GOAL! Soccer from Illinois to the World Stage

The fairly simple sport of soccer, known internationally as football, is the world’s most popular ball game in numbers of participants and spectators. With the 2022 Men’s FIFA World Cup currently in play, the IDHH would like to highlight the sport of soccer and its rise in popularity in the United States. Soccer was brought to North America by European immigrants in the 1860s, with informal matches being contested by Canadian and American teams by the mid-1880s. Already a pastime with a devoted audience and professional associations in Britain, soccer was not immediately popular in Canada or the United States, as ice hockey and gridiron football (American football) were becoming more prominent respectively. 

However, American cities with large immigrant populations, such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York City, saw the sport played widely, and led to the official formation of the United States Soccer Federation in 1913. Over the first half of the 20th century, soccer’s popularity in the United States would steadily rise without ever truly finding a regular fan base. The sport’s fortunes would shift in the 1960s and ‘70s, though, as American teams began signing international players, such as the Brazilian athlete Pelé, and the passage of Title IX in 1972 further encouraged the participation of female players. Viewed as less violent and more socially inclusive than American football, soccer benefited from an influx of younger soccer players in the 1980s and ‘90s. The United States would host the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, setting an all-time attendance record as the U.S. women’s team led by Mia Hamm clinched the Cup. In the last two decades, soccer has solidified itself as a significant sport in the United States, with the creation of various national soccer associations and leagues, and a devoted following of American teams on the international stage. 

Here are a few of our favorite soccer items:

Illinois State Normal University Women’s Sports Day, Normal, IL, 1935. October 12, 1935. Photographed by Frank Bill. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negatives Collection, 1930 – 1939. Courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.
Soccer football 1906-1907. 1906. Photographed by Allen Ayrault Green. Knox College. Allen Ayrault Green Photograph Collection. Courtesy of Knox College.
Women’s soccer. 1992. Knox College. The Way to Knox. Courtesy of Knox College.
Women’s Athletic Association – Soccer. 1937. Millikin University. Big Blue Photograph Collection. Courtesy of Millikin University.
Soccer – Men’s – Players – Kroening. [n.d.] Millikin University. Big Blue Photograph Collection. Courtesy of Millikin University.
Congressman Frank Annunzio and the Polish soccer team. 1976. Photographed by Copelin Commercial Photographers. University of Illinois Chicago. Congressman Frank Annunzio Photo Collection. Courtesy of the University of Illinois Chicago.

Want to see more? 

Visit the IDHH to browse even more items related to the sport of soccer.