Manitoba: The Early Years

Manitoba: The Early Years

The Manitoba Football Association is the oldest provincial soccer association in Canada.  Formed in Brandon, Manitoba, on March 19, 1896, by delegates from Neepawa, McGregor, Ancrum, Austin, Carberry, Elkhorn, Portage la Prairie, Brandon, Souris, Hartney and Winnipeg, the constitution was based on that of the Western Football Association of Ontario, itself formed in 1880.  The first president was J. Shoemaker of Carberry. The vice-presidents were C.A. St. John of Neepawa, C.F. Travis of Elkhorn, George Fraser from Elkhorn, A.M. Campbell from Souris, Chris Newton from Rounthwaite and Ben Woodhall from Holland. The secretary-treasurer was W.A. Harvey from Winnipeg.

By June of 1898, the team from Carberry was touring Ontario. They played in Wingham, Clinton, Seaforth, Berlin (Kitchener), Burlington, Bright, Toronto and Deseronto.  On the way east, they even played in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In July of 1902, the Winnipeg Shamrocks came east to Ontario and Quebec, and played in Berlin, Galt, Toronto, Cornwall, Montreal and Ottawa.  The Shamrocks beat Ottawa 10–0 and Montreal 4–0. 

In 1903, Galt Football Club returned the favour, playing in Winnipeg, Gretna, Manitou, Plum Coulee, Crystal City, Pilot Mound, Deloraine, Hartney, Brandon, Souris, Gladstone and Portage la Prairie.  Galt played the Shamrocks in Winnipeg and won 1–0.

In August of 1907, the Winnipeg Britannias entered competition for the People Shield, then the unofficial championship of Canada, and beat Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, 2–0 before losing to Calgary Caledonians in the final 1–0.  In 1909, the United Weston team from Winnipeg played in the same competition but were defeated 3–2 by Vancouver Celtic in Calgary.  The Calgary Herald of August 26, 1909, contains biographies of the following United Weston players:  A.G. Sutherland, T. Stacey, A. Little, R. Smith, I. Creighton, H. Tyles, J. Moir, C. Howell, C. Colvin, H. Bignall, A. Noble and A. Hawker.

The summer of 1911 saw the first visit of an overseas touring team to Winnipeg, with the famous Corinthians from England playing in the city.  The Corinthians won 2–1, and the players who represented Winnipeg on that historic occasion were A. Bennett, Adam Smith, J. Farish, W. Leslie, L. Creighton, Harry McMaster, A. Wilkie, W. Bradshaw, H. Bignell, J. Robertson and R.S. Bennett.  It was to be the first of many visits from overseas teams, as before World War Two, touring teams often played in Winnipeg twice, once on their way to the west coast by CPR via Regina and Calgary, and once on their way back by CNR via Edmonton and Saskatoon.

Winnipeg also has the distinction of being the city in which the Dominion of Canada Football Association, today’s Canadian Soccer Association, was formed.  The meetings took place in July of 1912.  At the meeting, the Manitoba Football Association joined with the provincial associations of Ontario, New Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta to form the national association.  Sam Larkin of Winnipeg was elected a vice-president.

One year later, the competition for the Connaught Cup, the national championship, began with Norwood Wanderers from Winnipeg being the first winners. The competition was played in Fort William, Ontario.  In 1914, Norwood won again, this time on home turf in Winnipeg. That same year, E. Bailey Fisher from Winnipeg was elected president of the DCFA.

Winnipeg Scottish became the third team from Manitoba to win the Connaught Cup in 1915. Following World War One, Winnipeg War Veterans in 1919 and Winnipeg Britannia in 1920 reached the national final, but in each case ended up on the losing side.  Following the replacement of the Connaught Cup by a trophy presented by the Football Association of England, United Weston won the championship in 1924 and 1926, and was on the losing side in 1929 and 1936.

By the time the 1920s arrived, the competition for the championship of Manitoba was in full force, and teams such as Fort Rouge Rangers, United Weston, Winnipeg Nationals, Robertson Memorial, St. James, Winnipeg Scottish, Winnipeg Irish were in the final, and in the 1930s, Government Telephones as well.

Touring teams came and went: the Scottish Football Association team in 1921, Corinthians in 1924, England in 1926, the Scottish Football Association again in 1927, Vienna Hakoah also in 1927, the Welsh Football Association in 1929, Glasgow Rangers in 1930, England again in 1931, Scotland in 1935 and 1939 and Charlton Athletic in 1937.  In 1927, the Scots played Hakoah in a battle royal.

In the years between the two World Wars, the national cup final was played at Carruthers Park in Winnipeg 15 out of the 20 times.  As a result, Winnipeg referees such as Sandy McMahon, Jimmy Duncanson, Billy Bowman, Jack Mitchell, Jimmy Kelly, Art King and Harold Gillespie were in great demand.  In that same period, Winnipeg’s Dan McNeil and John Easton were presidents of the national association, and David Roy and Sam Davidson were national association secretaries.  Davidson was secretary, and arguably the most powerful man in Canadian soccer, from 1922 to 1940, running the national association through the very difficult years of the Great Depression.

In 1924, Bob Harley from United Weston captained the highly successful Canadian team that toured Australia.  Also on that tour was J. Hood from Brandon.  In 1927, on the tour of New Zealand, Manitoba was represented by Bill Brolley from Winnipeg Irish, Bill Gibson from Winnipeg Nationals and Dave Thompson from Winnipeg St. James.

When the Scottish Football Association team toured Canada in 1935 and played the Manitoba All-Stars in Winnipeg, the Manitoba lineup included; F. Davis, Ernie Scholes, J. Morrison, A. Pratt, Alex Archer, J. Daly, G. Hutchinson, S. Murray, Bobby Hampton, J. Fulton and George Pickup.  Archer was born in England, but grew up in Winnipeg, where he played soccer and hockey.  He was a member of the Winnipeg Scottish team that won the Manitoba championship in 1927 and lost in the finals of 1928 and 1930.  Shortly after the 1935 game against the Scots, he was on his way to England to play hockey for Wembley Lions in the British League.  Early in 1936, he won a gold medal at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Germany as a member of the British national team that beat Canada in the final.

While officially the Pan American Games did not start until 1955, there was a Pan American Exposition held in Dallas, Texas, in 1937, which included a soccer tournament.  Canada, the United States and Argentina sent teams.  Canada was represented by a team made up largely of players from Winnipeg Irish, who beat the U.S. 3–2, but lost 8–1 to Argentina. The Winnipeg players who went to Texas back then were: “Spud” Birch, Steve Olander, “Shifty” Jennings, Joe Shack, Joe Playfoot, Jackie Low, Sandy Murray, Ernie Scholes, “Buzz” Horne, George Pickup and G. Ness (all from Winnipeg Irish).  In addition, the team included Jack Boyd (St. James Legion) and Harry Beckwith (Elmwood United).  

Towards the end of the inter-war period, one Winnipeg player was sent for a trial with England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers. This was Doug McMahon, son of Winnipeg referee Sandy McMahon.  Wolves signed McMahon, and he played one game in the First Division of the Football League of England before the war interrupted his career.

Players and officials from Manitoba of special interest:

Alexander “Sandy” Archer – Born: West Ham, London, England, May 1, 1910, of Scottish parents.  Club: Winnipeg Scottish.  Moved to Winnipeg at the age of three where he learned to play soccer and hockey.  Played soccer for the Manitoba All-Stars against the Welsh Football Association touring team in 1929 and the Scottish Football Association touring team in 1935, before returning to England to play hockey for the Wembley Lions in the British National Hockey League.  He remained with the Wembley Lions for five seasons, picking up 82 goals and 77 assists. His selection to the British team in 1936 for the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen provoked strong protests from Canada, who claimed that he had not been released by the Canadian association.  The protests were turned down, and he played seven games in the 1936 Olympics, picking up a gold medal.  Two more gold medals followed in the 1937 and 1938 European Championships for a total of 14 goals and 10 assists in 24 games for his country.  A fractured skull at Wembley in 1945 against Sweden ended his playing career.  On retiring, he turned to coaching at Wembley, Nottingham and Murrayfield.  He was a British League All-Star “A” team member for three consecutive seasons from 1937–38, and an All-Star “B” coach for 1946–47 and 1947–48, and was elected to the British Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993.  He died in 1982.

Edward Bailey Fisher – Born: Wallasey, England, in 1871.  Died: Calgary, Alberta, April 17, 1946.  Came to Canada in 1887 and lived in Minnedosa where he practised law.  President of the Dominion of Canada Football Association in 1914. President of the Manitoba Football Association in 1914, 1915 and 1916.  Moved to South America in the mid-1930s.

Sam Davidson – Born: Ballymena, Northern Ireland, 1886.  Died: Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 4, 1965.  Emigrated to Canada in the early years of the century and went to live in Winnipeg.  He was refereeing local soccer when John Easton, Dominion Football Association president, came looking for a secretary to run the game virtually full-time in the 1920s.  A journeyman plumber, Sam quit his profession in 1923 to take the DCFA position full time.  Carruthers Park had been built after World War One. Sam lived nearby, and he established an office in the wooden stands of the park.  Carruthers Park became the home of the finals of the Canadian Challenge Cup for many years, the final going only occasionally to Toronto or Vancouver.  Winnipeg supported the competition enthusiastically.  Davidson led many touring teams from coast to coast in the period between the wars, earning valuable dollars for the association through his shrewd business sense.  In World War Two, Davidson saw service in Canada with the Canadian Army.  During this period, with soccer activity shut down, Carruthers Park stood forlorn and empty, and was eventually sold and demolished for taxes.  At war's end, in 1946, Sam Davidson was in on the revival of the Dominion Football Association to aid his friend and colleague George Anderson, who for many years thereafter took over Davidson’s role as secretary. Sam Davidson was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2000.

John Easton – Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1874.  Died: Winnipeg, Manitoba, April 29, 1949.  President of the Dominion of Canada Football Association in 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1925.  Resigned part way through his final year over the issue of Sunday soccer.  President during the turbulent years of the 1920s when the DCFA had to deal with the Canadian Football Association and an Eastern Canada Association which had broken away from the national body.  A past president of the Winnipeg public parks board and of the Protestant orphans home of Manitoba.  An Orangeman, he was past grand master of Manitoba and of British America.

Douglas Alexander McMahon – Born: Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Clubs: United Weston (Winnipeg), Wolverhampton Wanderers 1938–40, Chicago Maroons 1946, Montreal Carsteel 1948.  Doug went to England for a month's trial with the famous Wolves in the fall of 1938, and was signed on October 11.  He made his First Division debut against Blackpool on January 1, 1939, then went on a European tour with the team that spring, and scored a goal in each half against a Danish Select team in Copenhagen.  Remained with Wolves after the start of World War Two, and played six games and scored nine goals in the Midland Regional League during the 1939–40 season.  However, World War Two interrupted a very promising career, and he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve on June 19, 1941, and served until discharged on August 31, 1945.  Following the war, he played for the Chicago Maroons in the newly formed North American Professional Soccer League in the 1946 season.  Played for Eastern Canada against the Eastern United States in 1947, and won a Canadian championship medal with Montreal Carsteel in 1948, scoring two goals in the first game of the final and another in the third game.  Coach of Montreal Sparta in 1956.  His father, Sandy McMahon, was a well-known referee in Manitoba in the 1920s. Inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2002.

Sandy McMahon – Born in Scotland, he came to Canada in 1912.  Before World War Two, he was one of Canada’s top referees, and refereed 15 National Challenge Cup final games between 1923 and 1935.  He was also the referee of choice when touring teams played in Winnipeg, and handled the Corinthians game against United Weston in 1924, the Scottish Football Association against Manitoba in 1927, the Scottish Football Association against Hakoah Vienna also in 1927 and the Welsh Football Association against Manitoba in 1929. He was also past president and an honorary life member of the Civic Caledonian Curling Club and an honorary member of the Manitoba Curling Association.  He died in Winnipeg, August 5, 1968.

Robert Walkinshaw "Bob" Harley – Born: Renfrew, Scotland, September 8, 1888.  Died: Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1958.  Captain of the Canadian team that toured Australia in 1924.  Grew up in Scotland and was an active and highly regarded player as a youth, and was in the Glasgow Rangers youth programme before he moved to Canada in 1911.  In 1914, he served overseas with the Fifth Battalion and was wounded in action at the front in 1916.  He sustained a very serious leg injury.  He was decorated for his service at the front for valour, and returned to Winnipeg where he spent a year and a half recuperating in the Tuxedo Army hospital.  After a long period, he resumed his soccer career, playing for Manitoba against the Scottish Football Association touring team in 1921 and also for Winnipeg against the same team.  He went on to captain the United Weston side that made several appearances in the national final between 1924 and 1926.  After the Australian tour, he continued his playing career and played well into the 1950s.  He put on many clinics across Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and became closely involved with the local YMHA as a player and coach.  He was later honoured as a member of their Sports Hall of Fame.  Of the 1924 tour, The Referee, one of the daily newspapers in Sydney, Australia, said, "Bob Harley, captain of the Canadians, filled the most difficult position on the field, centre half.  Like the majority of good halves, Harley graduated from the front line, and feeding forwards was his forte.  He was never guilty of kicking up the field, like some halves do, in the hope that his comrades would get the ball before the backs."  Inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2003.