The enterprising Sam Mark

I’ve written before about some of the leading administrators of American soccer in the first half of the 20th century. Sam Mark of Fall River, Mass., is a little different from the others. He was not a dedicated champion of the game like Tom Cahill or Edgar Lewis. He was a promoter, who is not known to have had any involvement in the game after the demise of the one American Soccer League team he built. But that team was a great one.

Mark first came onto the American soccer scene in 1922, when he bought the ASL franchise that had been owned by Fall River United in the 1921-22 season, resulting in that franchise being dubbed the Marksmen. Mark quickly did two key things to turn around a team that had finished next-to-last in the 1921-22 ASL season. First, he took advantage of the fact that Fall River is on the Massachusetts-Rhode Island state line, building the 15,000-capacity Mark’s Stadium a few hundred yards on the Rhode Island side of the line so that the Massachusetts blue laws wouldn’t stop him from charging admission for games on Sunday. Second, he started signing some better players, bringing back only four of the 30 who had played for Fall River United in the 1921-22 season.

In the 1922-23 season, the team’s record improved considerably, as it rose from sixth place in the ASL the season before to third. After that, the Marksmen took off. In the 1923-24 season, they won their first ASL championship, outdistancing Bethlehem Steel by 44 points to 40 in the standings. The league title, clinched in late May of 1924, made them the first ASL team to win the double, since two months earlier they had captured the U.S. Open Cup. They beat Vesper Buick of St. Louis, 4-2, in the cup final, three weeks after eliminating Bethlehem Steel in the eastern semifinal. That double happened against an ironic background, for at the same time as the Marksmen were hitting the heights, the departure of the New England textile industry for Georgia and the Carolinas had turned Fall River into an economic disaster area almost a decade before the Depression.

After that double, the Marksmen went from success to success, and along the way bought more top-class players, such as Billy Gonsalves, Alex McNab and Bert Patenaude. They won additional ASL titles in 1925, 1926, 1929 and 1930, and additional U.S. Open Cup titles in 1927, 1930, 1931 and 1932. The 1930 team, which besides its double also made a successful tour of Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in the summer, is regarded as the Marksmen’s best. However, by the time of the 1931 and 1932 cup victories, the team was no longer playing in Fall River. Economic conditions there had cut sharply into attendance and caused Mark to move the team in February 1931 to New York, where it was known as the New York Yankees. It drew no better in New York than it had in Fall River, and by the fall of 1931 was playing in New Bedford, Mass., as the New Bedford Whalers. In January 1932, the Whalers barely lost a playoff to the New York Giants for the 1931 ASL title, but three months later they won a two-leg final against Stix, Baer & Fuller of St. Louis to take the U.S. Open Cup. Both games of the final were played in St. Louis, but the St. Louis people prevailed on Mark to organize the business side of the second one after having been disappointed with the gate receipts at the first.

That second leg was the last game that the Marksmen/Yankees/Whalers ever played. Sam Mark lived the remaining 48 years of his life in and around Fall River, mostly operating small nightclubs. Despite having moved one of Fall River’s greatest soccer teams to New York, he was something of a revered local figure. People in Fall River understood what a terrible time 1931 had been there and didn’t fault Mark.

A version of this article originally appeared on Roger’s Big Soccer Blog on Nov. 25, 2011.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.