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Philadelphia Union kickin' it old school

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 26 2013 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 28 2013 04:41:11 AM CST

When you think of pro sports, you probably think of New York or Philly.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

When you think of pro sports, you probably think of New York or Philly. But did you know that Bethlehem once hosted the hottest team in pro sports? This weekend, that team will return to the national spotlight.

We all know the blast furnaces and the smelters, but there was a Bethlehem Steel beyond the Stacks. Believe it or not, from 1911 to 1930, the company fielded one of the most dominant pro soccer teams in history. The club only lost six games (out of 162 played) in its nearly 20-year history.

"The Bethlehem Steel Soccer Club was the New York Yankees of their time. They bought the best players from Europe, brought them over," said Daniel Morrison, who has spent the past 15 years researching the club's history.

"Three thousand articles I have typed by hand."

Morrison's two great-uncles even came from the U.K. to play for Bethlehem Steel Football Club. One of them was inducted into the United States Soccer Hall of Fame in 1951.

So how did the nation's biggest steelmaker get into the soccer business?

"In Bethlehem, the story of soccer really rests with a guy whose name was H. Edgar Lewis, and he was a vice president at Bethlehem Steel in the teens," said Morrison. "He was an American, but he loved soccer for some crazy reason."

The club won six national titles. Bethlehem Steel built them the largest stadium of its time. Today, Moravian College plays American-style football there.

"But the crowds were always thin," said Morrison. "There were a couple of years when the crowds were so thin that the management of the club decided, 'Well, we'd better go play home games in Philadelphia.'"

Now, almost a century later, Philly will once again be home for Bethlehem Steel. The city's Major League Soccer team, the Philadelphia Union, will play in new uniforms this season bearing Bethlehem's trademark "B."

For Morrison, the story of Bethelehem Steel F.C. is America's story.

"I love the stories, he said, "stories of immigrants coming into this country and finding their place within our society."

Morrison will actually do the ceremonial kick for the Philadelphia Union's first game on Saturday. Morrison's website contains pictures, player bios, and even individual game summaries.