Behind the discovery of the earliest known footage of the United States Men’s National Team

The Society for American Soccer History (SASH) was founded to encourage the serious study of the United States’ long and rich history with the sport. Its mission includes a desire to effectively communicate this research as widely as possible. SASH members do this by publishing books and articles, recording podcasts and giving public presentations. We also seek to uncover new materials that will increase our knowledge of soccer’s history in the United States. The rediscovered film from the first US Men’s National Team match is one of the fruits of these efforts.

The footage — only about 80 seconds long — shows the USMNT in action on August 15, 1916 against Stockholm Tigrana at Stockholm Olympic Stadium in a match that finished as a 1-1 draw, with center forward John “Rabbit” Heminsley scoring the US goal. Five days later at the same stadium, the US faced Sweden in its first full international, winning 3-2.

What’s in the footage

Here’s a breakdown of what the footage shows with players identified as best as possible from existing photographs. The US team is in white jerseys, Tigrarna in hoops.

0 – 10 secs: Tigrana team shot
11 secs: Action begins from behind the US goal. Keeper George Tintle watches from his goal line.
17 secs: Center halfback (midfielder) Neil Clarke heads the ball away.
27 secs: Left fullback (center back) C. H. “Dick” Spalding boots it out of the US area.
34 secs: Tintle grabs a weak shot and boots it long.
38 secs: Camera is now behind and slightly to the right of the Tigrana goal. H. Almkvist is between the posts for the home side.
40 secs: Almkvist scoops up the ball as two US players rush the net. Inside right Thomas “Tommy” Swords tumbles into the goal but the ball stays out.
45 – 47 secs: A good chance for the US! Center forward John “Rabbit” Heminsley fights through a defender as he tries to get on the end of a looping cross/shot that Almkvist nicely punches away at the far post. Inside left Mat Diedrichson recovers the ball and launches it back into the box but it is blocked and cleared by a defender.
56 – 61 secs: Another high shot is once again punched away by Almkvist even as a US player (outside right James Ford?) crashes into him and drives him into the goal post. A US player — possibly Diedrichson or Swords — brings the ball down nicely and puts it into the open goal. The lack of celebration makes it seem that the goal was chalked off.
64 secs: The ball is sent back into the Tigrana area and Heminsley is whistled for a foul on Almkvist who retrieves the ball.
70 – 74 secs: The US has a corner and Heminsley challenges for the ball but it is cleared.

How the footage was found

In the spring of 2020, I learned about the Moving Image Research Collection at the University of South Carolina. The collection includes Fox Movietone newsreel footage and after a search I found that the archive contained several important clips of soccer matches. The films include an early recording of the USMNT versus Canada from November 8, 1925. In “Stars and Stripes Soccer on the Silver Screen before 1930,” I review some of this early footage of American soccer.

After seeing the footage, SASH member Ed Farnsworth told me about a question he had thought about for some time: Did archives in Scandinavia have footage of the first-ever USMNT overseas tour in 1916 or the 1919 visit to the same region by Bethlehem Steel? After some preliminary investigating, Ed asked me to take a look and see if there was material and if it was available.

By searching through the Svensk Mediedatabase, I determined that not only did footage from 1916 exist but it had already been digitized. The footage, from the collection of the Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm, is from the Svenska Biografteaterns Veckorevy (Swedish Cinema Theater Weekly Review) newsreel series.

Due to delays arising from the pandemic, it took some time to determine how to access the footage. Unfortunately, audio-video materials from the collection can only be screened in Sweden. A helpful librarian from the National Library of Sweden suggested that I contact SVT, the broadcaster who owns the footage. After a seemingly interminable wait while the office was closed for vacation, SASH was able to obtain a copy of the film.

Next steps

Also in the collection is footage from Bethlehem Steel FC’s 1919 Scandinavian tour, the first-ever overseas trip by a US club team. Efforts are now underway to acquire that footage so SASH can share with those interested in the history of soccer in the United States.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Stars and Stripes Soccer on the Silver Screen before 1930 – Society for American Soccer History

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