There are many reasons to be excited about FC Cincinnati’s match against St. Louis City SC this weekend. However, you might not know that when FC Cincinnati takes the pitch Saturday night in St. Louis they will be renewing a historical rivalry dating back as early as 1906! The two cities were some of the first to popularize soccer in America. Back then, the game was a weird amalgamation of soccer, rugby, and American football. The game was known and referred to as “soccer”, “soccer-football”, “football-rugby”, “soccer-rugby”, or “soccer-football-rugby” – confusing, isn’t it? Nevertheless, the sport caught on in American cities as European immigrants taught the game to the locals.
Early Origins: 1906
By 1906, soccer had existed stateside for roughly 50 years. St. Louis was more or less one of the soccer capitals of the United States with the sport becoming increasingly popular in Cincinnati as well. Thus, the two cities decided to partake in a friendly game to showcase the best talent they had to offer. Chosen to represent Cincinnati were the “Shamrocks”,
champions of the Cincinnati League that year. Opposing them would be a collection of all-star talent from St. Louis. Going into the game, the Shamrocks were on quite a tear. While they had just lost at the hands of the traveling English team known as the “Corinthians”, they had more recently thrashed the Indiana champions in Muncie and destroyed another powerhouse Cincinnati team known as the “Gyms”. Following the soccer match would be a rugby match, allowing spectators to compare the two forms of football. Unfortunately, the results of this first Cincinnati-St. Louis fixture seems to have been lost to time. However, it would not be long until Cincinnati and St. Louis would meet again.
Return to St. Louis: 1910
In December of 1908, an advertisement ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer at the request of George D. Reichert of the Christian Brothers College in St. Louis. Reichert was in search of Cincinnati teams willing to travel to St. Louis to play any one of their local teams. Soon after, in January 1910, the Cincinnati Nationals, champions of the 1909 iteration of the Cincinnati League, would travel to St. Louis to renew the regional rivalry created in 1906. The Nationals took on the St. Theresa’s of the St. Louis Soccer League in two matches. The first match has no record in the local papers aside from the fact that Cincinnati lost. However, the second match was quite newsworthy. In these times there were no weather restrictions. In fact, it was written into the rules that the games would go on no matter what.
Thus, when the Nationals awoke in St. Louis on the morning of January 2nd, they peered out their windows into an absolute blizzard. The two teams squared off amidst 8 inches of snow that had formed into a muddy, slushy mixture after the 60 minute game. Despite the snow, a crowd of 3,000 St. Louisans turned out to see their hometown squad dismantle the Nationals by a score of 10-1. The Enquirer reported that National’s goalkeeper J. Ledermair stood out for his exceptional play, despite the scoreline, and blamed the concession of so many goals on the defense in front of him. Perhaps, had they used the regulation orange ball of today’s age, the match would have been much closer in the Nationals’ favor.
Homage to History: 2023
There certainly won’t be 8 inches of snow on the ground this weekend in St. Louis, but there will likely be a packed CityPark of 22,500 as opposed to the 3,000 of 1910. While we won’t be led by Cincinnati Nationals star goalkeeper J. Ledermair, we will have Roman Celentano coming off his fifth clean sheet of the year and we will still be sending Cincinnati’s best to take on St. Louis’ champions as we did all those years ago. As the two teams walk out of the tunnel Saturday night they will be paying homage to the earliest days of soccer in America. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the friendly fixtures that helped grow the game in St. Louis and Cincinnati. I say it’s time we level the score for the defeats we took in the 1900s and set things right!