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When the 22nd FIFA Men’s World Cup competition commenced on November 20, 2022, in Qatar, you knew. With a flood of internet, TV, radio, and newspaper coverage, there was no mistaking that millions of Americans are interested in soccer. Things were different for the first World Cup, held in 1930 in Uruguay. Virginia newspapers, for instance, barely noted the tournament, in which the U.S. team came in third, losing to Argentina in the semifinals.

Norfolk Post, November 26, 1921.

Turns out, 1930 was a high point. Since then, the U.S. Men’s National Team have broken into the quarterfinals only once, in 2002. On the other hand, soccer itself has seen tremendous growth in popularity for both men and women since that first World Cup.

Thanks to Virginia Chronicle, it’s easy to see that soccer was on the up-and-up in 1930. Although it had been played in the state at the high school, collegiate, and adult levels in the 1920s, by the 1930s more and more schools were introducing the sport into physical education classes and creating girls’ teams, while adult interest was growing as well.

Suffolk seemed to especially love soccer in 1930. In January, a Suffolk Boy Scout troop finished up their weekly meeting with a “red hot soccer game which ended in a victory by one point in favor of the Nit Wits over the Dumb Bells.”3 Meanwhile, Miss Greene, the gym teacher at Suffolk High School, awarded letters to eleven “faithful members” of the girls’ soccer team in February, perhaps increasing her expectations for “a very good soccer team” in October.4

In the spring of 1930, soccer was a new option for girls at John Marshall High School in Richmond. The Monocle reported that athletes who had played hockey or basketball were willing to try the game, sponsored by the “Girl Reserves” and coached by Miss Mae Millan of the YWCA. Competition would be limited to two other schools, since not all the schools in the league had introduced girls’ soccer yet.5 Boys at Gordonsville High School could join a soccer team for the first time in the fall of 1930, coached by the history teacher who had introduced the sport to the school. They played their first game against the Orange High School team.6

Monocle (John Marshall Highschool, Richmond, VA), April 8, 1930.

At the collegiate level, Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and Howard University soccer teams played their first matches in the 1929-30 school year. The first game was a draw at 3-3, and Howard won the second 3-1. Hampton’s publication The Southern Workman reported, “This game is gaining favor and other Negro colleges are expected to enter the lists next year.”7

Suffolk High School Girls' Soccer Teams, 1930.

This team photo is actually two teams. Since no other Virginia high school teams existed nearby the Suffolk girls split up into two teams and played against one another. (Photo from The Peanut, Suffolk High School, 1930.)

Demonstrating that the English version of the sport was slightly different than what Americans had adopted, the Warren Sentinel announced an upcoming match between a team representing the British Embassy and the Washington Concord team. Expected to be “a fine exhibition of how football is played in old England,” the game would operate under English association soccer rules, a first for Winchester, according to the paper. Tickets were 25 cents to raise funds for the Handley High School Soccer Club.8 The Sentinel didn’t report the score, so we’ll never know if the Brits or Americans won. On the other hand, if you wanted to know the results of the U.S.-England match-up in Qatar on November 25, 2022, you didn’t have to look farther than your nearest news source to find out that this was not the year the U.S. Men’s National Team beat their 1930 record.

Footnotes

[1] John Cunningham, “Why Do Some People Call Football ‘Soccer’?” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/story/why-do-some-people-call-football-soccer
[2] “270 ‘5-Pointers’ in S.H.S.,” Suffolk News-Herald, 3 May 1930, 5.
[3] “Boy Scout Troop in Meeting Last Night,” Suffolk News-Herald, 25 January 1930, 8.
[4] “Letters Given in Assembly Friday,” Suffolk News-Herald, 8 February 1930, 2; “Gym Classes Start Soccer,” Suffolk News-Herald, 25 October 1930, 2.
[5]  Monocle, 8 April 1930, 4.
[6] “Soccer Season Opens at G. H. S.,” Orange County News, 16 October 1930.
[7] The Southern Workman, 1 January 1930, 46.
[8] “English Teams to Play Football at Winchester Sat.” Warren Sentinel, 4 December 1930, 6.

Angela Lehman

Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

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