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The first soccer game at Grant Field

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Soccer has been played there before Atlanta United takes the field in March

Georgia Tech History Digital Portal

(Thanks to Patrick Sullivan for this guest article, be on the lookout for the second part tomorrow. Contact him at psullivan3070@gmail.com)

While construction crews race to complete work on the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta United has announced the team will kick-off its inaugural 2017 season at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s (Georgia Tech) Bobby Dodd Stadium (officially known today as Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Grant Field). With the imminent return of professional soccer to Atlanta, eager fans may be interested in taking a look back at the first time Grant Field hosted a soccer game, when the local Atlanta Soccer Football Club (ASFC) faced off against their longtime rivals, the Lithonia “Stonecutters” of DeKalb County. This is the first of two articles examining the history of match, which took place on the cool, rain-soaked afternoon of February 4th, 1922.


Grant field will be the scene of an unusual sight Saturday afternoon and the old football goals will gaze on in hurt surprise when they behold a game of soccer football being played right under their very eyes.

- Atlanta Journal, January 30, 1922

The athletic grounds that would eventually be known as Grant Field were sited at the eastern edge of the Georgia Tech campus in 1905 and originally graded by local prison work crews. Members of the student body built the first permanent concrete stands on the field’s west side in 1913 (wood stands were later constructed on the east ) with money provided by local businessman and school trustee John W. Grant. That same year, the stadium was named Hugh Inman Grant Field in honor of Grant’s young son who died at 10 years of age. Later dubbed “The Flats,” Grant Field achieved widespread fame in 1917 as the home of the Yellow Jackets gridiron football team. [Source 1]

Under renowned coach, John Heisman, the Georgia Tech “Golden Tornado” stormed its way to the school’s first national title that year behind the vaunted four-man, rushing backfield of Al Hill, Judy Harlan, Everett Strupper, and Joe Guyon. [Note 1]

View of the Grant Field east stands during a gridiron football game, c. 1920
Georgia Tech History Digital Portal

Although Heisman was generally dismissive of soccer as a viable collegiate sport during his time at Georgia Tech, his assistant and eventual successor, the venerated William A. Alexander, was more receptive to the idea, having been exposed to the game while serving in France with the U.S. Army during World War I. [Source 2] The appointment of “Coach Alex” as Tech’s director of athletics and head football coach in 1920 roughly coincided with the revival of organized soccer in Atlanta in January 1921, almost seven years after the outbreak of the war and enlistment of many British-born players lead to the collapse of the fledgling Georgia State Soccer League. Interested in expanding the school's athletics beyond football, baseball, basketball and track, Alexander expressed a willingness to organize a college soccer team and agreed to host a game at Georgia Tech in early 1922 to gauge student interest in the sport. [Source 3]

Under the headline, “First Soccer Battle Soon,” the Atlanta Constitution gave notice of the upcoming match at Georgia Tech on January 20, 1922, stating, “Atlanta will get its first taste of real soccer football in many moons Saturday at Grant Field.” The paper also remarked on a growing enthusiasm for the game among a segment of the student population:

Georgia Tech undergraduates who have recently taken up soccer are planning to turn out in force Saturday to see the soccerites in action… [Source 4]

Originally scheduled to take place on the Saturday afternoon of January 21, 1922, the soccer game was delayed two weeks due to inclement winter weather and concerns among Alexander’s coaching staff about potential damage to the field by the players. A new date was eventually set for the afternoon of Saturday, February 4 with free admission to the general public. [Source 5] The match at Grant Field officially served as the return leg for ASFC, which had lost on the road to Lithonia a few weeks earlier by the score of 3-2, and held great significance for the players and longtime, local soccer enthusiasts who hoped the high profile of the venue would attract new fans and reignite popular interest in the city after the long, seven year hiatus:

Both teams … are exceedingly anxious to see how the game is going to take with Atlanta spectators and for that reason it is hoped that a large number will turn out to see the contest. [Source 6]

The four veterans of the pre-WW I Atlanta Soccer Football Club were (from left), Captain John Harland, Richard Jones, William T. "Billy" Jones, and Rowland Bryce.
Photographs courtesy of the John H. Harland Company, Yvonne Melson, Tom Wheeler, and Gail East

Four of ASFC’s starting eleven provided a link to the city’s pre-war amateur soccer league and each had played for the combined Atlanta and Lithonia squad in a series of intercity matches against Auburn, Birmingham, and Chattanooga during the 1912 and 1913 seasons. Team captain John Harland was an Irish-born executive with the Foote & Davies Publishing Company. Harland moved to Atlanta in 1906 and along with his older brother, Tom, was a major advocate and organizer of the local game prior to the war. [Source 7] Forwards Richard “Dick” Jones and William T. “Billy” Jones (no relation) were Welsh paving block cutters who worked in the granite quarry districts near Lithonia and Stone Mountain. The two men also formed the attacking core of the original Lithonia soccer team between 1908 and 1914. Central midfielder Rowland Bryce rounded out the last of Atlanta’s old guard. A native of Durham, England, Bryce began playing for Atlanta shortly after his arrival to the city in 1911 and became a fixture for the ASFC over the next three years.

The remainder of Atlanta’s squad was new to the local soccer scene and consisted of a group of Tech undergraduates along with a couple players from other parts of the city. Tech students Charles M. Pearson and Gennaro M. Póvoa, of Rio de Janiero, Brazil, anchored ASFC’s two-man defensive line with Donald Cunliff playing in goal. Sophomores Rudolph Johnstone and William H. Martin manned the team’s midfield positions. Richard Rollain, a French tutor by profession, occupied the inside right wing on Atlanta’s offense and a player identified as “Father Mahoney” by both the Constitution and Journal was listed on the right outside wing. “Mahoney” appears to have been a misprint and was most likely Father Mark W. McElkerney, a 33-year-old, Irish Catholic priest and principal of the Marist College. [Note 2] The two newspapers later identified McElkerney as an Atlanta player for subsequent games versus Lithonia.

Those representing Lithonia provided a contrast to Atlanta’s veteran character. Soccer had long been a popular pastime among the Scottish and Welsh immigrant stonecutters who came to Georgia during the late 1870s and 1880s to work the granite and marble quarries at Elberton, Lithonia, Nelson, and Stone Mountain; however, the 1922 Lithonia squad was almost entirely composed of itinerant British and Swedish paving block cutters by way of New England, the Upper Midwest, and North Carolina, who had migrated south during the autumn of 1921 in search of seasonal work over the winter months. Of Lithonia’s starting eleven only Aaron Lawson, the team’s inside left forward, was born in the United States and made his permanent home in Georgia. While relatively unproven as a unit, Lamar Bird, secretary for the Lithonia branch of the Paving Cutters’ Union, expressed confidence in the players’ abilities for the upcoming season:

I am very glad to report that the paving cutters have organized a Soccer Football Club...the team is ready to challenge any team in the State. [Source 8]


NOTES

1- Joseph N. Guyon was a teammate and lifelong friend of Jim Thorpe after the two men played football together for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Guyon’s older brother, Charles M. “Wahoo” Guyon, was a noted athlete in his own right and briefly played for the Atlanta Soccer Football Club during the 1911-1912 season while working as a sales representative for the Atlanta branch of the A.G. Spalding & Bros. sporting goods store.

2- Marist College was established in 1901 as a Catholic boys military day school and originally located at Ivy and Peachtree streets, next to Sacred Heart Church in downtown Atlanta. The Atlanta soccer club had used the school’s athletic and drill grounds as a practice field since 1908. The school relocated to a site on Ashford Dunwoody Road in northwest DeKalb County in 1962 and is currently known as the Marist School.

SOURCES

1- Pat Edwards, “Students Build First Stands at Grant Field,” The Technique, January 22, 2008, www.nique.net/issues/1999-10-15/campus life/6.

2- John W. Heisman, “On Dangers of Sport Coach Heisman Writes,” Atlanta Constitution, December 18, 1910, 1–2; Edwin Camp, Alexander of Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA: Georgia Institute of Technology, 1950).

3- Atlanta Journal, “Atlanta Soccer Football Team to Be Reorganized; First Meeting Held Tonight,” Atlanta Journal, January 9, 1921, 18; Atlanta Constitution, “Coach Alex to Aid Soccer in Atlanta,” Atlanta Constitution, January 28, 1921, 4.

4- Atlanta Constitution, “First Soccer Battle Soon,” Atlanta Constitution, January 20, 1922, 11.

5- Atlanta Constitution, “Soccer Game on Saturday,” Atlanta Constitution, February 3, 1922, 15.

6- Atlanta Journal, “Atlanta and Lithonia Clash,” Atlanta Journal, February 4, 1922, 6.

7- Robert R. Woodson, “John H. Harland Company, A Proud Past, A Promising Future” (John H. Harland Company, 1993), on file at the Atlanta History Center; Robin Harland, “Early Diaspora,” Harland Diaspora, 2016, http://www.harlanddiaspora.net/.

8- Lamar Bird, “Lithonia, Ga., Jan. 10, 1922,” Paving Cutters’ Journal, February 1922.