Soccer Tom

My father Tom Hennigan (Henighan) played professional soccer in the eastern USA in the 1920s and 1930s. At the time the game was at a very tentative  stage, and barely established in North America. The teams were run on a shoestring, frequently went broke, and of course no one made very much money. The spectators, what few existed, were by and large immigrants who had grown up in Europe, or in Spanish-speaking areas to the south, and the teams too were mostly made up of immigrants. Players (they earned about $75 a week–very nice for those days, if steady)  traveled by bus, or up and down the east coast on cheap steamships. They played in places like Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Polo Grounds, and in towns scattered right across the steel-making country of Pennsylvania. Baseball players in that era were drawn from urban and rural working class circles, but by this time of course their game had become America’s national sport  and the spectators ranged up and down the whole social scale, whereas in soccer it was working class all the way. Unfortunately, my father seldom talked about his soccer career after his retirement, nor did he leave any substantial records, otherwise I might have tried to write a book on the subject–surely a fascinating topic with wonderful chances to dig into and explore the everyday life of that era. It’s still possible to do so, of course, but the research task is rather daunting, since the coverage of the sport in the mainstream papers was minimal, and the specialized soccer magazines, produced for fans, were mostly marginal and fly-by-night. My father seems to have written for one of these newspapers–he may even have had a regular column–but only a few words of his writing have survived in my family. When I mentioned my father’s career to a friend, Les Jones, a noted soccer photographer of today, he elicited some information for me from a very well informed and kindly correspondent in Hamilton, Ontario. His letter to me follows:

April 11, 1996
Dear Mr. Henighan,

Les Jones called me some time ago regarding Tom Hennigan, pointing out that he had played in Pennsylvania, and asking me if I knew anything about his career there. I told him that there were, and still are two main associations in the state, where most states only have one.

One of those associations – Eastern Pennsylvania – is centered around Philadelphia while the other – Pennsylvania West – is centered on Pittsburgh.

It would appear that Tom Hennigan, from the clippings Les sent, played and wrote a column in the Pittsburgh area, perhaps for the Pittsburgh Press. The column “Who Smashed Heidelberg?” is about the Heidelberg: team and of course Heidelberg is just south of Pittsburgh. Early in the column he mentions a game in which Heidelberg defeated Newark 9-0. That game was the United States amateur cup final and was played on May 5, 1929.

However, in my research into the professional American Soccer League of the 1920′s and early 1930′s I have come across the name Hennigan in the lineups of Bethlehem Steel and then New York Nationals. Bethlehem of course is just outside Philadelphia, and one of the centres of the U.S. steel industry. Bethlehem were one of the great American teams for about 15 years. It would appear that this is the same man.

I have not come across a first name for the Hennigan in my records, but he played just four games for Bethlehem Steel in the 1929 season. They were as follows. Nov 24, 1929 v. Brooklyn Wanderers in Brooklyn, Nov 28, 1929 v. New Bedford Whalers in New Bedford. Dec 7, 1929 v. Pawtucket Rangers in Bethlehem. Jan 4, 1930 v. Bridgeport Hungaria in Bethlehem.

It would appear that this Hennigan. then moved to New, York to play for the Nationals a team owned by Charles Stoneham who also owned the New York Giants baseball team. He played just three games for the Nationals: the first on January 25, 1930 against Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, followed by Jan 26. 1930 v. New York Hakoah, and finally Feb 2, 1930 v. Bridgeport Hungaria in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Hakoah game would probably have been played in Brooklyn.

These games were played immediately after what was known as the “Soccer War” was settled, at the time when the ASL was known briefly as the Atlantic Coast League. The war between the American Soccer League and the then ‘United States Football Association” began in the fall of 1928 and lasted just over one year. During that time Bethlehem Steel did not play in the ASL but in the Eastern Soccer League and Hennigan made his debut in this league on Oct 6, 1929, against New York Hispano in New York, and then played a second game on October 12, 1929 against New York Hungaria in Bethlehem.

So if you wanted to do research into this your best bet in my opinion would be to look at the micro-film of the Bethlehem Globe-Times starting in October 1929. To the best of my know-ledge the only two places you will find this paper is in the library in Bethlehem and at the University of William and ‘Mary in Virginia. The New York Times for the most part is very little use other than in finding the line ups.

The clippings Les sent also contained one from a magazine called “Soccer Star.” This magazine was published in New York City from about 1929 and into the 1930′s. I have photo-copies of a number of the editions but cannot find any reference to a Hennigan. Unfortunately Soccer Star is not held in any library, the editions I have being copied from small private collections.

There was another soccer magazine published in New York City in the fall of 1927 called “Soccer Pictorial Weekly” and it contained a number of columns on the same in the Pittsburgh area, but I could not find a mention of the name Hennigan: in the editions I have.

That’s about ail I can tell you at the moment, but it might be a start. Your best bet to find out more would probably be the libraries in either Pittsburgh or Bethlehem. The address of the library in Pittsburghis – The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, 4400 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa, 15213-4080. In Bethlehem it is – Bethlehem -Area Public Library, 11 West Church Street, Bethlehem, Pa. 18018-5888.

I hope that this points you in the right direction. If I can be of any more help please let me know-.
Yours sincerely,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s