Fall River on tour

Posted on August 8, 2012 12:09 am

The Fall River Marksmen had a big year, their biggest, in 1930. They won the American Soccer League championship, the U.S. Open cup and the ASL’s Lewis Cup. Two of their stars, Billy Gonsalves and Bert Patenaude, were among the leading members of the United States team at the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. And the Fall River players who didn’t go to Uruguay had an excellent consolation prize. The 1930 World Cup team was away from mid-June to early September. In the meanwhile, a Fall River team, built around the Marksmen and called the Marksmen, made a six-game tour of Central Europe in August of that year.

The Marksmen players on that tour included a number of the team’s biggest stars, such as fullback Charlie McGill, halfback Bill McPherson and forwards Alex McNab (above), Werner Nilsen and Tec White. The 17-man roster also featured several New Bedford players, including forward Jerry Best, one of the ASL’s leading goalscorers; several European players picked up along the way, and Archie Stark, Fall River’s longtime nemesis, who was between teams at that point. The Bethlehem Steel powerhouse for which Stark played had folded a few months before.

Stark’s presence on the tour caused some controversy, but not because he was playing for a traditional rival. It was because he went on this tour after having passed up a chance to play for the United States in the World Cup, although he did have a legitimate excuse for that World Cup absence. Stark and Best fit in nicely, despite the fact that Fall River had a full house of great forwards at the time. With Patenaude at the World Cup, Stark played in his center forward spot and scored four of Fall River’s 10 goals on the tour.

On the field, the results of the tour were passable, not bad if you consider that the Marksmen played some of the best teams of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria, major world powers at the time. They came home with two victories, a tie and three defeats. The victories were 3-1 on Aug. 24 in Vienna against FC Austria and 3-1 again on Aug. 30 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, against a combined team of two leading Slovak clubs, SK Bratislava and Rapid Trnava. Along the way, the Marksmen faced a number of outstanding players who hadn’t been at that year’s World Cup, because neither Czechoslovakia, Hungary nor Austria had entered it. In the first game of the tour, on Aug. 20 in Prague, they played a 2-2 tie with a Slavia Prague team that included five players who played for Czechoslovkia in the 1934 World Cup final against Italy: Frantisek Planicka, Ladislav Zenisek, Frantisek Junek, Frantisek Svoboda and Antonin Puc. The FC Austria team that they beat on Aug. 24 was led by forward Mathias Sindelar, who was then nearly at the peak of a career that made him Austria’s greatest player ever.

That opening game on Aug. 20 was interesting from an American standpoint. For much of the 20th century, it was quite common in America, particularly in New York, for every visiting European team, including a few quite ordinary ones, to be promoted as a fabulous powerhouse. On this occasion, the shoe was on the other foot, with the touring Americans arriving in Czechoslovakia for a game against Slavia that was trumpeted by the Prague newspapers as being between two superteams. It did turn out to be a good game, with Fall River pulling out the tie on goals by McNab in the 79th minute and Stark in the 80th after having trailed by 2-0.

In September 1930, the Marksmen came home to a Fall River where economic conditions had gone from bad to worse. Because of the departure of the textile industry for the Carolinas during the early 1920s, New England textile centers suffered an economic nosedive that preceded the Depression by five years or more, and the addition of the Depression to those woes left Fall River in desperate straits. Within five months, the Marksmen were gone, moved to New York. The 1930 European tour was something of a last hurrah for them, at least as a Fall River team.

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