Even before Nebraska had the Husker football team, it had Omaha “foot ball” clubs that played what we now call soccer. The game’s growth in Omaha was similar to its growth in the rest of the United States: introduced by immigrants and spread by word of mouth. In the Spring issue of Nebraska History, author Bruce Gerhardt explores the earliest appearances of this old game in a young state.
Illustration from Montague Sherman, Athletics and Football (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1887).
On September 29, 1880, a group of Omaha men met at a gun store to have a football club meeting. They elected officers and admitted thirty-five members, including the Omaha mayor, Champion S. Chase. Although this club would only have one recorded season, it was the beginnings of associated soccer in Omaha. Other small clubs would come and go, but by 1895, Omaha soccer was being actively promoted to the public. One January 1895 article in the Omaha World-Herald praised the benefits of soccer over rugby, which was also growing in popularity. The author wrote that soccer did not require “the strength and bucking power which is essential in Rugby, and one need never be afraid of being hauled around, knocked down, and the weight of six or eight men piled on top of him.”
Omaha in 1897, two years after the city’s first soccer league season. NSHS RG2341-1340
The YMCA, a group of “bona fide Scotchmen,” railway clerks, and the high school each had an established team in 1895. As the groups organized a league and resolved to perfect the game, the Omaha Daily Bee wrote that the sport was “destined to become the popular outdoor sport” the coming winter. As the season progressed, the league drew decent crowds and multiple newspaper articles, while sparking team rivalries. Amongst commentary on players, crowds, and strategy, one reporter for the World-Herald said of the sport: “The chief thing in Association foot ball is for every man to keep his place irrespective of where the ball is. A great many players are attempting individual work, which is a great mistake. They must learn to pass the ball to their own men because teamwork is necessary to win…” It is unclear why soccer did not remain popular throughout the next century, but the sport had definitely established itself. To learn more about Omaha soccer around the turn of the century, you can order a copy of this Nebraska History issue by calling the Landmark Store at 402-471-3447. – Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications