New England Soccer Today

Kicking it at Fenway

Celtic and Sporting played an exhibition match at Fenway Park on Jul. 21, 2010. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

On a gorgeous, sun-splashed spring afternoon, Fenway Park officially celebrated its 100th anniversary by hosting – fittingly enough – a classic rivalry game between the Red Sox and Yankees.

There were banners. There were former players, managers and stars. Heck, even the commissioner himself, Bud Selig, thought it’d be a good idea to be there as well.

Amid the memories, accomplishments, and history that Friday’s festivities celebrated, a remarkable few will recall that America’s Most Beloved Ballpark also boasts a unique, yet brief, history as a legitimate soccer ground.

Nearly eighty-one years before the Red Sox and Yankees stepped onto the diamond in 1912 replica uniforms to commemorate the ballpark’s centennial, it was a different kind of Yankees – they of the old American Soccer League – who helped kick off Fenway’s brief history as a soccer ground.

The year: 1931. The date: May 30. The teams: the New York Yankees and Celtic. In an exhibition match featuring Billy Gonsalves – the Babe Ruth of Soccer – and his Yankees (go figure), the hosts put four through against their Scottish guests and clinched a 4-3 win before a crowd of 8,000. Interestingly, the Yankees’ keeper for the exhibition – Johnny Reder – would later step onto the field in a different uniform – as a member of the Red Sox.

It wasn’t until the late-1960s that Fenway became a regular home to professional soccer. With the launch of the North American Soccer League in 1968, the Boston Beacons shared the ballpark with the Red Sox. The hope, of course, was that the Beacons could build a strong base of support and share the spotlight with their sporting counterparts. However, it wasn’t to be, as the Beacons folded after a 9-17-6 record and poor attendance (it’s believed that the Beacons struggled to attract 2,000 per game that year).

Although the Beacons may not have etched themselves into Beantown’s sports psyche, their lone season at the ballpark wasn’t a complete disaster. On Jul. 9, 1968, Pele and his club, Santos, arrived at Fenway for an exhibition against the Beacons. Although the Green Monster scoreboard featured a 7-1 scoreline in favor of Santos at the end, a crowd of 18,431 – the largest Fenway soccer crowd at the time – witnessed The King score a goal and add an assist.

Despite the commercial success of the Santos-Beacons game, over 42 years passed before soccer returned to Fenway. On Jul. 21, 2010, the original guest of the first match played at Fenway – Celtic – was welcomed back to play an exhibition against Sporting Club de Portugal. And after decades went by without soccer at the ballpark, a record 32,162 spectators converged upon Yawkey Way to see the European powers draw 1-1 before an exciting – albeit, orchestrated – round of penalties allowed Celtic to triumph in heart-stopping fashion.

All told, Fenway has hosted a total of 19 soccer games in its 100 years. And although some were attended better than others, there’s no denying the ballpark’s somewhat obscured, yet fascinating legacy – a legacy which began during the days of the original ASL, through birth of the NASL, and up to today’s modern day high-profile preseason tours.

The next chapter of soccer at Fenway Park will be written on Jul. 25, when Liverpool and Roma – both of whom have owners based in Boston – face off in a preseason exhibition. Once again, the pitcher’s mound will be leveled, the dirt covered with grass, and the same majestic carpet that stretched from the third base line to the right field fence will re-emerge to welcome back the same sport made that made its American debut only two miles west – on Boston Common – in 1862.

So maybe soccer isn’t the first image that springs to mind when talk of the Green Monster, Pesky Pole and the Triangle come up. And that’s OK. Because the fact of the matter is that Fenway Park, in its first 100 years, has often served as a venerable host to the beautiful game.


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