Royal City Soccer:

Its Associations, Clubs and Leagues

Author: Tony Shaman

Publication Date: 1997

Edited: 2021





O.A.C. Intermediate Inter-Collegiate Soccer Champions of Canada, 1932. Left to right: A.G. Allan (assistant manager), D.S. Kennedy (captain), C.S. Tinsley, P.G. Newell, T. Harper, A. Newby, H.C. Aitkin, B.E. Twamley, J. Arbuthnot, W. McMillan, N. Wood, P.W. Richardson, E. Smith (trainer), Prof. W.C. Blackwood (coach).



The first authenticated report of a game of soccer in Canada dates back to 1876, and soccer in Guelph was not far behind. The game was known at the time as association football, and some have suggested that the word soccer is a corruption of that term. Prior to 1875, it was better known as the 'old university game,' and it had few, if any uniform rules.1


Common rules were accepted when the Western Ontario Football Association was formed in 1880.2 Except for minor rule change, a more modern method of player deployment on the field, and evolution in play strategy, a game in 1886 would have been played much as it is today. A soccer report in the Guelph Daily Advertiser in the 1880s would not sound too different from that of a sports writer for The Guelph Mercury in the 1990s. On September 2, 1886, the Guelph Team battled the Beavers of Arthur in a friendly game played in Arthur. Quoting the Arthur Enterprise, the Guelph Daily Mercury and Advertiser said: "The Guelph boys were sharp on line. For a time, it was difficult to tell who had the best of it." The Guelph team though went down to defeat, their 4-0 loss attributed to the team lacking "some of their best men."


By 1885, the Western Ontario Football Association include 16 senior and six junior teams, and in 1887 the Guelph team, along with teams from Elora and Arthur, joined the Wellington District of the Association.3


For the season opener on May 28, 1887, Guelph was pitted against Elora with the winner of the contest scheduled to play Arthur. Guelph team members were: A. Moyce, goal; N.S. Erb and W. Middleton, backs; W. Amos and S. Rudd, half-backs; W. McCutcheon and W. Williams, left forwards; W. Snider and M. Martin, centre forwards; G. Smith and A. Hilborn right forwards; and H. Clark, spare. The Guelph club drove to Elora for the game, and by the end of two 45-minute periods of play, the Guelph team had won a 1-0 victory. The Guelph paper reported that a large crowd was in attendance and allowed that, "The play of Guelph's defence was good."4


The Guelph team and the Arthur Wellingtons squared off for the second round of the Wellington District championship on Saturday, June 11, on Guelph's Exhibition grounds. Guelph apparently had the advantage throughout the game; the home team came away with a 2-1 victory. A third goal scored by Guelph had been disallowed by referee W. Black of Elora, "On account of a previous foul."5 These back-to-back wins served as precursors to the many victories that Guelph teams would savour on the soccer pitch over the years.


Soccer was a dominant team sport in Southwestem Ontario in the mid-to-late 1880s, and a number of Guelph teams took part. These consisted of players from a wide range of ages. One Royal City team, known as the 'old' team, must have been made up of a spry group of 'old-timers'; according to one contemporary newspaper account, the squad gave, "the Guelph club some excellent practice."6 Guelph also had a junior team which saw success in 1887. In a game played on Guelph's Exhibition grounds on June 21, Guelph's juniors defeated the Marden eleven by a score of 2-1.7


Soccer teams such as the Stars of the Elora Road, and the Eramosa Road Bushwhackers performed for the enjoyment of spectators, but these friendly games were social evens as well as sports contests. A match between the Silver Stars of the West End and the Sou'Westers [sic] of the Paisley Block, for instance, was followed by, "a splendid lunch" served by the ladies of the host club.


The number of Guelph teams continued to expand in the late 1880s and early 1890s. One of the new city teams first mentioned in 1891 called itself the Silver Creeks. Along with a number of contemporary teams, it played its home games on the Exhibition grounds.


Soccer was also extremely popular on the Ontario Agricultural College (O.A.C.) campus in the early 1890s. Sometimes hard-fought games were coupled with festive events. For example, when the local team played Markham in June of 1891, the Markham Cornet band provided music for the occasion. That year the college team, entered in the Wellington District of the Western Ontario Football Association, also competed against area high school teams such as Orangeville, Brantford, Galt, and Berlin.8


In the college team's season opener against Orangeville High School, O.A.C.'s 3-0 loss was attributed to a stiff wind in the first half, which helped the high school athletes overpower the college squad. The O.A.C. club enjoyed a 3-0 victory in a return match, played on the college lawn on May 23, 1891. The college's senior team took on groups from other towns in the area. The Galt team, with its outstanding, centre, Fred Steep, proved too strong for the young O.A.C. squad, which enjoyed greater success against less powerful teams such as Hespeler.9


The O.A.C. senior team defeated Hespeler 8-0 in one game of a double header played on the College lawn on May 28, 1892. The junior teams played a more evenly-matched game that ended in a 1-1 draw. Game officials were referees Laing and Congalton; according to the Guelph Daily Mercury and Advertiser, both sides found their decisions satisfactory.


With the start of the 1892 school year, the fortunes of both O.A.C. teams began to improve. The senior team, under captain R.S. Shaw, played three matches in the fall of 1892 without having a single goal scored against them. Their victories were decisive ones and included a 4-0 triumph over Hespeler. The O.A.C. second team, under captain A. Phin, enjoyed an even more impressive victory: a 5-0 shutout, against the Hespeler second team.


College soccer teams continued to improve over the years. In a game against Elmira on May 17, 1895, O.A.C. star performer, G.A. Putnam earned a 'hat trick' when he scored a third goal in the second half to end the game in a 4-1 victory.10 A strong senior O.A.C. college team joined the National Football Association ln 1896, as did the Guelph city team. The power of the O.A.C. team was demonstrated in a game against the Guelph city team that ended in 7-0 victory for the college lads. O.A.C. fielded another strong team the following season, when its boys in red and blue defeated nearly all opponents including, once again, the Guelph city team, to win the Western Football Cup.


Soccer was the principal team sport on and off the campus in the 1890s, and the Red and Blue frequently competed against older, more experienced, off-campus teams, sometimes with less than satisfactory results. Against teams composed of players their own age, however, O.A.C. enjoyed widespread success. In 1897, the O.A.C. squad tied the first two games of a three-game series against Brantford. Then in the final hard-fought match, before hundreds of spectators on the crowded college lawn, the Red and Blue scored a final goal in the closing minutes, to end in a 3-2 victory for the home team.11



Guelph Soccer team, 1906. (Photograph courtesy of ARCHIVAL AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH LIBRARY).


Soccer remained popular in the city, as well as on campus. In 1902, some of Guelph's best known businessmen, including W.E. Buckingham, T.J. Hannigan, J.A. Hewitt, and H. Mcdonald, organized the Guelph Nationals. As its marquee player, the new team gained the services of Star performer Fred Steep who, during the time he had played for Galt, was responsible for more Guelph teams going down to defeat that any other single opponent. The team was highly competitive during its short period of existence, but it folded after only three seasons. Despite the team's success on the field, it disbanded due to the loss of players to other soccer clubs in the area.


Even without the Nationals, there was much soccer activity in Guelph. A City Soccer League was formed in 1905, consisting of three teams: O.A.C., Guelph Scots, and the Guelph Rovers. The first season ended with the Scots winning the soccer association's Smith Cup; the Rovers, competing for the WFA Cup, lost to Milverton that year. In the following year, 1906, in a contest with 1,000 fans cheering from the sidelines, the Rovers took the Smith Cup, only to lose it back to the Scots in 1907. The City League was inactive for a short period before it was resurrected in 1917, with seven teams competing ln the reorganized league. In the first year of the much-expanded league, Paisley Memorial won the championship league trophy with the four McGowan brothers, Alec, Jack, Jim, and Matt, among the team's prominent players.


O.A.C., with a student body of only 400, could not field strong enough team to compete successfully in the reorganized League, so in 1914 it entered a league that included the University Western Ontario and Woodstock College.12 Here the O.A.C. team had some more satisfactory results, with the college team losing only by single goals to squads from MacMaster and Toronto Teachers' College.


The war years of 1914-1918 had a devastating effect on soccer in the Royal City. American football and baseball had made huge inroads around the turn of the century. Despite the best efforts of many dedicated devotees of soccer after the war, the sport never again enjoyed the pre-eminent position on college and community fields it had once commanded.


Yet soccer was far from dead in Guelph following World War I. The Great War Veterans' team of 1919, was said to have been, "the finest team ever to have been organized there."13 Furthermore, the illustrious Fred Steep was still performing his soccer magic on the field, now playing for Guelph's Taylor-Forbes club.14


Originally organized in 1911, the Taylor-Forbes team finished in first place in 1912. Known as the 'Hardware Men' for the numerous championship cups and trophies it had won, the team began to flourish again in the post-war period. It wore the colours of the Taylor- Forbes Company, a local firm established in 1878, and one of Guelph's leading industrial enterprises, and had the enthusiastic support of the company's top management including J.M Taylor, Jr., who apparently rarely missed a game. The team took the coveted WFA Cup in 1921-22, but its most successful season was 1923. That year the famed team won five cups, including the prestigious Ontario and Albert Plenty Cups. It was fitting that Steep had capped his illustrious career in 1919 with the Taylor-Forbes squad, one of Ontario's most respected clubs.


Nevertheless, to Guelph soccer organizers it became obvious that young players needed to be developed if the city was to have a future in the sport. Two dedicated individuals, Jack Smith and Rob Pearson, assumed the task of building Guelph's soccer prospects with the organization of a Junior League in 1920. When St. George's Park proved to be unsuitable as a soccer pitch for the new league, arrangements were made to have the games played at Lyon Park. In the league's heyday, games attracted up to 1,000 spectators.15


O.A.C. was also affected by the Great War. After a hiatus of several years, "The soccer team returned in 1920 with bright new sweaters and a new coach, Professor Blackwood."16 The team was entered in the Intermediate League, where it proved to be competitive against all comers. In the 1921 season, the college squad lost against the University of Toronto's Varsity team. It surprised Guelph townsfolk; however, when the boys in Red and Blue tied Guelph's Carpet Mills team with a 2-2 score in the semi-final game for the McArthur Charity Cup.


O.A.CLancashire Felt Company Soccer Club (no date). (Photograph courtesy of ARCHIVAL AND SPECIAL COLLECTION, UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH).


The next several years were glory years for the O.A.C. By the end of the 1924 season, the college team had strung together three successive championship years in the Inter-faculty League, and the future for soccer looked bright indeed. There was even talk on campus that soccer would replace rugby as the school's number one team sport. The confidence of the 'Red and Blue Soccer Machine', as the senior O.A.C. team was then known, spilled over into the new Intermediate Inter-Collegiate League formed in 1927. Under coach Dad Harrison, a great array of new players on campus were predicted to, "Wipe the opponents off the field."18


Meanwhile the city's team rebuilding, begun in 1920, started to show results as young players vied for spots on the junior squads of the Guelph Rovers and Taylor-Forbes organizations. Another club, the McArthur midgets, formed in 1922, went on to win divisional championships in each class in which they competed, right through to the senior level in 1926. In 1927, the young team competed successfully in both the Guelph and District Soccer League, and the Western Football Association.



Taylor-Forbes Soccer Club c. 1930. (Photograph courtesy of ARCHIVAL COLLECTIONS, GUELPH CIVIC MUSEUM).


Guelph United was another successful junior team that traced its roots back to the 1920's revival period. By the late 1930s, this squad was playing in the senior ranks against such highly rated teams as the Fergus club. Because of powerful teams such as Guelph United, newspaper reports in 1938 suggested that the Royal City squad might be the surprise team in the Hamilton and District League.19 The team, which included many players from the former Lancashire Felt club, went on to enjoy great success on the soccer pitch before many of Guelph's finest players were inducted into the armed services with the outbreak of the Second World War.


A bright spot on the Guelph soccer scene during the dark days of World War II was the formation of a three-team league in 1943 composed of service men, including members of the Royal Netherlands Army. The Guelph Maple Leaf Athletic Association assumed responsibility for organized soccer in the city for the duration of the war. To make the necessary transition as smooth as possible, and to ensure that there would be at least some semblance of a soccer organization in place when the boys returned from overseas, two well-known Guelph soccer enthusiasts, Harold Western and Bob Sands, Sr., served on the Maple Leaf's executive with full voting power. In addition to setting up the schedule for the three-team league, the Maple Leaf Athletic Association also arranged for exhibition games with teams from Toronto and Hamilton and promoted the sport during a most difficult time.


After the war, it was the city's junior teams that initially brought a sense of normalcy back to organized soccer in the Guelph. On May 4, 1946, the Royal City Junior team, entered in the Toronto League, opened its season against the Toronto Shamrocks, at Lyon Park. Although they lost the game 4-1, the group came back to win their next game in a 3-1 victory over the Toronto East Siders.


G. Henshall organized the Guelph City Tigers football club for youths aged 12 to 16. It was a giant step forward for organized soccer in the city, and the young team competed in the revived Guelph & District Football Association.


The Guelph City Football Club continued to prosper, and in 1949 its junior squad reached the finals in the Ontario Cup competition.20 In 1950 the club entered the Southern Ontario Football League, where it was pitted against stronger teams from such centres such as Brantford, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, and St. Catharines. Battling for every point, Guelph City could do no better than finish near the bottom in league standing. By the late 1960s the Southern Ontario Soccer League had mushroomed to 24 teams, divided into six sections of four teams each, for League Cup competition.


By the mid-seventies the Guelph Oaks A team, managed by Bill Toth, was one of the more successful teams competing in the Inter-City League. It played teams such as the Galt Orientals and the Hamilton Sparta, while the Oaks B squad competed in the Kitchener and District Soccer League. The Oaks team flourished despite the stiff it faced in the 1980s from competitors such as the Hamilton Croatia the Hamilton Steelers.


One hundred years ago the role of girls and women was cheer on their home teams from the sidelines; today they play the game as enthusiastically as their male counterparts. Girls compete in inter- city and school leagues, participate in invitational matches from coast to coast, they battle for the Ontario Cup, and distinguish themselves national-level competition. In 1989, for example, three members Guelph's under-18 girls youth soccer club helped win the Canadian championship on a team which defeated the Quebec 3-0, after trouncing New Brunswick 7-0 and beating Nova Scotia 1-0.


Men's recreational soccer teams are still active in the Royal City much as they were 100 years ago, but the names have changed. Present-day team like Norfolk Manor, Omark and Steno Electric have replaced whimsically named teams such as Stars of the Elora road Eramosa Road Bushwhackers, and the Silver Stars of West End. The prediction that soccer would become the number one sport on the O.A.C. campus proved to be incorrect. Yet soccer today enjoys participation at the university and across the city, involving players of both sexes and many age groups. Schools have done much to support a sport that develops healthy young bodies, promotes fair play, and fosters team spirit.


Soccer as an organized sport in Guelph marked its centenary in 1986. With the continued support of the city's schools, colleges, clubs and industries, there is every reason to believe that its future will be as bright as its proud history.



*For record of notes see original text.