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More Olympic Football - How Four Brands Of Football Fought For 1920s Supremacy

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Performers depict a game of football during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Performers depict a game of football during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The facts are these.

In 1932, the Olympic organizers in Los Angeles attempted to convert an international audience to American Rules Football. As alluded to in my previous entry, it didn't work. Yet, perhaps, this story is worth more than a few paragraphs.

Why did Olympic organizers in 1932 chose to abandon Association Football? What was the international community's reaction to this strange sport?

First, the word soccer. It entered the English lexicon in the late 19th century (so about the time England was forming it's Football Association) from a shortening of the phrase Association Football and slapping -er on the end. It was a common practice at the time, rugby was referred to as rugger.

The spelling varied. Socca' in a 1889 letter. Socker later in the century. Finally in 1916, from a handbook on athletic games: "Soccer Football, as it's called in America, is the English Association Football"

So with America playing both Soccer Football and Intercollegiate Football, how did we get to the 1932 games in Los Angeles dropping the event all together?

The first Olympic football tournament took place at the 1908 London games. The 1912 games in Sweden had debated dropping football as "its popularity was not yet worldwide". The tournament was held, and at the 1914 FIFA congress, the following was ratified:

"Under the condition that the Olympic Tournament take place in accordance with the Regulations of FIFA, the latter shall recognise this as a world football championship for amateurs."

Amateur was defined as receiving no compensation. By the 1924 Olympic Games (Los Angeles bid for the '24 games as well) 24 teams participated and the tournament was responsible for a third of a games' income. The UK withdrew, over a debate on the definition of amateur (the FA believed paying necessary expenses was okay, crazy concept).

The Americans even sent a team. There's a Los Angeles connection, as Aage Brix who plied his trade at the Los Angeles Athletic Club was a forward on the team. Most of the players came from either city athletic clubs, amateur workplace teams, or were simply unaffiliated. Ages tended to hover around the 30 mark.

Soccer in America at the time was just like soccer in England before the turn of the century. It was loosely organized and mainly made up of working class people, usually immigrants who brought the game with them. Contrast that with the upper class college kids playing American football and you can see a disparity. The American Soccer League launched in 1924 back east, but it was ultimately killed by the Depression.

The team that stole the show was South American champions Uruguay. 5-1 against France. 3-0 against the United States. The US did get one win in before they were knocked out by Uruguay. Uruguay went on to win the tournament with a 3-0 victory over Switzerland. Uruguay won the 1928 tournament as well, over South American neighbors Argentina.

FIFA became increasingly jealous of these tournaments, and staged the first World Cup in 1930. Uruguay was chosen as the host nation, a reward for coming to Europe and kicking butt for two straight tournaments. However, with the Depression taking a toll on the world economy, only four European nations sent teams.

However, the World Cup created an issue that wouldn't be resolved until in 1984 Olympics; the amateur status of footballers. The IOC refused to budge, and with FIFA no longer seeing eye to eye with the IOC (and with their own profitable tournament) plans were dropped for a 1932 Olympic football tournament.

However, the organizers in Los Angeles saw this as an opportunity. Under Olympic rules, the host country is allowed two demonstration events, one of a national sport and one foreign sport. American football was chosen as the national sport.

The original plan was to have 1931 national champion USC take on Yale, but the 1929 Carnegie report had schools rethinking whether their sport had become too commercial [editor side note: if those deans could see what college football is now, their heads would explode]. Of big concern was the growing postseason games which involved expensive travel. The Ivy's eventually faded from the CFB landscape over this very principal.

In 1932, a compromise was made. A team would be formed solely from seniors of the Big 3 East coast schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) and the Big 3 West coast schools (Cal, Stanford, USC). The game was held in front of 60,000 spectators in the Coliseum and the West won 7-6. And what did the rest of the world think of America's game?

"The foreign athletes and press were interested in the game but bewildered in its complexity. The consensus of foreign opinion was that American football is a hard, bruising physical combat with a little too much emphasis on complicated technique. Most of the visitors commented chiefly on the great amount of time out and the numerous substitutions."

Again, in 1932, without a TV broadcaster pulling the strings, folk thought American football had too much time out. So American football didn't catch on with the rest of the world. FIFA's little World Cup grew to be the biggest sporting event the world has. The idea of putting college seniors together on teams caught on, and eventually America gained the institution known as the Super Bowl.

All because back in the roaring 20s, some folk started to notice that there was money to be made in football. Soccer rules or otherwise.