CANADA – INDOOR SOCCER PIONEER

By LES JONES – Past Chairman, The Soccer Hall of Fame (lesjones.covershots@gmail.com)

The Mississauga MetroStars are continuing an impressive tradition of indoor soccer in Canada.

Indeed, indoor soccer in Canada goes way back and has a fascinating, but fragmented, 133 year history: Canada even played and won the very first indoor soccer international in 1885. (And, this may well have been the very first organized indoor soccer game in the world – there is no record of any earlier game)

The year was 1885: John A. MacDonald was Prime Minister and it was the year of the Riel Rebellion. A Canadian rep team from the Western Football Association (based in S.W. Ontario) journeyed to Newark, New Jersey, where they first played outdoor games against three club teams and an all-star team from the American Football Association. The AFA represented the USA although all the players were from in and around New England.

These were the first ever matches between the two countries and were recognized at the time, both by the participants and the media, as ‘internationals’ and the visiting team as Canada, although the formation of official national organizations had not yet been established. 

This series (all Canadian victories) was followed by a 3 game indoor series against inaugural American Football Association American Cup champions, ONT (Our New Thread - not Ontario) from Clark's Thread Mills in Newark, New Jersey. Their head office was in Paisley, Scotland and the team was made up largely of ex-pat Scots who had learnt the game at home.

As a spectacle, the series took place, appropriately enough, on Broadway, in New York City. In a roller skating rink! Pitch dimension, goal size, ball and the number of players, was almost the same as today and had far more in common with today’s Arena soccer than with futsal. 

Beginning December 2, games were played on three consecutive days, the WFA winning 1–0, 6–0 and tying 1–1. 

Pleasure skaters were asked to vacate the 165' x 80' rink at precisely 9p.m. The teams were six-a-side with no substitutes, the goals were 8' high and 15' wide, and there were two halves of 20 minutes. Extra electric lights were installed, the ball occasionally hit the ceiling and the crowd was protected by netting. When the ball went into the crowd, play was restarted by an official throwing in the ball. 

The games were fast and exciting although there were complaints about the physical nature of the Canadian play. Canada were declared champions and, to prove it, the inscribed 1885 America - Canada International Foot Ball cup can be found at the Waterloo Region Museum in Kitchener, Ont. It would appear to be one of the earliest international trophies for any indoor sport in North America although was later conscripted for annual presentation to the Junior Champions of the Western Football Association (WFA), the main Canadian league.

While the roller skating fad died out almost as quickly as it started – at least until revived in the 1930s - soccer took off in the late 19th century, unofficially becoming the ‘national sport’ of Canada and, for a while, growing exponentially in the US.

The indoor game has moved on from the New York ‘roller-rink’ to the customized turf of the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Mississauga. There is one big difference: The New York games were played on the existing rink surface, whereas the MetroStars installed a $100,000+ ‘carpet’. 

There are many similarities however. Both facilities were designed as multi-purpose venues being used for other community events & activities. Canadian teams are still playing internationally. The indoor game is still fast, skilful, hard-hitting and all-action with audiences thoroughly entertained. It attracts some of the top outdoor players all seeking glory. Canada won the first ever International Indoor Soccer trophy in 1885. How long before the MetroStars take the MASL North American championship?

 This is an edited excerpt from  ‘Soccer – Canada’s National Sport’ by Les Jones