When the Brooklyn Field Club captured the National Challenge Cup title, little did its players, coach and supporters realize it was making history in 1914; history that would last a century.
It turned out to be the first Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup championship game. It was the first cup competition and first true national championship tournament in the country that was played under auspices of the newly formed U.S. Foot Ball Association, which was established in 1913.
The previous tournament, the American Amateur Football Association Cup, was only for amateur teams. The National Challenge Cup was open to amateur and professional teams. The Dewar Challenge Trophy, which was awarded for the AAFA Cup in 1913, was given to the National Challenge Cup committee. A total of 287 clubs were invited to participate and 40 accepted. Most of the teams came from the Northeast, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
The very first final was played between teams that were situated not too far from one another – the Brooklyn Field Club and Brooklyn Celtic, on May 16, 1914.
In fact, it was quite appropriate that two Brooklyn sides reached the final as they both won their respective league titles. Field Club captured the National Association Foot Ball League crown with a 12-0-2 record and 26 points over West Hudson AA (11-2-3, 25). Wins were worth two points, not three, in those days. Celtic earned the New York State Amateur Football League championship with a 15-0-1 mark, outscoring its opposition, 46-7, and edging Yonkers FC (14-1-1, 29).
Both teams had plenty of challenges to reach the final, which was not played in Brooklyn, but several hundreds of miles away in a neutral venue of Pawtucket, R.I.
Brooklyn Field Club started its march to the title with a 3-0 win over IRT Strollers in the opening round before it blanked the Brooklyn Rangers, 3-0, in the district final, and Bethlehem FC 1-0 in the third round before eliminating Dewars Cup holders Yonkers FC, 4-1, in the quarterfinals.
In Field Club's win over IRT on Nov. 2, 1913, Harry Shandholt scored twice. In the district victory over the Brooklyn Rangers on Dec. 21, 1913, Robert Millar scored a brace and set up Charles Drinkwater with the third goal.
Brooklyn edged Bethlehem in the next round 1-0 at Marquette Field in Brooklyn, as a player named H. Hynd (in those days many newspapers used only the last name of players) put in the rebound of a saved Millar penalty kick in the second half, according to www.thecup.us. Bethlehem protested the match, claiming FC showed up a half hour late and that two players should have been ineligible. But the USFA rejected the protest.
In the quarterfinals on March 28, Brooklyn ousted Yonkers as Neil Clark, Millar, James Ford and a gentleman named Slade scored.
On April 18, the team clinched a spot in the final with a 2-1 semifinal triumph against New Bedford FC at Coates Field in Pawtucket, R.I., before a crowd of 4,000.
Millar was the hero of the match, scoring in each half to overcome a 24th-minute goal by New Bedford's Beckton. Millar equalized in the 43rd minute. The winning goal, scored in the 69th minute, wasn't considered a classic. After a throw-in, Ford passed the ball into the New Bedford penalty area. Preston, a defender, tried to clear the ball, but sent it to Millar, where it rebounded off the forward and into the net for a 2-1 Brooklyn lead.
On the other side of the bracket, Celtic was dominant, not surrendering a goal until the semifinals. Celtic shut out Hollywood Inn F.C. 6-0 in the district finals, Babcock and Wilcox 5-0 in the third round and Columbia Oval F.C. 2-0 in the quarterfinals. Brooklyn's defense finally cracked in the semifinals, surrendering two goals in a 6-2 triumph over the Niagara Falls Rangers.
A crowd of 10,000, the largest crowd to witness "an association football game in New England," according to the New York Times, showed up at Coates Field on May 16, 1914, to watch the borough rivals tussle. Field Club deployed a full lineup, although Celtic was missing King, one of its top goal-scorers, according to Dave Litterer of the American Soccer History Archives.
Taking advantage of the wind at their backs, Field Club scored in the third minute behind captain Percy Adamson, who "sent the ball spinning through the goal," according to the New York Times, past goalkeeper Frank Mather.
In the 27th minute, referee Charles Creighton ruled that FC's Neil Clark had fouled Celtic's Roddy O'Halloran, setting up a penalty kick that Thomas Campion converted past keeper W. Haughie to tie the game 1-1.
Field Club threw everything into its attack, but the Celtic defense managed to hold off the onslaught until the waning minutes. The Brooklyn side finally solved the Celtic backline in the 87th minute as James Ford headed in a Millar feed.
As it turned out, Field Club never tasted such glory again in the cup or in league play, stumbling to a 5-6-3 record (13 points) in the 1914-15 season. According to the American Soccer History Archives, Field Club disbanded one game into the 1916-17 season after it was thrashed by New York FC 11-1 in its opening match. The team was replaced by Splitdorf FC, which folded before it could play a game.
While the team did not enjoy much success after its championship season, Field Club did leave a legacy. The Scottish-born Millar, one of the team's goal-scoring heroes, went on to a storied career with several clubs, including Bethlehem Steel, Babcock and Wilcox, Robins Dry Dock, Fall River Marksmen, New York Field Club and New York Giants, among other teams.
He moved to Bethlehem for the 1914-15 season and he enjoyed even greater success, scoring 59 goals in 33 league and cup matches, a U.S. record.
Bethlehem went on to win the 1915 National Challenge Cup with a 3-1 win over Celtic as Millar scored the opening goal.
Millar made two appearances for the U.S. National Team in 1925, both against Canada. He made his debut in a 1-0 loss to the Canadians on June 27 before assisting Archie Stark on the go-ahead in a 6-1 triumph on Nov. 11.
Only five years later, Millar coached the U.S. team that participated at the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. The Americans acquitted themselves well, reaching the semifinals behind group wins against Belgium and Paraguay before they were humbled by Argentina 6-1 in the semifinals. No other U.S. men's team has gone that far in a FIFA World Cup.
Celtic reached the 1915 final, only to fall to Bethlehem Steel, 3-1, in Bethlehem, Pa. Renamed Brooklyn St. Mary's Celtic, the club captured its first and only Open Cup title in 1939. The club emerged victorious from a two-game series against Chicago Manhattan Beer, winning the first encounter in the Windy City 1-0 and 4-1 in the return leg in the Bronx.
If anything, the Brooklyn F.C. started a tradition of New York City-based teams doing well in the Open Cup. New York teams have taken home the Open Cup crown 26 times, more than any other state. Other Brooklyn clubs that have won Open Cup titles include Brooklyn Hispano (twice), Brooklyn Italians (twice) and Brookhattan.
New York Greek-American Atlas, then coached by Alkis Panagoulias, who later would become the U.S. National Team coach, became the only team to win three successive cup crowns, from 1967-1969.
The last New York City team to take a victory lap after an Open Cup final was the Brooklyn Italians in 1991 as it registered a 1-0 victory over the Richardson Rockets (Texas) as Ernest Inneh scored the lone goal. That championship team included Real Salt Lake President Bill Manning.
But that's another story for another time.
-- Michael Lewis