BETHLEHEM, PA—For the past three years, the City of Bethlehem has been home to the entertaining, engaging and highly competitive Bethlehem Steel FC, the official USL affiliate of Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer. One-hundred years ago, however, the city was home to one of the most successful professional soccer clubs in U.S. history, albeit one few have ever heard of.
On June 16, 11 a.m., the community is invited to join soccer historian Daniel Paul Morrison at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks for a free presentation on the original Bethlehem Steel Football Club, the first professional soccer club from America to play in Europe and a five-time winner of the National Cup, now known as the U.S. Open Cup. The event is part of the Lehigh Valley SoccerFest & Viewing Party presented by Bethlehem Steel FC, which coincides with World Cup Russia from June 14-July 15.
Started as an amateur club in the early part of the 20th century, the Bethlehem Steel FC soon found immense success on the pitch, turning professional in 1914 with the financial backing of then-Bethlehem Steel President Charles M. Schwab. The club, which went 162-8-1 from 1913-’19, became the first U.S. pro club to play in Europe when it toured Sweden in 1919, and it was also a six-time winner of the American Cup. The team’s last season was spring 1930.
During the 1990s, Morrison developed a profound interest in Bethlehem Steel FC due, in large part, to the fact that his two great-uncles, US Soccer Hall of Famer Robert Morrison and Joseph Morrison, played for the club. Over the years, the Bucks County resident has done extensive research on the team and its history, combing through more than 3,000 articles and newspapers while collecting a variety of memorabilia on the club including old photos and medals. In August 2017, Morrison was featured in Sports Illustrated for his work in keeping the team’s storied past alive.
“As a lifelong soccer player and fan, the story of the first Bethlehem Steel FC was so amazing to discover,” says ArtsQuest Chief Operating Officer Curt Mosel, who played soccer throughout childhood and worked for the Chicago Fire of the MLS in the late ’90s and early 2000s. “I was introduced to Daniel Morrison and the Bethlehem Steel FC legend through a video that the Philadelphia Union put together when they adopted the original Steel team’s brand and story as part of their third kit a few years back. It was impressive how much of the Bethlehem Steel FC’s history Daniel knew and had preserved through a variety of stories and memorabilia he had collected. This is a little known but important part of soccer’s story in America and no one knows more about it than him.”
During his presentation, Morrison will talk about the history of the team, as well as how Bethlehem Steel’s success attracted some of the top talent from England, Scotland and Wales in the 1910s-’20s. The team’s most notable player was Archie Stark, who scored 67 goals his first season with the club in 1924-’25, a record that stood until Argentinian star Lionel Messi broke it while playing for FC Barcelona during the 2011-’12 soccer season.
Players of the original Bethlehem Steel FC played on East End field in Bethlehem, but later thanks to the Bethlehem Steel Corp., moved to a new field, now known as Moravian College’s Steel Field off Elizabeth Avenue. A bronze plaque stands at the stadium today commemorating the history of the team and its achievements.
Launched in 2014, the Lehigh Valley SoccerFest & Viewing Party has aired the matches from World Cup Brazil™, the Women’s World Cup and the Copa America Centenario over the past four years. In 2014, more than 50,000 people visited the SteelStacks campus for the festival. The following summer, 8,500 people came out to watch the U.S. Women’s national soccer team top Japan in the finals of the Women’s World Cup in Canada. This year, the festival is showing all of the World Cup Russia matches from June 14-July 15 on two large outdoor television screens on the SteelStacks campus, as well as hosting youth soccer clinics and more.
In addition to Bethlehem Steel FC, partners helping to make the free SoccerFest & Viewing Party possible include Discover Lehigh Valley, Garfield Group, Klunk & Millan Advertising, Kwik Goal, Lehigh Valley United and St. Luke’s University Health Network. For more information, visit www.lvsoccerfest.com or like www.facebook.com/LVsoccerfest/.
Information and image provided to TVL by:
Mark Demko, ArtsQuest