Every summer, European clubs come to the United States seeking mega-profits from friendly matches, but in 1946 Liverpool came to America looking to stuff a very different region: their players’ stomachs.
In 1946, Liverpool F.C. came to the United States for “American malts and ice creams” and a few games of football, too, in the club’s first European preseason tour of the United States.
The expedition was the brainchild of Liverpool chairman William H. “Bill” McConnell. As the proprietor of a catering business, McConnell visited the United States for the British Ministry of Food in 1945 and noticed that America’s food industry emerged from World War II unscathed. To take advantage of the American food bounty and to get a leg up on their underfed English competition, McConnell proposed that Liverpool tour the United States in the summer of 1946 prior to the start of the first full season since the beginning of World War II.
America’s dietary prosperity stood in stark contrast to England’s austere food rationing program. Following the war, goods such as coffee and processed meat were increasingly scarce, as the British government had to not only feed their own citizens but also feed people within British occupied zones abroad. England was even forced to ration bread in 1946, which it had not done at all during World War II.
After a nearly week at sea aboard the RMS Queen Mary, twenty-two members of Liverpool docked in New York on May 10, 1946. Moments after arrival, Liverpool manager George Kay stood on the dock, surrounded by delegates of the American Soccer League (ASL) and gleefully checked off the names of each Liverpool player as they came down the gangplank. Photographers gathered at the waterfront while Kay pandered to the throng, brandishing the 1923 FA Cup Medal that he won as a member of West Ham United.
Liverpool’s ten game jaunt garnered significant attention from the American and English press. A number of newspapers, including The Brooklyn Eagle, The New York Times, and The Liverpool Echo documented every detail of Liverpool’s American summer vacation. Kay also kept the fans back in Liverpool informed about the Reds’ exploits by sending letters to The Echo via airmail throughout the tour.
The media’s plaudits proved well placed as Liverpool won their first game 3-1 over a team of ASL players at Triborough Stadium on Randall’s Island. The match drew around 20,000 spectators, nearly 5,000 more the Brooklyn Dodgers drew at Ebbets Field the same day. Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey took note. He would be instrumental in hosting Liverpool in the first game between two international clubs on American soil in 1948.
After three consecutive wins over American clubs, Kay gushed, “The terrific hospitality we are receiving is the only thing likely to beat us,” in The Echo. “You can get all of the dishes everybody could possibly desire…naturally we’re taking advantage.”
But while Liverpool’s players were stuffing their waistlines, the Reds were being sized up by the New England All-Stars, one of the best American elevens. The All-Stars featured many players from the 1947 U.S. Open Cup Champions Ponta Delgada, a club in Fall River, Massachusetts, an early hotbed of American football.
The game, postponed a day due to heavy rain, kicked off under floodlights in front of a sold out crowd of 7,000. Initially, the New Englanders were overwhelmed but held firm against the visiting English. The locals then settled into the match, pressing the Reds, and Joe Chapiga, a New England striker, rifled a shot against the upright midway through the first half in proper Minuteman fashion.
The Reds eventually found their footing in the 44th minute, according to the Boston Globe, as Jack Balmer “outwitted the New England defense, and with a dynamite drive, opened the scoring.” In the second half, the Reds came out blitzing the New England defense, and Liverpool star Robert Priday put the visitors up 3-0 in a matter of minutes.
Undeterred and out to prove that they could compete, the New England All-Star eleven pressed the Liverpool defense, and Chapiga proved his worth, scoring what The Globe called, “an electrifying goal” past Liverpool’s keeper Cyril Sidlow.
The All-Stars constantly attacked the Reds thereafter, having a potential second goal called back due to a handball. Ed Souza, a member of the 1950 United States team that would defeat England in the World Cup, sent the crowd into a frenzy after scoring a legitimate second goal late in the match.
But the Reds weathered the Yankee onslaught and left Massachusetts with a 3-2 victory. After the game, Kay mentioned his dissatisfaction with the prolonged celebrations of the New England men following their goals, relying on tired American stereotypes: “Joe and Ed flung their arms around each other, waited in the center circle, and it needed only a banjo to make it a real hill-billy show. The other players of their side gave individual step dances in their joy.” Just as football tours have a long history, so too does English condescension towards the American interpretation of the game.
Despite Kay’s irritation, the Reds compiled a perfect 10-0 record on their American tour and amassed a goal differential of plus sixty while enjoying copious helpings of American cuisine. The tour was so successful in its initial aim that each player gained an average of seven pounds during the six-week long journey. Returning to England, the American preseason endeavor helped Liverpool persevere through one of the longest campaigns in league history and capture their fifth league crown in June 1947.
As Liverpool participate in this year’s Guinness International Champions Cup, it is important to recognize the role that the Reds tour in 1946 had in shaping modern football tours of the United States. Although Liverpool didn’t intend to start a trend in 1946, the tour’s financial success encouraged promoters on both sides of the Atlantic to continually schedule tours throughout the second half of the twentieth century, highlighting the growing football culture in the United States and allowing fans to see their their favorite clubs and players in person. These forays can be seen as world football’s take on an all-star game: the best players taking center stage for the fan’s entertainment.
So as you enjoy the abundance of football available this summer in the United States, remember to watch the matches like Liverpool did: with a full stomach.