Football hustlers: British players in America’s first pro soccer league

It was a Victorian football sensation. Five British players – four from Manchester City plus a former teammate now at Sheffield United – were missing, presumed poached by a mysterious foreign agent. “A sudden disappearance!” exclaimed one newspaper. “A Sheffielder taken!” was the headline in another.

This 1894 mystery was solved after the players were spotted boarding the White Star steam liner Teutonic, bound from Liverpool to New York. They had walked out on their English clubs to join the brand new American League of Professional Football (ALPF) – the first professional football league outside of Britain.

The players were promised riches and fame in a venture that, a hundred years before USA ‘94 and Major League Soccer, was set to popularise football in America. It ended up being, in the straightforward assessment of one of the players involved, “a huge mistake, a fiasco, and a total failure”.

Read the true story of the British footballers in the ALPF in issue 22 of The Blizzard football quarterly.

NOTE: There is incorrect information on Wikipedia, the RSSSF and elsewhere online regarding the ALPF, and in particular the number of games played and the “final” league table. The confusion seems to be based on a claim that Baltimore played a fourth ALPF game (against Washington?) on 23 October 1894. In fact, Baltimore played a friendly against Philadelphia on that date, and in any case the ALPF had folded on 20 October, so it could not have been a league game. Below is the actual “final” ALPF table (ranked by baseball-style winning percentage), as printed in the Baltimore Sun on 22 October 1894, two days after the league folded.


Published by Paul Brown

Writes about football, history, true adventure. The Guardian, Four Four Two, When Saturday Comes, The Blizzard, Longreads, Deadspin, etc. Latest book: The Ruhleben Football Association. Twitter: @paulbrownUK