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Early Rugby, Soccer, Football

Carl Mullen signs rugby ball for small boy

The following research was provided by Melvin Smith

Every person has a unique approach and version to research in a subject as large as sports. Starting with American college football, I quickly realized they would leave out certain games that were not beneficial to their images. All colleges need to sell themselves to the public every year, so imagery is a very important issue. Many games with high schools and independent clubs were purposely omitted for this main reason. So I decided to separate all newspaper 'foot ball' reports into three main groups of Independent Clubs, Colleges and High Schools.

Going back in time before the 1880s, most 'foot-ball' games were called Kicking Game or Association football Game. Beginning around 1860, the Carrying game or Rugby Game was found in contemporary literature. After the series-of-downs rule was passed in October 1882, the 5-yard parallel-lined field of 'gridiron' football was called the Intercollegiate Football Association Game in accounts written in contemporary newspapers.  Walter Camp and the delegates from Yale, Harvard and Princeton were the authors of the 'downs' rule and were also members of the Intercollegiate Football Association Conference. By the late 1880s, Walter Camp and his followers called the Intercollegiate Football game as the American Rugby Football game. Around 1905, the name was generally called the American Football game.

Thirty years ago, I finally realized there really were two other sports called Association Football and Rugby played in the 1870s. Their games had been accepted as part of the early history of gridiron football. I have spent the last decades following the beginnings of the three distinct sports of soccer, rugby and football and treated all three at the same level. I have also maintained the integrity of the three groups of Independent Clubs, Colleges and High Schools.


My interest in games of college gridiron football began in 1953/54 while attending Boston University right out of high school. After a four-year stint in the US Navy, attended Penn State University for three semesters during Sept. 1958 and Jan. 1960. Rented a bedroom in a farmhouse north of State College, PA. One day one of the roommates found a November 1881 description of a Penn State-Univ of Lewisburg (now Bucknell) 'foot-ball' game. He said the college would not 'sanction' it. Went with him to the Athletic Director's office as he argued to lift the sanction – to no avail. The college had the stipulation that all games played off campus had to be sanctioned by the administration first. Began to wonder about the approach of colleges to sports. How could a game be accepted by one college and not accepted by another?

Left Penn State in 1960 to live with some Navy buddies in San Jose, CA. A few months later at a neighborhood cook-out, got into a conversation with one of the wives. She stated her grand-father had attended and played football at the Los Angeles Normal School. When he returned to attend the fall semester of 1919, the school had changed its name to the Southern Branch of the University of California (now UCLA). The new-named college cut off all association with the old Normal School and the grandfather lost his football statistics played in his earlier years. My serious research of college gridiron football began around this time.

Bought many of Richard Poling's gridiron college football listings for 50 cents a piece. Traveled around the USA and researched many colleges myself. Even helped Mr. Poling on occasion during the 1960s & 1970s. Everyone was accepting my research findings in college libraries as well as the athletic departments. Some perplexing problems were arising for me. While checking the old eastern colleges of the USA before the 1880s, the newspaper accounts of the games were using the names of association football or rugby. Every football historian would tell me the same story. This early period was known as the 'pioneer' period and both games were the foundation of the American gridiron football game. I did notice whenever a college stopped playing the association football game, they immediately began to play the rugby game in America. There were no overlapping periods. So the historians must have been correct? Also, after the series-of downs rule was incorporated in 1882, the games were called the intercollegiate football game for a few years in the contemporary literature. By the late 1880s, the gridiron football game was called the rugby football game for several years.

During this time, I received my degree in Meteorology. In the spring of 1964, got involved in a project while working for the Stanford Research Institute. Had to forecast the volcanic ash fallout patterns of the Volcan Irazu for the city of San Jose, Costa Rica. Became friends with several employees of the Royal Dutch Hotel and a few were involved with the soccer game, so I attended a couple games played between the towns of Alajuela and Heredia. They had played for about forty years I was told. It was fascinating to watch this 'football' game.

Moved from the San Francisco Bay area to the Los Angeles area in 1970. Not knowing anyone in town, I befriended the young man living next door. He was an avid rugby player and I attended several practice games with him. Got to talk with the coach several times. He was in his 60s and had played in some early Hollywood rugby clubs in the 1930s. He mentioned some names like Boris Karloff & Victor McGlaglen. I wrote down some of what he told me. The history of the rugby game has always been stuck in the middle between the histories of soccer and gridiron football. There has always been some kind of ball-handling in the soccer game; but 'when you are running with the ball in your arms and the opponent is using his hands to tackle the ball-carrier; you are not playing the soccer game anymore'.

I asked him about the gridiron game and he said, 'I would probably be shot if I told my players they would have to relinquish the ball to their opponent because they should have gone another yard or two on the last play. Rugby is a free-flowing game without worrying about the ball-control aspects of counting the number of 5-yard, parallel lines in a gridiron football game. If you are running with the ball and you worry about how many yards you need to go, you are not playing the rugby game any more'.

In 1985, I moved to Asheville, NC to work in the National Climatic Data Center. I immediately began to include eastern Canadian football information. There were many games played between the two countries in the 1870s and early 1880s. Thought it would be interesting to get their versions of when and how many types of football games were really being played in their early period.

The colleges of the Maritime Provinces of Canada were checked and they also started to play the kicking/association FB game first and then switched to the rugby game in the mid-1870s. They also dropped the association football game immediately after starting rugby. Montreal and McGill College were studied next. McGill University began with the rugby game first. I did not find an association football game until Nov. 1884 when McGill played one game with the Montreal AAA.

The Independent Clubs of Montreal had played a few association football games around the mid-1880s. The second association football game was not played by McGill until the 1890s, but consistent annual games of association football was not played until after 1900. Montreal may have been unique because the city had been occupied by British military forces since the 1837 uprising. The occupation forces left in the late 1860s when Canada became a Confederation.

Next I went to Ontario and the University of Toronto (UofT). I researched up to the 1890/91 season and found as many association football and rugby games as possible. I listed all the games by season (1 Aug. through 31 July of the next year). I noted all kicking/association football games began in the early 1860s and continued up to 1890 when the college won the Dominion Championship of Canada in association football. The college played its first rugby game in Nov. 1877. In 1878, they continued to play association football and played more rugby games. This dual game process continued. I did not know how to list all the games correctly.

I called the UofT Athletic Director (AD) a couple times. We were working together to put 's' for association football and 'r' for rugby games. Should they be listed together or separately? One day when I called, the AD had a Toronto Globe newspaper for November 1880 available. The Nov. 3, 1880 Globe relates a game will be played on the UofT campus with the Hamilton FBC as either an open or closed rugby game. Another game will be played at 2:30 between the UofT and the Galt Collegiate Institute. All The players for each team were listed for both games. Only one or perhaps two of the players were found on both the rugby and association teams listed for the UofT. All other players were different. There were around 15 students for the rugby game and 11 for the association game. Both games were essentially called the gridiron football game at the college. The same as was done in the States. Clearly there were two different games being played.

The AD then said, 'it seems we are trying to list two different Sports to arrive at all the games being called gridiron football!' He was also getting confused. The bell went off in my head. He was right. Today we would never think to list the soccer and rugby sports together. The Nov. 4, 1880 Globe reported the UofT beat the Hamilton FBC 2t-0 playing the open rugby game using scrimmage lines instead of the English rugby union scrum, and then the UofT beat the Galt Collegiate Institute 3g-0 in the association football game. Later, when I called the athletic department, I was told the association football games had been dropped from consideration after 1876. 


My entire approach to research changed that day. Since that time the histories of the three different sports of soccer, rugby and gridiron football have been followed and all the games have continued to be divided into the three groups of Independent Clubs, Colleges and High Schools.

Please check this document titled CATEGORIES. I have tried to describe the criteria used to categorize the games you will read about in the three sports of America and Canada. Also, read the 1863 FA RULES. I have tried to describe the reason why the information was written by Walter Camp in the Spalding Football Guide of 1893. Camp wrote the first attempt for a national historical list of football games played in America. The list went back to 1876. The first year he entered into Yale College. He wanted to increase his chances to become known as the Father of American Football. He was soon selected over his main rival, Eugene V. Baker. Baker had been captain of the first Yale carrying game played with Harvard in 1875. So all the rugby games played back to 1876 were included in American Football history in the Spalding Guide of 1893.

Parke H. Davis,who had played foot-ball games at Princeton, became the head of the rules committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1907. In the Spalding Football Guide of 1912, he re-wrote the history by including all the association football games back to the Nov. 6, 1869 Princeton – Rutgers game into the national list of gridiron football games played in America. The Spalding Soccer Guide of 1912 had no reference to any early association football games. The real history of the early college games of association football/soccer and rugby have never been covered properly.

Many instances I have selected the contemporary newspaper and early historical accounts of the type of games played over accepted history. Because of this approach, I have been told several times I am not interpreting my research data correctly. When the gridiron football historians of America imperialized the association football games and rugby games after 1869 and began to call them the 'pioneer period' of gridiron football, it had devastating consequences to the histories of the other two sports of soccer and rugby.

The NCAA is the primary college sport organization in America. However, they do not start college soccer history until 1959. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) was not organized until 1941. They began to select National Soccer Champions in the 1940s. Only a few minor soccer organizations cover college games back to 1906. No one counts the games played before 1906.

The college rugby game has only just recently become more popular in the last 20-30 years. The West Coast college teams played the Rugby Union game with the scrum during 1906 – 1918. As soon as the games were played, they were listed under gridiron football as substitution games for that sport. When the request for money was raised to send the rugby players to Europe for the Olympics in 1919, a couple articles in the newspapers wondered why the rugby game was even in the Olympics. It was not even considered a real game; just an early version of the gridiron game. Nevertheless, those USA rugby players won the Olympic Gold in 1920 and 1924.


Three decades ago I became convinced there really were association football and rugby games embedded in the early history of the American gridiron football game. There is a description of early accepted association football games going back to 1869 in the Spalding FOOTBALL Guide of 1912. The Spalding SOCCER Guide of 1912 does not mention any history of that sport going back to 1869. This historical approach  has continued for over 100 years now.

The Apr. 1, 1905 game played between Harvard and Haverford Colleges is called the first Intercollegiate soccer game in America. Later that year, big-city newspapers began to use the name(s) socker and/or soccer in their sport articles. The name soccer won out after a couple years.

The May 1874 games played between McGill and Harvard Colleges are called the first rugby games played in America. The May 14th game was played using the carrying game rules called the Boston Game. The second game on May 15th used the Canadian version of the Rugby Union football rules.

Most of the college rugby games played between May 1874 and Fall of 1918 are listed under the American gridiron football game. The first rugby union game NOT listed under gridiron football was played on Feb. 22, 1919. Both Stanford and California colleges were playing the gridiron football at the time, so the 1919 rugby union game can not be listed under gridiron football as before.

Decided to spend the last years extracting all the association football/soccer and rugby games played between 1869 and 1919. I thought this approach would help in the understanding how the soccer and rugby sports got such a slow start in America. The same approach was used to understand the historical approaches in Canada.

Presently, the American soccer community does not accept much information before the 1863 London FA meeting. To get acceptance of the Nov. 8, 1858 Trinity College-Hartford Town Team Kicking game, I had to go to world soccer historians. The American rugby community does not accept information before May 1874. To get acceptance of the Nov. 20, 1869 Germantown Cricket FBC - Young America Cricket FBC Carrying game, I had to contact a world rugby historian.

Hopefully in the future, my research will instigate more interest to find the real beginnings of the soccer, rugby and football sports in America and Canada. 

American Independent Rugby History 1791/92, 1869/70 to 1930/31

American College Rugby History 1858/59, 1905/06 to 1942/43

American High School Rugby History 1857/58 to 1910/11

1741-1850 Selected Football Games

1800-1819 Selected Foot-ball

1820-1829 Selected Foot-ball

1830-1839 Selected Foot-ball

1840-1849 Selected Foot-ball

1850-1859 Selected Foot-ball

1860-1869 Selected Foot-Ball

1870-1879 Selected Foot-ball

1880-1889 Selected Foot-ball History File 1

1880-1889 Selected Foot-ball History File 2

1880-1889 Selected Foot-ball History File 3

1880-1889 Selected Foot-ball History File 4

1855-56 America Canada Association Football

1858 A Pivotal Year

1858-59 American Canada Association Football and Rugby

1861-62 USA Can Kick Carry

1862 Football in Canada

1862-1926 McGill Rugby

1862-1926 McGill Alternative Rugby

1863 Football Association Code

1865-66 American Association Football & Rugby

1865-66 Canadian Association Football and Rugby

1865-66 USA & CAN Association and Rugby

1866-67 Football Summary

1869 Two Games

1871 Foot-ball summary

1871-72 USA & CAN Association Football and Rugby

1873-74 Foot-ball Summary

1873-74 USA & CAN Association football and Rugby

1876-77 American Data

1876-77 Canadian Association Football

1877/78 to 1930/31 U of T Rugby

1881-1942/43 California Rugby Game from

1872-1932 California Alternative Rugby

1881-82 Foot-ball Summary

1882-83 Foot-ball Summary

1887-88 Canada and USA Rugby

1890-1904 USA Rugby

1890/91 1891/92 Selected Association Football / American Independent Clubs

1890/91 1891/92 Selected Association Football /2

1920-39 USA College Soccer

1932-33 USA College Rugby



1910/11 Seasonal Data


Coach Douglas Stewart; Capts. Albert W. B. Penn & Chase; Intercollegiate Association FB League (2-3-0)*

A 11/24 Germantown Cricket Club 1g-1g
A 12/04 Philadelphia Cricket Club (not played)  
A 12/10 Merion Cricket Club  0-1g
A 12/17 Princeton Univ (cancelled)  
H 01/07 Philadelphia Electric Co. 6g-0
H 01/14 Belmont Cricket Club (cancelled  
H 01/21 Haverford Coll 1g-1g
H 01/28 Merion Cricket Club 6g-1g
A 02/04 Moorestown Field Club 1g-2g
H 02/11 West Philadelphia FBA 1g-4g
A 03/04 Haverford Coll*   1g-3g
A 03/18 Columbia Univ*  5g-1g
A 03/25 Harvard Univ*    1g-4g
A 04/01 Yale Univ*  2g-3g
H 04/06 Cornell Univ (NY)*   3g-1g

AMERICAN English Rugby Union

UNIV PENNSYLVANIA                                                      (1-4-0)
Capt. Walton

A 11/05 Brooklyn Crescents Rugby Club 3-4
A 11/12 Brooklyn Crescents Rugby Club 0-4
A 12/10 Brooklyn Crescents Rugby Club @ Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA 6-0
A 11/ Yonkers Rugby FBC    L-W
A 04/22 New York Scottish-American Rugby FBC @ Van Cortlandt Park, Brooklyn, NY 0-11

American Gridiron Football

UNIV PENNSYLVANIA                                                      (9-1-1)
Coach Andrew Smith

H 09/24 Ursinus Coll 5-8
H 09/28 Dickinson Coll (PA 18-0
H 10/01 Gettysburg Coll 29-0
H 10/05 Franklin & Marshall Coll 17-0
H 10/08 Univ West Virginia 38-0
A 10/15 Brown Univ 20-0
H 10/22 Penn State Coll  10-0
H 10/29 Carlisle Coll 17-5
H 11/05 Lafayette Coll 18-0
H 11/12 Univ Michigan 0-0
H 11/24 Cornell Univ (NY)    12-6

Canadian Soccer Football

MCGILL UNIV                                                                     (0-4-0)  
Capt. M. Beaton; Intercollegiate FB Ass'n (0-4-0)*

A 10/13 Queens Univ* 0-5g
A 10/22 Univ Toronto*   2g-5g
H 10/29 Queens Univ*  1g-2g
H 11/ Univ Toronto*    L-W

Canadian English Rugby Union

MCGILL UNIV                                                                     (2-1-1)
Capt. Moyer;Montreal Rugby Union League (1-1-1)*

A 10/15 Montreal English Rugby Team* @ Montreal AAA Field,Westmount, QC 0-5
H 10/31 Montreal English Rugby Team (p)  W-L
N 11/12 Montreal English Rugby Team*  0-0
A 11/19 Montreal English Rugby Team*    6-3

Canadian Burnside Rugby Union

MCGILL UNIV                                                                     (3-4-0)                                       
Senior Intercollegiate Rugby FB Union (3-3-0)*

H 10/01 Montreal AAA Winged Wheelers  0-9
A 10/08 Univ Toronto* 8-10
H 10/15 Queens Univ*     6-2
H 10/22 Univ Toronto*     1-8
A 10/29 Queens Univ* 10-14
H 11/05 Ottawa Coll* 20-0
A 11/12 Ottawa Coll* 23-6


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