Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Trip to Fall River

Fall River Marksmen vs Bethlehem Steel
If you are a regular follower to The Scoring Third (and I'm guessing you're not) you may remember back to a piece I wrote in July titled "Goodbye Revs, Hello Marksmen". The article covered one of my post-pint(s) ideas of how the New England Revolution should re-brand as the old Fall River Marksmen and find a new stadium location. The Marksmen were America's first great professional soccer team, made up mostly of European immigrants who were lured to Fall River by business owner Sam Mark who promised a decent job if they were willing to play soccer. The Marksmen won the US Open cup and League Cup in the same year on two occasions and their matches with the other major team of the day, Bethlehem Steel, were played at the Polo Grounds in NY in front of 70,000 people.

Since moving back to New England last year I have tried to become more engaged with the local soccer scene, beyond just the lowly Revs of MLS. In doing so I have researched the USL PDL squads, college teams, even down to the high school level of the sport. I also found myself doing more research into the Marksmen and the rich soccer history that has existed in New England for more than 150 years. As part of my research, perhaps compelled by the article on FRHsoccer or the video from "Off The Beaten Pitch", I took a trip to Fall River last month.

Former Site of Mark's Stadium; Tiverton, RI
Lucky for me the in-laws live about 20 minutes away, but ironically, I had never been to or even through Fall River in all my years living in New England. Driving down Route 24 we merged onto Route 79 and drive along the eastern shore of Mount Hope Bay into the city. Fall River is truly a mill town, factory upon factory with facades of brick and granite, littered across the landscape mostly abandoned. For those along the main thoroughfares redevelopment has filled these former factories with tech companies, condominiums, and warehouses. Other buildings just sit there empty, like tombstones to in the grave yard of industries which once thrived in the area. These factories were what attracted those immigrants from distant lands to come to our shores and find work. In the case of Sam Mark's jobs brought the players he needed to build the Fall River Marksmen. Mr. Marks was a business, owning a major casino that catered to the thousands of factory workers; he knew a thing or two about a successful business. Instead of building a stadium in Fall River, he built Mark's Stadium less than 100 yards over the border in neighboring Tiverton, Rhode Island. Why you may ask? Massachusetts had "blue laws" that prevented alcohol sales on Sundays; Rhode Island did not, so the stadium could let the spirits flow for every match.

As we drove over the border we pulled into the parking lot of the former Ponta Delgada Club, the former site of Marks Stadium. The Ponta Delgada closed in 2008 after almost 100 years of continuous operation as a club founded by Portuguese immigrants to the area used for parties, concerts, and sports. In early 1920's Sam Mark built a wooden 5,000 seat stadium on the site for his soccer team with one of the many area factories as it's backdrop. As the team improved so did the stadium, quickly expanded to 15,000 seats to handle the regular sell-out crowds. As I stood in the parking lot overlooking the site I could still make out the distinct difference between the playing surface grass and the regular run-of-the-mill weeds in the overgrown field behind the club. As recently as 2007 a set of goals stood at either end of the pitch and it was occasionally used for soccer practices by local clubs. I couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like to spend a Sunday afternoon watching some of the greatest players in America, if not the world, playing the beautiful game in this small New England town. I remember back to when the original Boston Garden was torn down when I was a kid, and I had a very similar feeling see the overgrown site that was once Mark's Stadium.

After Mark's moved the team to NYC in the 1940's the stadium was used for everything from baseball to football to midget car races. Ultimately the old wooden stadium suffered the same fate as many of the great old European stadiums; fire burnt it to the ground. I don't know what I expected to find on my trip to Fall River, but I do know that I left with a better connection to soccer history.

1 comment :

  1. Hi,

    My name is Steve Bayley. I am a soccer fanatic in Massachusetts and I just had the opportunity to visit this site today, after finding out about its existence a few weeks ago. I had learned about the Marksmen and Ponta Delgada in the US Open Cup history over the last couple years, and after todays US Open Cup Region I game between MPS and RI Reds, I went over there to check it out. The space is pretty much in tact, and I am starting to float the idea around of a restoration project. We are still in the exploratory phases but stay tuned and feel free to reach out. If we can get some positive momentum we may start a kickstarter campaign.


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