Got mud?

Newark Evening News, January 5, 1914.

The main reason why tied knockout games are often settled by penalties or some similarly unhappy method rather than by replays the way they once were is television, but here’s an example of another reason:

On Dec. 27, 1913, Bethlehem Steel was leading West Hudson of Harrison, N.J., 1-0, in an American Football Association Cup quarterfinal in Bethlehem, Pa., when West Hudson’s Jimmy McHolland scored an equalizing goal with five minutes left. Five weeks later, McHolland’s teammates probably were wishing that his shot had gone wide, for in the meanwhile they had been dragged through the mud, both figuratively and literally, only to end up right where they would have been if McHolland had missed—out of the competition.

The tie on Dec. 27 in Bethlehem meant that there would be a replay eight days later in Harrison. The Bethlehem team in Harrison on Jan. 4, 1914 included four future Hall of Famers, but this was not the day they were honored for. It was a day when rain, snow and sleet caused sports events to be cancelled or postponed throughout the New York area, but in Harrison, the AFA insisted that the show must go on. The result of that insistence was summed up in a headline in the next day’s Newark Evening News: “Soccer Cup Teams Wallow in Slush.” The story contained the gruesome details:

“The field was covered with mud, while numerous puddles of water dotted the field. In addition, a steady downpour of rain accompanied by hail [I think they meant sleet] and flurries of snow drenched the players to the skin….Good football was out of the question under the circumstances of field and weather….Before the game had been in progress many minutes, the uniforms of both teams were almost entirely covered with mud….During the intermission, the West Hudsons hurried to their headquarters, where dry suits were procured, while the Pennsylvanians were compelled to keep on their water-soaked garments, which were covered with a layer of hail and snow and practically frozen on their bodies.”

It all sounds a bit like the famously rain-drenched 1996 MLS final between D.C. and Los Angeles in Foxboro, Mass., but with the temperature about 30 degrees colder. The referee halted the game 20 minutes into the second half, on the grounds that the lines were so obliterated that further play was impossible. The score was 1-1. They would have to do it again.

So do it again they did. On Jan. 11 in Harrison, the two teams played yet another 1-1 tie, including 30 minutes of overtime that failed to break the deadlock. A delay in the start of the game resulted in it finishing by the light of a full moon (at least they could see the moon). At this point, the two teams had played 275 minutes of soccer without settling the issue. A third replay, on Jan. 31, 1914, was played on neutral ground in Philadelphia. There was more rain and a long delay before the game was started, but finally there was a decision. At halftime, the score was the dreaded 1-1, but Bethlehem goals by Jack Lance and Whitey Fleming in the first 10 minutes of the second half opened it up and Fleming added another goal before the end.

Three replays. Playing in slush and by moonlight. It almost makes the shootout sound like fun.

A version of this post originally appeared on Roger’s Big Soccer Blog on June 12, 2011

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