Oregon Adult Soccer Association

A History of Soccer in Oregon

by David Porter

Sellwood Soccer Team - Rose City League Champions 1931-1932  Courtesy of the Tempelton Family

"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” said James Joyce. While we all remember matches that evoked of sentiment, generally soccer players are more fond than not of recalling and recounting the past. Do you remember your first match? Your first goal? The first time someone whacked your shin with their boot? 

The storytelling, good memories, and shared experiences become part of the lore of the sport and part of what gets passed on to new players and youngsters. Would baseball be as exciting to its fans without Ruth and Mantle? Would basketball have grown without Chamberlain or Jordan?

The growth of soccer, locally and nationally, is probably tied to its traditions. Some traditions survive through the telling of stories by people who remember the “good old days” and are willing to talk about them. Others are lost until someone goes back and looks up what happened so that the history becomes part of everyone's knowledge.

This is a beginning, much incomplete attempt to bring the threads of soccer’s tradition in our part of the world together into a single fabric, perhaps a fan's scarf, to be worn and cherished as a symbol of “the game”.

When were “THE GOOD OLD DAYS”?

As a distinct sport, soccer had its earliest formal origins at Cambridge University in England. While it may be something of a surprise to find that the “working mans game” was concocted at university, it’s no surprise at all that England was the place. In 1848, the first rules of the game were written up at the aforementioned institution. Another fifteen years passed before the rules were actually published (contrary to the opinion of those who think they are still made up on the spot by officials) in the December 1863 issue of “Bell's Life” so that anyone besides Cambridge students knew what they were. The article was apparently an offshoot of a meeting which had taken place in London to organize the English Football Association at the same time.

In Portland there are tantalizing bits of information about soccer being played here as early as the turn of the century, but it is difficult to unearth evidence that marks the specific date of introduction of the sport. However, it is reasonable to assume that university athletes and sports clubs here had frequent connection with England and that new English ideas might easily find a home here. The 1920 soccer season, for example, opened with a match between the city champion Penninsula team playing against sailors from the British freighter, M. de Larinaga, which was loading flour. This sort of exchange was, and still is, common and would have fostered awareness of the sport. 

Roger Hamilton, past presentident of the OASA, tracked the sport as far back as the turn of the century when teams competed for the Cameron Cup. Judge Cameron donated the cup and the championship was apparently won in 1902 and 1903 by the “winged A's” of the Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC). Unfortunately, this is the same Judge George J. Cameron who is mentioned in E. Kimbark MacCoil's, "Merchants, Money & Power”, as being openly supportive of the liquor interests in their battle against Mayor Harry Lane's efforts to curtail vice. 

It is not clear whether the judge's political shenanigans affected the soccer competition named after him, but it did fade into history. Municipal Judge Cameron may have been something of a scoundrel, but his involvement suggests that soccer did find an early place among civic leaders of the city.

The Cameron Cup was a physical symbol of the important role which Cameron himself played in the sport in its early years. At eight in the evening on Monday, September 26, 1910, the second meeting of the Portland Football Association was held in the offices of none other than George J. Cameron in the Chamber of Commerce building. One item on the agenda for the evening was registration for the annual Challenge Cup competition. 

Cameron, who was President of the association that year (and also District Attorney), had, in the previous week, run the annual meeting of the association at the Alasky Hall on Third and Morrison. About 100 members attended and “some wrangling” was evident as the meeting considered a new constitution and by-laws. The other important piece of business was the suggestion that a “select” team be sent out to play the three universities: Willamette, Oregon, and Oregon Agricultural College, which were adding soccer to their lists of sports.

At the follow-up meeting, registrations were held for the coming season. The Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club fielded one team. A second came from the Portland Cricket Club. Also lined up to play were the National Football Club and the Oceanic Football Club. According to the Oregonian's account, “...there is a possibility that more local teams will play for the cup”, suggesting that the four teams named weren't the only competitors on the scene. 

The Oregonian's commentary also mentions that soccer was likely to “...get a strong foothold in Portland and Oregon this year. An interscholastic league is now being formed...but the taking up game by the grammar schools means the greatest stride in the history of the game.” In a comment that sounds suspiciously familiar, the writer states “With the little fellows is where game must be established to get the best results.” Note was made of the fact that Professor Robert Krohn of Ainsworth School had supported the organization of two teams there because “...in there is less danger of injury...” than in the American game. A second lament of the author also sounds woefully modern. The schedule of games and grounds on which they’d be played would probably be announced at the meeting, but “... there may be some difficulty in getting the baseball grounds this year for the games.” The alternative site was “...the Catholic Young Men's Club field at Williams Avenue and Morris Street.” 

The MAC (then MAAC) had been cup champions in 1909 but editorial comment stated that the coming championship was a likely “tossup” because of the quality of the teams registered and the “...many new soccer men in Portland, some of whom are old professional players from England and Scotland”. 

Nearly a year before, the October 8 Oregonian had recorded the concerns of the Portland Football Association as it prepared for the ‘09 season. It is interesting to contrast them with the meeting a year later. 

In 1909 five teams had registered to play and the discussion centered around scheduling. Two of the teams, Multnomah Amateur Athletics and the Balfour-Guthrie team could only play on weekdays. The Queen's Park and Cricketers' clubs could only play on Sundays. The Nationals could play either. Resolution was at hand, though, as "...it was found that holiday fixtures would make it possible for all elevens to get together without involving the Sunday teams in more than two Saturdays during the entire season.”

Another topic on the agenda was the entrance fee to the city league. It was cut from $15 to $10, “...the Portland Football Association being in good financial condition.” Possibly, one supposes, because Judge Cameron was so well-connected.

The cup championship was a topic of discussion, and it was decided to give each member of the winning team medals. Medals of lesser value would be given to the runner up team.

The location of the 1909 meeting was not mentioned in the article. However, it is stated that Secretary, Andrew Matthew, presided and that the meeting was pronounced the best since “...the game was introduced here.” The representatives of the various teams present were also named. Jack Coxon for the Nationals, William Richmond for the Queen's Park, Balfour-Guthrie & Co. by Arthur Hayes, Cricketers by Harold Phin, and the MAC by Don Kydd.

(copyright David M. Porter, 1993)

David Porter is a longtime local player and historian. He also occasionally blogs about the history of soccer in Oregon on his website, It's My Sodden Pitch. We are indebted to him for all his efforts to preserve our history.

If you have any information, photos or comments about this history, please send David an email.