Flashback Friday: A Gentleman’s Game: Nineteenth-Century Soccer in Omaha

What Americans call “soccer” is one of several sports that evolved from games played for centuries in Europe, loosely called “football.” The history of the sport in England is well known, especially the meeting when “rugby” proponents and “association football” proponents made their famous break from each other. In the United States, history is complicated by our development of “American intercollegiate” or “gridiron” football from a rugby origin at the same time that soccer was being introduced in many cities and colleges. Terminology overlaps in older sources, so that when the term “football” is used in some texts, it is not always simple to understand which exact sport is being played.

Unearthing the game’s history in Omaha is a reflection of American history. Early soccer  shares several common American narratives: immigration and foreign traditions being brought to the United States; the growth of commerce and ever larger companies whose employees would socialize and seek entertainment; transportation enabling the spread of people, ideas, and developments; and higher education and the growth of organized sports among students. Omaha’s history with soccer seems to be fairly typical of how the sport developed in other cities across America.

When was soccer first played in Omaha? The game seems to have come and gone at various times, resulting in several different references to the “first time” soccer was played there. The historical records may be opaque, but what is clear is that soccer was played in Omaha far earlier than most would guess.


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