Army played Navy last Saturday and there wasn't a ticket to be had for love or money. No tickets were printed. For it was Army and Navy at soccer. In the U.S., schools and colleges do not presume to print tickets or charge admission for their soccer games. Coaches and players are vastly pleased if anyone will come and look on for free.
This is the same booting game, let it be remembered, that drives paying fans wild with excitement elsewhere in the world and regularly draws crowds of 100,000 and more. The foreign game is minutely covered by the newspapers and broadcasting stations. The loss of a critical game sometimes sets off rioting in the streets around government offices. Feeling invariably runs high. At one South American stadium a moat has been constructed around the field to protect players and referees from the wrath—or even the enthusiasm—of the fans.
Last week no government official lost any sleep worrying about the Army-Navy soccer game. There was almost no advance notice of it in the newspapers, or over the air. Football held the Saturday spotlight as always, and on the broadcasts of the games around the country it was announced in passing that the Army-Navy football game of this Saturday was already a 100% sellout.
Nonetheless, at West Point's Clinton Field, the crowd assembled for the college soccer classic of the year. It was a big crowd—for soccer. Charley Hardwick of the athletic association at the military academy looked it over and vowed that he would eat his felt hat if it wasn't 2,000 or maybe more, despite the steady drizzle and the soupy fog.
November 29, 1954
There are colorful trimmings at any meeting of Army and Navy—at anything. To the soccer game were assigned Pancho, the donkey, and Hannibal, the Army mule. As they trotted around the edges of the playing field on came three cheerleaders and the cadets' comedy band, in zany costumes, to tootle the overture. A sound truck backed into position and a cadet announcer spoke to the crowd: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the 17th annual soccer game between Army and Navy. In previous games Army has won nine, Navy has won seven. There have been no ties. And now the lineups.... "
As each player's name was called he trotted to his position as thousands (two) cheered. When all 22 men were on the field the Army cannon boomed. Then each team raced to the sidelines for the final huddle with the coaches: Joe Palone of Army, Glenn Warner of Navy. Then back to their positions as the Army fans yelled: "Let's go, rabble!" and the midshipmen from Annapolis countered with: "Come on, Navy team!" And the game was on.
Everyone knew that neither team would be able to play its best soccer on a field sodden with 48 hours' rain. But everyone knew that this was Army and Navy—and whatever their past records, whatever mischief the weather man had worked, nothing could prevent the next 88 minutes (four 22-minute quarters and no time outs) from being filled with excitement.
And they were. Filled with glorious skids and slides, resounding collisions and breakneck teetering and tumbling. Filled at the start with a host's overanxious striving, Army missed a couple of early scoring chances that had Coach Palone hurling gum wrappers to the sod like Fourth of July torpedoes.
As the loudspeaker ticked off the minutes of play remaining, Navy got the feel of the surf in its cleats and with 14 minutes of the first quarter gone, Navy's outside right, Mike Sides, took a cross from Pete Fitzwilliam and booted the ball past Army Goalie Cannon.
Between halves, the teams retired to buses parked behind the temporary stands, and as they did the fog thickened and the drizzle turned into thin rain. By the time the teams emerged, it was hard to see across the field. A white ball was put into play. Among the 2,000 spectators only a few girls left—to save their pretty hats. Of the girls who stayed, one, seated near the scoring bench, at last got the idea her cadet had been trying to get over: soccer was really just like basketball except that no player, save the goalies, was allowed to touch the ball with his hands. He could kick it or head it or stop it with his chest, the cadet said, but he couldn't touch it with his hands. Otherwise, he repeated, it was just like basketball. It was ironic that he had to explain the ancient game in terms of a game stolen from it. And maybe it wasn't surprising that the girl asked: "Well, if it's so much like basketball, why don't they play basketball on a day like this?"
It wasn't a good day for soccer. But it was Army-Navy. And for all the rain and fog and skidding and sliding, the game went furiously on: not good soccer, but a show of spunk and spirit with Army Captain Scotty Adams sparking an attack that put the cadets before the Navy goal 10 minutes into the third quarter. There was an exchange of short passes until Tommy Turner, Army manager, jumped up from the bench and yelled: "Cut out the pattycake, boot the ball!" Carl Bossert, Army's outside right, couldn't possibly have heard him, but boot the ball he did and it slithered off Navy Center Half Joe Armstrong and into the net to tie the game at 1-1.
That was all the scoring, and at the end of the regulation time the referee ruled that the fog and the darkness made overtime periods impractical. Everyone agreed that it was probably the best way to resolve an Army-Navy game on a mean and miserable, but somehow wonderful afternoon.
By itself, the Army-Navy game did nothing to betray what is the best-kept secret in U.S. sports: the game of soccer is booming among boys of school and college age. Without benefit of ballyhoo, it is going great guns in the high schools, the preparatory schools, the colleges, on the playing fields of public parks, amid the halls of ivy and down by the gashouse.
LET FOOTBALL BEWARE
At Brooklyn College in New York, Coach Carlton Reilly has 2,100 soccer players among a total of 3,500 male students. Deerfield (Mass.), typical of the eastern prep schools, has 226 soccer players busy on nine playing fields. In St. Louis, 3,000 boys from 11 to 18 play on 163 soccer teams in leagues of the Catholic Youth Council. In Seattle, more than a thousand boys are similarly engaged.
Scores of high schools around the country have given up football and taken up soccer. Says Joseph Barriskill, secretary of the United States Soccer Football Association, "I believe that more boys are playing soccer today than are playing football."
More and more colleges are exploring the game. The University of Pittsburgh has taken it up and so have Kentucky, Florida, Virginia and Ohio Wesleyan. In Southern California, a five-team conference has been formed and already it plans to add three teams next year. The University of Chicago, arch foe of that other pigskin devil, plays soccer with enthusiasm.
Altogether there are eight college conferences around the country. A total of 197 colleges have fielded soccer teams, including those not affiliated with any league or conference.
In the school and college field, the prime moving force in spreading the soccer gospel is the National Soccer Coaches' Association of America, now headed by Brooklyn College's Carlton Reilly.
Each year, the 300 members of the coaches' association name the man who has done most for the game. Current holder of that award is Glenn Warner, coach of Navy, one of the principal actors in Saturday's drama in the rain at West Point.
A supersalesman of soccer, Coach Warner is founder of the annual soccer forum which meets next month at Sarasota, Fla., with coaches, physical education directors and top players conspiring to extend the influence of the game. It was at Warner's urging that Matt Busby, coach of England's Manchester United team, agreed to make a motion picture in which he demonstrates the fine points of the game. This film, narrated by Warner, is sent out to any coach who asks for it, and so are other films in Warner's rapidly expanding library at Annapolis.
To Glenn Warner, as to hundreds of coaches, soccer is the best of all games for the growing boy. "When you put 11 boys out on a soccer field," he says, "you set in motion a contest in which no quarterback is going to tell them what to do. No coach is going to advise them while play is going on. They're on their own and in the course of a game each boy will have 40 to 50 opportunities to face up to situations and make split-second decisions all on his own. To see these boys in action is something wonderful."
Warner has a varsity and plebe soccer team at Annapolis, plus 24 company teams. Coach Palone of Army has the same number of teams at West Point. But although they held the soccer spotlight last weekend, the Army and the Navy are definitely not the whole story. The whole story is that up and down the country, in the parks and on the sandlots, among the amateurs and professionals, amid the halls of ivy and down by the gashouse, they're booting that ball. And next year, when you can't get a ticket to Army-Navy football, try sampling Army-Navy soccer. If you can get there, you're in—for free.