Los Angeles in 1910 was less than one-tenth of what it is now). Barney Kempton arrived in Los Angeles in 1910 and quickly joined a soccer team. Just like that. The bio makes it sound like the most normal thing in the world. And it was an already existing team, too, one that had been founded in 1908. Barney Kempton, who joined a team in Los Angeles more than 100 years ago and one in Seattle nearly 100 years ago, is a perfect example of what I've been saying so much, that soccer is not a new phenomenon in America.
So Barney Kempton has become something of a hero of mine. Maybe not on the level of a Walter Bahr or an Archie Stark, but a hero nevertheless.