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When it all Began

May 4, 2021

AS THE STANFORD men's soccer team plays deep into the spring while advancing in the NCAA tournament, there is a strangeness about a season played outside its autumn element.

Temperatures, after all, are supposed to drop during the season, not rise. However, as odd as it feels, spring is significant to Stanford soccer, you just have to roll back a few volumes of history -- to the spring of 1910 – to see it. That's when the Stanford soccer team first took the field. 

On Nov. 16, 1909, a two-paragraph notice was published in The Daily Palo Alto, now the Stanford Daily

"It has been decided by Instructors Long and Maloney of the Hygiene department to organize soccer teams from the various gymnasium classes. The men have shown such a decided interest in the soccer as played during the gymnasium hours that it was suggested by certain members of the classes that permanent teams be organized. 

"Not only is it hoped that the men will get beneficial exercise from the game, but it has been found that good soccer players usually make good rugby players. Instructor Maloney believes that much good rugby material will be developed in this way. Teams will be organized in the near future."

Some context: Just before the 1905 football Big Game at the new 14,000-capacity Stanford Field, Stanford president David Starr Jordan and Cal president Benjamin Ide Wheeler held a secret meeting in response to the increasing outcry about the brutality of the sport. They determined that both schools would abolish football after the game, and did so. Football did not return to Stanford until 1919. 

In its place, Stanford turned to rugby. Though it drew good crowds, fans never truly embraced the game as they did football. Harry Maloney, hired by Stanford at age 32 in 1908 as an assistant instructor at Encina Gymnasium, saw soccer as a way to help fuel the rugby program, but also recognized the growing interest in the sport in the Bay Area. 

Rugby and soccer actually were among several sports that Maloney had expertise. Shortly after he was hired, he introduced himself by participating in exhibitions of boxing, fencing, and wrestling, all in the same evening. So began one of the greatest coaching careers in Stanford history. His influence at Stanford continues today.


Harry Maloney, in 1966. 
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HENRY WILFRED MALONEY was born in 1876 in Dublin, Ireland, and was trained at the Army Gymnastics School on the Curragh plains in County Kildare. Ireland was part of Great Britain then and Curragh was a training site for new kind of soldier, one that was physically stronger and better conditioned than the enemy. 

For Maloney, that meant training in combat sports, as well as gymnastics and burgeoning team sports like soccer and rugby. 

The British were at the forefront of modern army training, turning civilians into a fighting men, and organized sports as we know them today, such as the creation of the British Football Association, were largely the products of those who graduated from this style of training and saw futures in it. 

Maloney graduated from Curragh in 1899 and soon was thrust into South Africa's Boer War as one of the Queen's Royal Lancers. When it was over, Maloney felt an emotional hole inside him. His mother died when he was four, and he had no contact with his father, who left for California in search of gold. 

In 1902, Maloney headed across an ocean and a continent in search of his father. Whether Harry found him is unknown, but Maloney did settle in Pasadena, where he opened a gym and competed in boxing and fencing, winning the Pacific Coast fencing championship. Somehow, Maloney came to the attention of Stanford president David Starr Jordan. When a "Major Burdette" resigned from his post on the Stanford physical education staff, Maloney was hired. 

Soccer was not a major sport in Ireland, where rugby, Gaelic football, and hurling held sway. Nor was it in the United States, when Harvard, Yale, and Columbia broke from the sport in 1867 to create a new set of rules that included the handling of an oval ball. 

Without the universities on board, soccer was limited to pockets of immigrant communities, mostly in northern New Jersey, New York City, southeastern New England, and St. Louis. 

There were stops and starts in the sport's development in the U.S. In 1885 and 1886, the U.S. played what many consider its first national team matches, against Canada in Newark, New Jersey. The U.S. side actually was a New Jersey-based team and the "U.S." teams at the 1904 Olympics actually were club teams from St. Louis. No "U.S." matches would take place for another 12 years. 

A pro league was attempted in the Northeast in 1894, at National League ballparks when the baseball teams were out of town. It went out of business in three weeks. However, in the Bay Area, mostly British ex-pats created a pair of thriving amateur leagues, the top-level California Football League and the second-level Western League. Such was the state of soccer when Maloney posted his notice at Encina Gym.
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Rugby's Benny Erb became Stanford's first soccer standout. Photo by Stanford Quad.

MALONEY FORMED TEAMS from each P.E. class and they played a round robin schedule with medals awarded to the champion, which happened to be the Monday, Wednesday, Friday class that met at 11:15 a.m. Stanford already had teams in baseball, rowing, rugby, tennis, and track and field. The enthusiasm was so great for soccer that Maloney was convinced that it could be next.
Beginning on Jan. 28, 1910, Maloney assembled teams by class. After several practices, he merged the best players into first and second teams. They called themselves the Encina Gymnasium Soccer Team. Maloney liked what he saw, and sent a letter to the San Francisco Call newspaper looking for games.

"The game is not a fad, but a reality, and we expect to have a strong team before the end of the season," Maloney wrote. "The campus wiseacres confidently predict some stinging defeats for the Stanford team, which does not bother us in the least, for the simple reason that we will be pleased to play the best teams for the pleasure we will derive from it, to say nothing of learning the fine points of the game." 

Several from the California Football League took Maloney up on his offer. The league was just completing its regular season, but was launching into its cup tournament. 

At 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12, Stanford took on San Francisco's Barbarian Athletic Club on the Encina Gymnasium field. This was Ground Zero for Stanford soccer. The Barbarians won, 2-0, but the Stanford side "made a very credible showing," the Daily Palo Alto wrote. "Instructor Maloney was very well pleased with the work of the men."


San Francisco Examiner; Feb. 12, 1910.

The advantage of spring soccer was that it complemented fall rugby. Therefore, the first version of Stanford soccer carried a heavy rugby influence, with players such as Benny Erb and H.L. Hubbard, Stanford soccer's first captain. Erb was among the only Stanford players who previously played the game, having grown up in British Columbia, Canada, and quickly shone as the team's first star. 

After a 6-4 loss to the Barbarians at San Francisco's Presidio Athletic Grounds, the Barbarians hosted a banquet in Stanford's honor. They must have wined and dined Erb, because he began moonlighting for the Barbarians shortly after. Two other Stanford players would do the same for other clubs. 

Stanford's Reds, as the first team was called, rebounded with perhaps its best result of the season. A goal from Erb led to a 1-1 draw with league champ Thistle, a Scottish-influenced side, on the Stanford "sawdust field," as the Daily Palo Alto described it.  

Also on March 5, Stanford's second team, the Grays, lost to Cal's rugby team, 1-0, in front of 2,000 spectators in Berkeley. It was the first soccer match between the two schools. Cal's team just learned the rules of soccer in the run-up to the match and used the sport as a training method for rugby.

Stanford certainly didn't have the skills of its California Football League opponents, but were better conditioned, faster, and more athletic. Stanford was far from embarrassing itself and clearly could compete with top teams, sparking even more interest in the sport on campus. Midway through the season, 22 more players signed up, and Maloney now was coaching four Stanford teams – the Reds, Grays, Blacks, and Whites – with 70 players regularly attending practice.

The Reds' season continued with a 3-3 home draw against Bobby Burns, a side named after a Scottish poet whose statue stands in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, followed by its first victory, 4-1 over San Francisco's Olympic Club on the sawdust field.

Stanford even scheduled a match against "English Warship," sailors from the H.M.S. Shearwater, a 204-foot Royal Navy sloop with a crew of 104 that was docked in the San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, a conflict for the field with the Stanford baseball team forced a cancelation.

No matter, the Stanford Reds continued their momentum, ripping the Reliance Athletic Club, 5-1, in Alameda with Erb scoring three goals – Stanford's first hat trick. 

The university was giddy with team's success. The student body executive committee voted to reward the program with $40 to "be given to cover the running expenses for the past semester, and to encourage the men for their work in the future," wrote the Daily Palo Alto. It was a sign of the university's commitment to the program and an opening for official status.

The California Football League sent an all-star squad against Stanford on May 7. Though Stanford lost, 5-0, completing a 2-3-2 season, the league was so impressed that Stanford was invited to join. 

Stanford would indeed do so. Armed with a budget of $210, Stanford played a 14-match league schedule in 1910-11, placing fifth and reaching the cup semifinals before losing to the Vampires … yes, the Vampires.  
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Stanford's 1910-11 soccer team. Harry Maloney is in the second row, far left. Photo by the Stanford Quad. 

WROTE THE STANFORD Quad after the 1910-11 season:

"Considering the short time they have had to learn the game from its very rudiments, these teams have done remarkably well, especially when it is considered that in most of their matches they have been playing with teams which have been practicing the game for years. 

"…. it is very largely due to (Maloney's) efforts that the present efficiency of the men in the game and the interest they take have developed soccer from a practically unknown game to one that is in the eyes of a portion, at least, of the student body is second in interest to none."

The program was granted varsity status in 1911 and Maloney would remain coach for 29 years. With a 104-60-40 record, Maloney is No. 3 in program history in coaching victories. Soccer was like a child that Maloney saw grow from infancy, but it wasn't his only child. From 1908 until his retirement in 1944, Maloney also was head coach at one time or another of basketball, boxing, fencing, gymnastics, rugby, track and field, and wrestling, and even started a cricket club. 

The soccer and rugby field – on the site of the current Varsity Turf field hockey stadium -- was named Harry Maloney Field in 1941 and rededicated to him in 1966, a year before his death at age 90. Maloney was living at The Sequoias, a senior living community in Portola Valley, and leading residents in calisthenics. 

As Pac-12 champion Stanford continues on its quest of a fourth national championship, with a third-round match against North Carolina on Thursday, history is on its side. There is a deep familiarity with the spring, the time of year when it all began.