1923 US Open Cup Final: Paterson FC claims New Jersey’s “tainted” first title

Posted by | September 20, 2017
This Sept. 2017 photo was taken from the top of a parking garage in Harrison, NJ that was the former site of Harrison Field, the site of the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final between Paterson SC and Scullin Steel. The parking garage is located near Red Bull Arena, the home stadium for the New York Red Bulls. Photo: Bob Larson

This Sept. 2017 photo was taken from the top of a parking garage in Harrison, NJ that was the former site of Harrison Field, the site of the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final between Paterson SC and Scullin Steel. The parking garage is located near Red Bull Arena, the home stadium for the New York Red Bulls. Photo: Bob Larson

A little more than 94 years ago, in a New Jersey stadium located in what is now a parking lot near Red Bull Arena, Scullin Steel (St. Louis, MO) and Paterson FC (Paterson, NJ) met in the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final. To date, it remains the only time that Missouri club and a New Jersey club have met in the US Open Cup Final, although this year’s Final featuring Sporting Kansas City (which is based on the Kansas side of the city) and the New York Red Bulls is as close as you can get.

The outcome produced the only Open Cup championship won by forfeit and the controversy surrounding it launched a war or words between the two clubs.

Paterson FC vs. Scullin Steel: A History of the Clubs

Paterson and Scullin were young clubs heading into the 1922-23 season, Paterson debuting in the National Association Football League (NAFBL) in the 1917-18 campaign, and Scullin beginning St. Louis Soccer League play a season later. Both clubs were successful in their debut seasons, Paterson won the NAFBL with a 12-1-1 mark, as well as reaching the quarterfinals of the National Challenge Cup.

Players and coaches from the 1923 Paterson Football Club. Photo: 1923-24 Spalding Soccer Football Guide

Players and coaches from the 1923 Paterson Football Club. Photo: 1923-24 Spalding Soccer Football Guide

As the debuting Scullin Steel were winning the St. Louis Soccer League with a 10-6-5 record in the following season, Paterson found success outside of the NAFBL. Despite a disappointing third place finish in the six-team league (reduced from eight because of losing players to World War I), Paterson finished runners-up in both the National Challenge Cup and the American Cup, both times losing to Bethlehem Steel.

The 1919-20 season was a low point for both clubs. Scullin dropped to last in the four-team St. Louis League, and Paterson finished fourth in the NABFL, well out of range of the top three. Paterson were also eliminated in the second round of the National Challenge Cup, while Scullin reached the third round in its Cup debut.

Players and coaches from Scullin Steel in 1923. Photo: 1923-24 Spalding Soccer Football Guide

Players and coaches from Scullin Steel in 1923. Photo: 1923-24 Spalding Soccer Football Guide

Opposite fortunes awaited the clubs for the 1920-21 season. Paterson pulled out of the NAFBL early in the season, and only reached the third round in cup play. Scullin bounced back to the top in St. Louis in 1921, and more significantly, reached the final of the National Challenge Cup where they lost to Robins Dry Dock (New York) 4-2. While Paterson skipped the 1921-22 season, Scullin’s success grew. The Steel club not only repeated as St. Louis champions, but also defeated Todd Shipyards (a renamed Robins Dry Dock club) 3-2 to win the National Challenge Cup. Scullin came back from a 2-0 deficit after twenty minutes, with Allie Schwartz scoring the winner with three minutes remaining.

The 1922-23 season was a new beginning for Paterson, returning to play in the year-old American Soccer League (ASL). A middle of the road finish would await the Jersey club at the end of the season, finishing fifth in the eight-team league with a 9-4-7 record, 22 points behind champions J&P Coats. A league title also eluded Scullin in 1923, finishing second behind Vesper Buick in St. Louis Soccer League.

Road to the 1923 Final

Paterson FC

Round 1 (Oct. 15, 1922): Win by forfeit vs. Harrison FC
Round 2 (Nov. 5, 1922): Win by forfeit vs. Entre Nous FC
Round 3 (Nov. 26, 1922): 2-0 win vs. American AA
Round 4 (Jan. 7, 1923): 6-0 win vs. Hartford Rovers
Quarterfinals (March 11, 1923): 0-0 draw vs. New York Field Club
Quarterfinals Replay (March 18, 1923): 4-1 win vs. New York Field Club
Semifinals (March 25, 1923): 3-2 win vs. J&P Coats

Paterson opened their run to the 1923 final with a pair of forfeit wins over Harrison FC and Entre Nous FC. The Harrison FC forfeit was quite unusual, as the ASL club did not have enough players signed in time for the first round contest. Not surprisingly, Harrison finished the year with a 4-2-17 record. A 2-0 win over American AA and an easy 6-0 victory over Hartford Rovers led to a quarterfinal showdown with New York Field Club.

Action from the 1923 National Challenge Cup Western Final (National Semifinals) between Scullin Steel and Arden FC of Western Pennsylvania. Scullin Steel won 2-1 at High School Field in St. Louis. Photo; St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Action from the 1923 National Challenge Cup Western Final (National Semifinals) between Scullin Steel and Arden FC of Western Pennsylvania. Scullin Steel won 2-1 at High School Field in St. Louis. Photo; St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On a field full of mud and standing water in Harrison, N.J., the ASL rivals played to a 0-0 draw which featured a player from each team sent off and police needed stop the scuffle between the players. Paterson won the replay a week later, jumping out to a 3-0 second half lead before winning 4-1. In the Eastern Final (National Semifinals) Paterson met eventual ASL champions J&P Coats, and found themselves down 2-0 at the half. It was the first time they had trailed in the tournament. Two goals from Tommy Duggan pulled Paterson even, and Joseph Irvine’s goal with ten minutes remaining put Paterson in the cup final for the second time in club history (1919).

Scullin Steel

Round 1 (Oct. 29, 1922): 4-3 win vs. Ben Miller FC
Round 2 (Nov. 26, 1922): 4-3 win vs. West Frankfort FC
Round 3 (Dec. 17, 1922): 0-0 draw vs. Vesper Buick
Round 3 Replay (Jan. 1, 1923): 3-2 win vs. Vesper Buick
Round 4 (Jan. 14, 1923): 3-1 win vs. St. Leo FC
Quarterfinals (Jan. 28, 1923): 3-1 (OT) win vs. Bricklayers FC
Semifinals (Feb. 23, 1923): 2-1 win vs. Arden FC

The path Scullin took to the final was a bit more difficult, with four of their six victories won by a single goal, as well as needing to come from behind in each win. Scullin’s opening 4-3 win over Vesper Buick, a team that would reach the National Challenge Cup Final next year, came in dramatic fashion. Trailing 3-2 in the 70th minute, Tate Brady scored on a penalty and John Rooney scored what would prove to be the game-winner five minutes later. The second round featured another late 4-3 victory, this time over West Frankfort, Charlie Bechtold scoring the winner with 12 minutes remaining. In Round 3, Scullin played to a scoreless draw with Vesper Buick, and won the New Year’s Day replay in another comeback, scoring three second half goals to erase a 2-0 halftime deficit.

The Fourth Round saw Scullin forced into yet another comeback victory. Down 1-0 at the half to St. Leo of the amateur St. Louis Municipal League. Scullin dominated the game, outshooting St. Leo 32-8, before finally wearing down the amateurs for a 3-1 win. Scullin were taken to extra time by Chicago’s Bricklayers in the Quarterfinals before coming out 3-1 winners. In the Western Final (National Semifinals), Scullin, yet again, faced a 1-0 deficit before scoring two second half goals to defeat Western Pennsylvania’s Arden FC, 2-1.

The 1923 National Challenge Cup Final

Action from the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final between Paterson FC (Paterson, NJ) and Scullin Steel (St. Louis, MO). 15,000 fans were in attendance at Harrison Field on April 1, 1923. Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Action from the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final between Paterson FC (Paterson, NJ) and Scullin Steel (St. Louis, MO). 15,000 fans were in attendance at Harrison Field on April 1, 1923. Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Heading into the game, Scullin were short several players through injury. Fullback George Bentley, midfielders Tommy O’Hanlon, Jimmy Nolan, and forwards Cliff Brady and Emmet Mulvey were all missing from the Scullin roster. Brady was considered Scullin’s best forward, and Nolan and Mulvey were regulars in the Scullin lineup. Paterson was without James Scott (suspension), William Murray (injury), and Peter Sweeney (illness). Days before the game a National Cup Emergency Committee refused to lift the suspension of Scott, who earned the ban due to his part in the melee with New York Field Club earlier in the tournament.

In a contrast that would come to define St. Louis clubs for decades, the majority of Scullin’s roster were American born. Paterson, like many teams in the East, were dominated by English and Scottish players. 11 of the 15 Paterson players came from the British Isles. St. Louis papers reported that early betting lines in the East favored Paterson with 10 to 5 odds, which dropped to 3 to 2 by kickoff.

In front of over 15,000 spectators at Harrison Field (also known as Newark Federal League Grounds), the light blue clad Scullins team took the field at 3:05 p.m., cheered on by 50 or so fans who made the trip from St. Louis. Adding to the Scullin support were members of the St. Louis Club from New York City. Soon afterward, Paterson took to the field in their maroon jerseys. As cameras were rolling, the game was kicked off at 3:15 by Paterson Mayor Frank J. Van Noort. In a weird twist of irony, the site of Harrison Field is now a parking lot for Red Bull Arena, just a few thousand feet apart.

Scullin maintained control of the game for the opening 15 minutes, but Paterson began to dominate play as the half wore on. After 28 minutes, Charlie Bechtold missed a golden opportunity to put Scullin ahead, but instead sent his shot well over the crossbar.

With seven minutes left in the first half, Scullin drew first blood. James Brannigan crossed to Allie Schwarz, who dribbled a bit before passing to John Rooney near the Paterson goal. With Paterson goalkeeper Pete Renzulli moving out of the goalmouth to defend, Rooney sent a quick cross over to Brannigan, who easily shot into the open goal. Even though the visitors jumped out to a 1-0 lead at halftime, the ball was in the Scullin half of the field for at least three quarters of the opening 45 minutes.

Ten minutes after the second half began, Allie Schwarz doubled the Scullin lead, managing to get a hold of the ball after a scrum in front of the goal, and firing a hard shot into the Paterson net. This would turn out to be the final threat from Scullin, as the rest of the game was played almost entirely in their own half of the field. Spectators began to leave their seats and line the field, referee James B. Stark declining to stop the game to clear the field. This would become an issue of contention from the St. Louis camp after the match.

Paterson finally got on the board after 63 minutes. After a corner kick sent the ball into a scrimmage in front of goal, the Scullin defenders attempted to clear the ball a half dozen times, only to see Paterson regain possession and continue their push. Tommy Duggan finally broke through the Scullin back line, taking a short pass from John Heminsley and sending a weak miss-hit shot that somehow eluded Oellerman and trickled in past the right upright. The St. Louis Times described it as “one of the cheapest national finals goals on record”. None the less it seemed to energize Paterson, and they were back in the game.

After pulling within one, the game became all Paterson, relentlessly bombing Oellerman, Tate Brady and the rest of the Scullin defense with shots only to be denied time and again. Finally, with seven minutes remaining, Bill Fryer sent a free kick into the goalmouth, and Tommy Duggan managed to send the ball to Hemingsley, who headed the ball into the upper right corner. Extra time brought more of the same, with Scullin managing to survive the Paterson attack for thirty more minutes to secure a 2-2 draw.

The Paterson Morning Call trumpeted the superiority of the Paterson team, claiming the only thing that saved Scullin from defeat was goalkeeper Harry Oellermann, whom they said, “stopped at least fifty shots”. The Paterson Press Guardian went as far as to claim the score could have very well been 8-2 in favor of the New Jersey side. While this may sound like home paper bravado, even the St. Louis Post Dispatch noted that the Scullin club did not play up to their normal standard. The proof was also in the statistics, as Paterson took a total of 29 corner kicks in the 120 minutes, with Scullin managing only one.

1923 National Challenge Cup Final: The Aftermath

Missouri Soccer Football Association president Winton E. Barker (left) and Paterson FC Owner/Manager Adolph Buslick. Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch & Spalding Soccer Football Guide

Missouri Soccer Football Association president Winton E. Barker (left) and Paterson FC Owner/Manager Adolph Buslick. Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch & Spalding Soccer Football Guide

After debating the issue the following day, the National Cup committee of the United States Football Association (USFA) concluded that the replay would take place in the East, resulting in Scullin player/manager Tate Brady to declare that his team would forfeit the replay to Paterson. With four players (Harry Oellerman, James Brannigan, Emmet Mulvey (who missed the first game due to baseball commitments) and John Rooney leaving for minor league baseball training camps, and another three (Jimmy Nolan, Charlie Bechtold and George Bentley) out injured, Scullin were left severely short-handed. Scullin management contended that had the replay been set for St. Louis, their baseball players could have easily made the trip from their training camps. However, a long trip back East by these players was out of the question.

At the time, the USFA adopted a policy of alternating the hosting of the Cup Final, the East having the game one year and the West hosting the next one. Instead of holding to tradition that a replay would be hosted by the visiting team of the first game, the USFA held firm that since it was the East’s turn to host the final, the replay would be there.

Brady stated that the situation would have been no different in his city.

Paterson FC’s two-sport stars
Paterson’s Harry Oellerman, James Brannigan, Emmet Mulvey and John Rooney had to leave after the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final and would be unable to attend a replay if it was held on the East Coast because of the excessive travel that would be required. Oellerman was an outfielder for the Kalamazoo Celery Pickers of the Michigan-Ontario League while Rooney had to travel to Iowa to be an infielder for the Ottumwa Cardinals in the Mississippi Valley League. Brannigan was a second basemen for the Terre Haute (Ind.) Tots and the Moline (Ill.) Plowboys of the Three I League and Muley played outfield for the Mobile (Ala.) Bears in the Southern Association. 

“If the tie game had occurred in St. Louis, you don’t think for a minute St. Louis would allow the replay to be taken back east under any such interpretation of rules.” Brady admitted. He also seemed to acknowledge his team was outmatched versus Paterson. “We didn’t win, but I regard the result as the greatest victory we have ever attained.”

Everyone from the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce to St. Louis Mayor Henry Kiel sent telegrams urging the USFA to reconsider and give the replay to St. Louis. Harry McCarthy, manager of eventual 1923 St. Louis Soccer League champions Vesper Buick, went as far as to challenge Paterson to a game the following Sunday. This was quickly called off by Missouri Soccer Football Association President Winton E. Barker, who noted that any such game would likely end in a riot.

Paterson Owner & Manager Adolph Buslick seemed disappointed his team did not win the Cup on the field.

“I am glad to get the cup, as it is the first time it has been won by a New Jersey club, but I would rather have my boys win it in a real contest that have it handed to me”, Buslick lamented. However, the Paterson skipper could not resist the chance to rub salt in the wounds of Scullin. “It looks to me as though the St. Louis team knows that they could not beat Paterson and took the opportunity of forfeiting rather than take a beating which they were sure to get.”

New York Times: April 3, 1923

New York Times: April 3, 1923

Barker did not hold back with his feelings, as he was quoted in Newark papers saying that if he were in Buslik’s place, he would not accept winning the cup by forfeit, and that Paterson’s national title was “tainted”.

On April 4, the Paterson Evening News published a letter sent to them from Buslick, explaining his side of the controversy, including his attempts to find a solution to the problem. In a meeting with USFA Secretary Thomas Cahill, Barker, and Brady, Buslick laid out three solutions, all of which were turned down by Brady and Barker:

1. Play the game on April 8 in Chicago, with all gate receipts going to the winner, or donated to charity.

2. Play the game in the East, but Paterson would take only 20% of the gate receipts (instead of the normal 33 1/3%), with the balance going to Scullins.

3. Allow Scullins to sign three players who were not cup-tied.

The following Saturday, while Paterson were preparing for an ASL game against Fall River, Barker announced he would make a proposal at the upcoming USFA meetings in Cleveland for a best of three cup final, with each team hosting a game and, if needed, a third game at a neutral field.

“The one-game championship has had a trial and has been found wanting. It is distasteful to all concerned to have to play just one game especially when it is in the enemy’s country, before hostile crowds, on a strange field,” Barker said.

Barker even made a pair of radical suggestions for St. Louis’ involvement in the cup. One would be that St. Louis would enter just two teams in the tournament, leaving the rest of the city’s professional players as a sort of reserve pool. The other was that each of the four St. Louis professional clubs would hold out two of their “star” players from cup play, that way should a St. Louis team reach the final and need reinforcements, there would be a pool of eight players to pick from. Barker reckoned that even without two of its better players, the St. Louis teams should have little problem navigating through the Western half of the tournament.

Another issue Barker took up was the lack of crowd control in Harrison. Spectators began to line the field in the second half, and were not forced back to their seats.

This Sept. 2017 photo was taken from the top of a parking garage in Harrison, NJ that was the former site of Harrison Field, the site of the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final between Paterson SC and Scullin Steel. The parking garage is located near Red Bull Arena, the home stadium for the New York Red Bulls. Photo: Bob Larson

This Sept. 2017 photo was taken from the top of a parking garage in Harrison, NJ that was the former site of Harrison Field, the site of the 1923 National Challenge Cup Final between Paterson SC and Scullin Steel. The parking garage is located near Red Bull Arena, the home stadium for the New York Red Bulls. Photo: Bob Larson

“Referee Stark did not act in a sufficiently drastic manner.” Barker said of referee J.B. Stark’s lack of response toward the crowd. “‘What can I do?’ He complained, when I asked him to clear the field.”

Many from St. Louis felt the game should have been stopped until the crowd was cleared. Barker noted that the times St. Louis hosted the final there were no crowd problems, while Scullin also had trouble in the 1921 final against Robins Dry Dock in Fall River, Mass.

Nearly two weeks after the final, St. Louis newspapers reported of the possibility that a playoff would be ordered, based on the possibility that the USFA would rule that the Dewar Trophy could not change hands via forfeit. These hopes were dashed on May 24, when at the USFA annual meeting in Cleveland, Paterson were formally awarded the Dewar trophy. The proposal from St. Louis for a best of three championship series was discussed, but no changes were made. The cup final would eventually be played over two legs between 1928 and 1933.

In the years that followed, Scullin would never come close to regaining their championship form, finishing a distant third in the St. Louis Soccer League in 1924 and 1925, before finally disbanding at the end of the 1925 season.

After the 1923 season, Paterson FC was sold and moved to New York to play as the Giants, and stayed around until the original ASL folded in the spring of 1932. The New York Giants were one of three teams (along with Bethlehem Steel and Newark Skeeters) who defied ASL orders to boycott the National Challenge Cup, touching off the Soccer War in 1929.

The 1923 Final is only one of two Open cup championships not decided on the field of play, the other being the 1940 shared championship, when Chicago’s Sparta and Baltimore SC could not agree on the details of a deciding third game. Unless something comes up that only a fiction writer could foresee, it’s likely we will never see another forfeited Open Cup championship again.

1923 National Challenge Cup Final
April 1, 1923
Harrison Field – Harrison, New Jersey

Paterson FC 2:2 (AET) Scullin Steel

Scoring Summary

Scullin: James Brannigan – 38th min.
Scullin: Allie Schwarz – 57th min.
Paterson: Tommy Duggan – 65th min.
Paterson: John Heminsley – 83rd min.

Lineups

Paterson FC: Pete Renzulli, Joe Reynolds, Bill Whitehead, F. Adams, Bill Fryer, Billy Herd, Tommy Duggan, Jack McGuire, John Heminsley, Frank McKenna, Joseph Irvine

Scullin: Harry Oellerman, Al Oberle, Tate Brady, Joe Hennessy, Len Zarschel, Danny Murphy, Charlie Bechtold, John Rooney, Allie Schwarz, James Brannigan, Tommy Mitchell

Stats

Corner Kicks: Paterson 29, Scullin 1

Attendance: 15,000
Referee: James B. Stark
Linesmen: Charles E. Creighton, Robert McMahon