'I'll tell you exactly what happened'
As you may have seen by now, I have a story in this morning's Inquirer about Philadelphia native and U.S. World Cup legend Walter Bahr. Here's the full transcript of my interview with him.
'I'll tell you exactly what happened'
This is one of two blog posts that accompany my story about Walter Bahr in this morning's Inquirer. The second post details the relationship between Bahr and another Philadelphia soccer legend, Walt Chyzowych. Click here to read it.
Also be sure to check out Jeff Gammage's A1 story in the Inquirer about the Philadelphia Union's ticket sales so far, and this gallery of new stadium construction photos. Believe it or not, the Union's first game is two months from today.
Below you'll find the full transcript of my interview with Walter Bahr. It's remarkable how well Bahr recalls the details of the United States' famous 1-0 upset over England in the 1950 World Cup, and how he set up the game-winning goal.
Q. What did receiving the Walt Chyzowych award mean to you, especially given how much time Chyzowych spent in Philadelphia?
A. To me it was an honor, because it's coming from one soccer player and coach to another, and I think it's always an honor to be honored by a former player and coach.
Q. Talk about some of your memories of growing up in Kensington, and how popular soccer was at the time, especially now that there's a generation of kids in Philadelphia who are playing soccer. There was a long time when there wasn't so much soccer in the public consciousness in this city.
A. Well, Kensington was soccer back when I was growing up. Most sections of the city did not have it, and Kensington was textile mills, and it was soccer and baseball. When I played, I played high school sports at the old Northeast at 8th and Lehigh. They got an awful lot of their athletes out of Lighthouse Boys Club, which was at Howard and Somerset Streets. They had 4,000 boys.
Our soccer team, I don't know, they went something like 18 years without losing a game. We played against teams around the city, they were lucky if they had two kids on their teams that had played soccer before they had even gotten to high school. Our kids all played, the Kensington kids, they were kicking a ball around whenever they could play with a ball.
The league started at eight years of age at Lighthouse. So that gives you an example. Lighthouse was the centerpiece of soccer in Kensington, but all the neighborhoods - within every couple of blocks there was a playground, and soccer was one of the sports they played. No coaching or anything such as that.
It was big-time in Kensington. If you were a fairly good soccer player in Kensington, most people knew your name.
Q. What memories do you have at this point of the 1950 World Cup and that game against England?
A. Well, it was 60 years ago, and I can only tell the same stories I've been telling for 60 years. England was a 500-to-1 favorite to beat us [you get what he means - JT.], and there was no question that they should have beaten us.
As all games go, the longer the game goes on and the favorite team is struggling a bit, they probably get a bit more anxious or nervous. We got a little bit more in to the game in the second half and held on for that win.
We knew it was a big win, but back in the States, the majority of the country didn't even know the World Cup was being played. Most of the papers [didn't] - in fact, your paper included. And I still have a little write-up, it's about a two inch-in-length column that we won the game against England.
Q. I was going to say, obviously the media as a whole is so different now.
A. Oh, yeah. They can spell soccer.
Q. Do you remember at all how much English media there was at that time? I ask that because obviously, with the U.S. playing England now, there's so much hype there about it.
A. All the teams had press people there. We had none official. We had one fellow, Dent McSkimming, who was a sportswriter for the old St. Louis Dispatch, I think it was called. He was the only one who covered us and he paid his own way to get there.
He was a soccer bug from St. Louis, and he paid his way to get to Brazil. And he sent write-ups back to St. Louis, but I don't know if they had the AP at that time or whether they had some procedure where other papers had got the same material. But [in] the papers, and in the New York Times it was the same thing, it was just a little column.
I know at the airport when I came back, the only one there was my wife. So there was no big celebration back here. There was nothing done then, [but] every four years that the World Cup is played now, our game gets a little bit more attention.
Other than through the soccer world, nothing much was made of it in this country. With each succeeding four-year period, it becomes a biggeer story, and it always shows up somewhere in each country about one of the big upsets.
I know at that time, we were 500-to-one odds, and the favorites to win were England, Brazil or Spain. They were the three top favorites, and when we beat England, that more or less knocked them out of any chance of getting to the final game.
The Brazilians, from the start of the game until the end of the game, they were rooting for us. And when it ended, they stormed the field and they carried off some of our players. At first some of us didn't realize why they cheered for us the entire game rather than some for the British and some for our team. It was because if we won, England probably would not play in the final game.
Q. Do you remember at all the pass that set up Joe Gaetjens' goal?
A. Oh yes - and it wasn't a pass. It wasn't an assist - I don't even think they had the term assist in soccer back then. I'll tell you exactly what happened. That I remember.
Ed McIlvenny threw the ball in from the sideline to me. He was my midfield playing partner. He threw the ball in about 35 yards out from the goal. I collected it, pushed it forward a bit, and took a shot from about 25 to 28 yards out.
[McIlvenny also lived in Philadelphia at the time. He emigrated here from Scotland - JT.]
If you took the six-yard line [the portion perpendicular to the goal line - JT.] and extended it out to the 18 [yard-line], and then extended it out a little bit further, that's about how far I was off the right-hand post. I took my shot and I hit it fairly well.
Bert Williams, the English goalkeeper, had to move to his right to get my shot. Which most likely he would have gotten. Somehow, on the flight of my shot, Joe Gaetjens got through traffic, and got a piece of the ball - a deflection, that's the best word - it was a deflection that went to Bert Williams' opposite side. He [Williams] was leaning right, and the deflection sent it back to his left and he just couldn't react fast enough.
Q. So now the U.S. is going to play England in the World Cup again. When you first saw the draw, what was your reaction?
A. Well, I thought it was interesting. I said, there's going to be a lot of good stories that come out about the '50 game and now playing them again in 2010.
Somebody I heard recently say that the best thing about it is this: For 60 years, the only official competition was the World Cup game against England. We played a couple times afterwards, but they were exhibition games. So for 60 years [in] World Cup competition, the United States is leading England 1-0 in games in games that they've competed [in] against each other.
It's taken 60 years for England to have a chance to tie it up, and if things run according to Hoyle [look it up - JT.] and they win, it's going to take another 60 years for them to have the lead. I thought that was an interesting point there.
Q. And now that there's a soccer team - in fact, two soccer teams if you want to count the women's team - coming back to Philadelphia, what do you feel about that? I would think it would make you pretty happy.
A. Oh yeah. Philly's always been a good soccer town. They had professional teams back here in the 20's right up to what they have now. It was just a few years out with no team. And they've had a lot of success.
Philadelphia soccer - going back to the first team that ever represented the United States in an international game overseas, [it] had three or four Philadelphians on the team. That was in 1916, and they did pretty good overseas.
In 1928 on the Olympic team, and '32 and '36, there were a couple of Philadelphia players on those teams. The '36 team I think had five or six Philadelphians on their team. That was played in Germany.
[For the record, the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles did not have a soccer tournament. The 1936 Olympics in Berlin did have soccer. - JT.]
The World Cup teams of '30 and '34 had a couple of Philadelphia players. The first goal scored in the World Cup in 1930 against Belgium by the United States was scored by a Lighthouse guy, Bart McGhee.
Q. Was it really? That's very interesting.
[In fact, McGhee scored the first two goals of that game, a 3-0 U.S. win. - JT.]
A. Bart McGhee, 1930. The 1934 World Cup team had [Philadelphia] players on it. When I first started professionally, we had a player, Hun Ryan. He was considered one of the best forwards in the country at that time. Hun was on that team, and he played with the Philadelphia Nationals when I broke in as a rookie.
There was also a goalkeeper that played with the other Philadelphia team. Bobby Denton was still playing.
[Denton and the goalkeeper are not the same person, though during the interview I didn't realize that. Denton was a defender who played for the Philadelphia German-Americans, and played in multiple World Cups in the 1930s. The name of the goalkeeper is not clear from the records I've looked at. - JT.]
So there were a number of players I've had an overlap with from before and after the time I played. Bart McGhee was also one of the coaches at Lighthouse Boys Club.
Q. Could you ever have imagined that you would have three television channels with soccer, the World Cup would be on ABC, they'd have thousands of people coming to these soccer conventions, and such?
A. Soccer has come a long way. We never saw any television growing up, we never saw any games on film. The first games we started to see were [from] a fellow in Kensington [who] somehow had a connection with the BBC. He would get these big reels - 16-millimeter, or 8-millimeter [film] - they were enormous reels. You needed a horse to carry them.
He got tapes of games being played in Europe, and would show them at the local clubs: the Scots clubs, the Irish clubs and the German clubs. So we had the benefit of watching those games.
[At this point, Bahr noted that he was interviewed last month for this story by the New York Times' veteran soccer writer Jere Longman. We moved on to discussing his being in the media spotlight.]
I think [Longman] has called me [before] the last three World Cups. As the World Cup competition becomes bigger and bigger, that's one of the storylines that usually everybody picks up as being one of the biggest upsets. England, Brazil and Spain were the three favorites to win it at that time.
Q. Here's my last question, and it relates to something Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said during the draft. He said that on a number of occasions, soccer in America has tried and failed, and he thinks that this time soccer can succeed. Do you think there can be something that can be lasting and sustained for a long time?
A. I think so, for one reason. They're all building their own stadiums. When you're taking the profits from parking and hot dogs and everything else, that adds a lot to your budget. And that gives a team a home, a little identity. Teams never had that.
When we played international games, we didn't have fields that could accomodate the crowd. And we played in the ballparks. I'll bet I played 15 games in Yankee Stadium. I've played in Ebbetts Field and the Polo Grounds. I've played in Shibe Park, which was the old Connie Mack stadium.
St. Louis played in Sportsman's Park. So we never had fields that were of big-league caliber. Now, in the MLS, most of the teams either have them or are in the process of building them, and I think that's going to be a big factor with soccer. There's a home identity there.
I think the Philadelphia team is in good hands with the people that are running it, and I just hope that the Philly crowd supports them.