U.S.-Canada in Kearny

Posted on November 5, 2012 1:06 am

Clark Field in East Newark, N.J., or at least the place that used to be Clark Field, doesn’t have a very athletic look about it today. Most of the block is a parking lot. At one end, there are some row houses. At the other end is a large diner.

The spot was used as an athletic field as recently as the 1960s, but the events with which it made its greatest mark in soccer are much longer ago than that. On Nov. 28, 1885 and Nov. 25, 1886, a soccer team representing the United States played a team representing Canada at Clark Field (in 1885 and 1886, that block was part of Kearny, but it is now East Newark, which split off from Kearny in 1895).

The U.S. Soccer Federation doesn’t recognize the 1885 and 1886 games against Canada as having been full internationals, and with good reason. The American Football Association, which organized the United States team, was really a regional organization, centered in New Jersey, not a national one. Much the same could be said of the Western Football Association, which organized the Canadian team, and which was centered in the Toronto area. In the 1885 game, all of the American players were from New Jersey, and five of them were from a single club, ONT of Kearny, which had won the AFA Cup title earlier in the year. In the 1886 game, nine of the American players were from New Jersey (including six from ONT) and two from New York.

Although Clark Field itself is very different from the way it was in 1885, there is one element of the scene that is unchanged. Looming over the spot today, just as it did in 1885, is a block-long six-story factory building. In 1885, this was the Mile End Spool Cotton mill, part of a complex of facilities in the area owned by the Clark Thread Mill, which sponsored ONT.

The opponents in 1885 and 1886 split those two games. The Canadians were the victors by 1-0 in 1885, but the Americans gained 3-2 revenge a year later. The 1885 game was played the day after Thanksgiving and was accompanied on the Canadian team’s two-week visit to New Jersey and New York by a series of games against club teams, including one against ONT that drew a crowd of 4,000, the largest to that date in American soccer (the U.S.-Canada game was played in front of about 2,000 spectators).

The 1886 game was played on Thanksgiving, and this was a factor in the result. The Canadians were so certain that the game would be called off because of the day’s dreadful weather that they ate their Thanksgiving dinner in early afternoon, proceeded to the field and were surprised to find the American team ready to play. The next day’s Newark Evening News said that “the ground was soft and slippery, and the spot where the spectators stood was a little lake.”

The Canadians took advantage of a steady wind at their backs to score the only goal of the first half, but the Americans had that advantage in the second half, gaining a 3-1 lead before Canada got its second goal near the end. The Newark Evening News used language so formal it sounds silly in referring to halftime, saying: “After a rest, one half of the allotted time for the game having been consumed, the teams reversed position.”

The American teams used 18 different players in the two games, many of whose first names are unknown, or known only by an initial. The captain of the American team in both years was Jack Swithenby of ONT, and the others who played in both years were goalkeeper Patrick Hughes, defender B. Holden and midfielder J. McGurck, all from ONT. Those who played in only one of the two games were Joe Swithenby, George Wright, John Gray, James Lennox, John Hood, Jack Swarbrick, W. Turner, A. Turner, J. Chapman, J. Howarth, F. Cornell, T. Bright, Young and Lucas.

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