1 of 2
Utah Historical Society
Hermann Neumann, center, is credited with helping soccer survive in Utah following World War II. He was known for publicity stunts.

If you had told Roy Webb many years ago that he would be responsible for helping to unearth the rich history of soccer in Utah, he probably would've laughed at you.

It wasn't that he didn't love history — he did — it was that he didn't care about sports, much less soccer.

But that all changed when his younger daughter, Sarah, took up the sport as a youngster.

Watching his daughter's coed games and then rec-league games and finally competition-league games slowly but surely got Webb hooked on soccer, and after a while, he became curious about the its origins in Utah. A historian by trade for better than two decades, he decided to investigate.

Webb thumbed through the standard Utah histories and found nothing. He looked at national sources and could only come up with a single article about Utah soccer, written in 1924. He even polled noted University of Utah sports historian Larry Gerlach, only to find out that he knew nothing about soccer's history in Utah.

That's when the light came on.

"It struck me that this was going to be original research," said Webb.

One year and more than 18,000 words later, Webb had uncovered a whole lot.

He'll be the first to tell you that much work remains to fully discover Utah's soccer history. However, what he has unearthed provides a fascinating look into the sport, which has local origins dating back to the late 19th century.

Here is a sampling of what he produced, titled, "The Forwards Darted Like Flashes: The History of Soccer in Utah," which will soon be available online in its entirety at www.utahsoccer.org.

• Soccer was "well-established" by the early part of the 1900s and "came to Utah, as it did to most other places in the U.S., with immigrants ... Utah's soccer experience was different in some minor but significant ways, for many immigrants came not for jobs but for the (LDS) religion ... The first known team was formed in 1882 ... Economic and labor troubles kept the game from taking hold in the mining camps of Utah until a few years into the 20th century, but after that it took off."

• Eureka, of all places, was home to one of Utah's most dominant soccer teams. There are few, if any, remaining signs of Eureka's soccer heritage, but the tiny mining town in Juab County racked up several championships during the early part of the 20th century. "The miners from Eureka — they never had an official name that has survived, although they sported natty maroon jerseys emblazoned with a big 'E' — became a powerhouse in the years before World War I and dominated the sport in Utah for a number of years."

• World War I slowed the growth of soccer in Utah for some time, but it became big again by 1930, and the ensuing decade was known as "the Golden Age of Utah soccer." Immigrants dominated the 1930s as three teams composed mainly of immigrants — the Caledonians (United Kingdom), the Vikings (Norway) and AC Germania (Germany) — enjoyed considerable success. "All through the 1930s these teams contended in front of large crowds ... These years were big ones for Utah soccer fans; articles about soccer appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake Telegram on almost a daily basis, with reports on games, analysis of the teams' chances for the season, and profiles of the players. Media attention to soccer games and players reached a level that would not be equaled until the advent of Real Salt Lake in 2004."

• Inasmuch as World War I had previously slowed down soccer in Utah, World War II almost killed it off altogether. "That soccer in Utah survived the immediate postwar years is attributed to the efforts of one man, Herman Neumann of AC Germania ... He was known for sometimes outrageous stunts to promote soccer, such as a parade he somehow got permission to hold ... In 1969, Neumann was honored by the Deseret News as "Mr. Soccer."

• After finding ways to survive, soccer eventually began to slowly grow again, and over the next several decades a number of notable things happened — Hispanic immigrants arrived in Utah and made their mark on the game; women became much more heavily involved in soccer with the advent of Title IX, and youth soccer began to take hold.

• The Golden Spikers were Utah's first professional team, as they competed in the American Soccer League in the 1970s. The club folded quickly after, however, and while other teams came and went, "it was not until 2004, when Major League Soccer gave an expansion slot to Salt Lake City, which created Real Salt Lake, that professional soccer finally seemed to take hold in Utah."


E-mail: [email protected]