England! Scotland! Insurance?

When I started looking at soccer stories on microfilm of American newspapers years ago, I was briefly fooled into thinking that I had stumbled onto quite a startling discovery. There it was in the New York Times in 1919: England vs. Scotland in New York. Wow! But that was before I began to learn about the New York Footballers Protective Association. Today, top American players play for professional teams that cover their medical costs. A player tears an ACL and the medical and rehab care to get him back on the field again is paid for by the Los Angeles Galaxy or Fulham or whoever, but American soccer players of a century ago weren't so lucky. They had to play their own medical bills. Hence, the New York Footballers Protective Association. This association, which was founded in 1912, existed in an era when American soccer was far more concentrated in the New York area than it is today. The association's main purpose was to raise money to help pay the medical expenses of injured members, who were players from New York's various leagues and who paid 50 cents apiece to join. It did this by staging a series of exhibition games, such as England vs. Scotland. However, these were not the real English and Scottish national teams, although I initially misunderstood and thought that they were. They were teams of English-born and Scottish-born players living in New York. They played in a sort of friendly league along with teams of players born in America, players born in Ireland and players born on the continent of Europe (the fact that there were no teams of players born in Latin America, Africa or Asia tells you how different New York soccer was back then).

In its later years, the association widened its horizons a little (only a little), adding a Sweden team and a Spain team to the lineup. The 1922 Spalding Guide gives a few details about that year's finances, saying: "The association has grown in membership to 416 from 278 the season before, and disbursed in accident benefits during 1921-22 the sum of $703 to thirty-three members who were disabled on the field of play and who were unable to follow their employment on account of this disability." An average payout of $21 doesn't seem like much, but that went a lot farther in 1922 than it would today.

A few years earlier, the association's dealings were a bit more complicated. An official of the association explained in the 1919 Spading Guide: "One hundred and sixty-one players from New York and New Jersey enrolled as members, fourteen of whom received sick benefits, amounting to $283.50. Our excellent financial condition permitted us to do some more football missionary work. George Young, captain of the New York Football Club and a member of our association, died suddenly from influenza and pneumonia. The association turned over to his widow the sum of $200.12, a percentage of the gate receipts of two "international" games. We allowed the New York Combination League to play preliminary games to our semi-final and final, and gave the league $423.68 from the gate receipts. After purchasing more than $400.00 worth of medals, the association has a balance of about $300.00 to enter the 1919-20 season."

The New York Footballers Protective Association was insurance, but with a lot more entertainment involved than the usual kind of insurance. Entertainment that could fool a researcher into thinking he'd found a lot more than he actually had.