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Auburn introduced intercollegiate soccer to the South; players liked it more than rugby football

First group photo of the Auburn chapter of Soccer Lovers Anonymous, 1912.
First group photo of the Auburn chapter of Soccer Lovers Anonymous, 1912. Another reason they were good is probably because they were all hopped up on Coke.

One of the reasons Auburn was the first southern (college) team to win a national championship in football?

All the football players loved soccer.

Gentleman Mike Donahue, Auburn’s legendary Irish football coach, introduced the game (“Association Football, commonly called ‘Soccer’) to Auburn in January 1912 “with the object of furnishing a winter outdoor sport for those who did not indulge in the Rugby game.”

It also had the added benefit of keeping his football team in shape.

As in every other sport at Auburn, there was a class soccer league—frosh, sophs, juniors, seniors—that functioned like intramurals, the standouts from which Donahue selected for Auburn’s varsity squad. Of course, the standouts were predominantly those who indulged in the rugby game. But according to Donahue, soccer was changing their appetites.

“The game from the beginning was popular with the Auburn players,” Donahue wrote for the soccer section in the 1912 Glomerata.

“To those accustomed to seeing the American Rugby game it will be sometime before it will be popular from the spectator’s point of view”—another reason Auburn was so good back then? Their coach was apparently clairvoyant—”But there is but little doubt that the players enjoy playing it more than the Rugby game.”

Auburn football players liked soccer more than football. Take a moment if you need to. There’s more.

“Seldom if ever has a new game anywhere grown to such a height of popularity as Soccer has at Auburn,” Donahue wrote in a Plainsman column on the new game that he described as “football pure and simple.”

1.18.1913 first homecoming looks like soccer column by donahue copy
Auburn’s favorite game disappeared from the Plains during World War I. Tomorrow we’ll examine its revival in the late 50s.

Auburn’s first soccer game was played in Auburn against the Atlanta Soccer Association. This wasn’t Georgia Tech or anything—it was a group of grown men from the Old Country who had been playing all of their lives, some of whom “were really expert at the game.” Yes, they ended up winning (by a goal), but you can imagine their surprise when some college kids who, with just one exception, were playing their first game scored first.

In its first few years of existence, Auburn’s Association Footballers struggled to find college competition. Their second game, the first of the 1913 season, was against the Birmingham All-Stars of the Alabama Football League. The Birminghammers, also likely life-long players, scored multiple goals in the final minutes to win 4-1. A year later, Auburn scored first on, but eventually lost to, a team comprised entirely of British dudes—”some of them bearded men,” the Plainsman pointed out—from either the tiny town of Blossburg, Pa. or, more likely, from the tinier Blossburg area of Graysville, Ala. northwest of Birmingham.

In fact, as far at Auburn knew, Auburn was the first school in the southeast to field a team, and just like the role Auburn played in popularizing pigskin in the Deep South, they owned it.

After beating Marion Institute in the second and final game of the 1913 season, the Auburn Alumnus wrote: “The Marion game is said to be the first soccer game among educational institutes in the south. It is well known that Auburn introduced Rugby football in the South in the early 90’s. Here we go again.”

Related: Soccer revival in early 60s inspires Auburn’s first Soccer Sweetheart.

Keep Reading:

* Auburn Soccer Player Ana Cate’s A** is Apparently Spectacular
* Soccer superstar Thierry Henry wearing an Auburn shirt
* Former AU homecoming queen starring in HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’
* Bama fan legislator introduced bill to abolish Auburn University in 1973
* Auburn wore green jerseys… for two seasons

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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