Colin Jose's USA Soccer History Essays

collected by David Litterer

The true story of Jock Coll and the 1930 World Cup chloroform incident
Johnny Nelson, All-time USA Great, yet still a Mystery Man
Correcting some errors in the U. S. Cup Open record
Alexi Lalas the 3rd American to play in Italy "Serie A"

The true story of Jock Coll and the 1930 World Cup chloroform incident

Take a look at any history of the World Cup and you will find the same story. It concerns a man known Jock Coll who was the trainer of the United States World Cup team in 1930. As the story goes Coll rushed onto the field during the second half of the World Cup semi-final between the U.S. and Argentina, his case fell open, a bottle of chloroform fell out, it broke, he was overcome by the fumes and had to be carried off.

Some stories say that Coll rushed onto the field to protest a decision, others that he ran on when an American player was injured. Whatever, the stories all make Jack Coll appear to be something of a comic character, and the incident would not seem amiss in one of those old Charlie Chaplin movies.

But did it really happen? Who was Jock Coll? Did trainers in those days, or even today, carry bottles of chloroform onto the field with them? The official World Cup report written by U.S. team manager Wilfred Cummings on his return contains the following. "Number three followed closely, only after Andy Auld had his lip ripped wide open and one of the players from across the La Platte River had knocked the smelling salts out of Trainer Coll's hand and into Andy's eyes, temporarily blinding one of the outstanding "little stars" of the World's Series."

So is this what really happened? Is the Auld incident the basis for the Coll story? We may never know, but they sound suspiciously alike. So who was Jock Coll and was he the comic character he is made out to be in numerous books? The answer is very clearly, No!

John Coll, also known as Jock or Jack, who was born at Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland in 1893 was without doubt one of the top men in his profession. In fact the American players credit him for part of their success, for he was the one who got them all fit on board the S.S. Munargo as they sailed down to Rio.

Coll's parents left Ireland and moved to Scotland when he was eight years old and he grew up in Glasgow. He obtained his first job in 1912 as trainer to the Springburn White Rose soccer team. He then moved on to the same position with Townhead Benburbs and in 1915 was appointed to handle the famous Parkhead team, one of the leading junior clubs in Scotland. During his seven years with them they won every honour in the Scottish game. In addition to soccer Coll trained the famous Maryhill Harriers relay team, composed of many great Scottish athletes, and the Irish athletic team that competed against England and Scotland in Glasgow in 1922. For his fine work on that occasion he received a testimonial letter from the Irish Amateur Athletic Association.

Coll also turned his hand to boxing and he worked with the United Scottish Amateur Boxing Association handling many famous Scottish boxers including Jack Turner, the lightweight champion of Scotland.

He came to the U.S. in December 1922 and was immediately in demand. He trained New York Football Club in the American Soccer League and then the Scullin Steel team of St. Louis in the U.S. Open Cup of 1923. The following season he was with New York Giants of the ASL and then the famous Chicago Bricklayers before settling with Brooklyn Wanderers for seven seasons.

At the time of the 1930 World Cup Coll's residence is listed in the records of the United States Football Association as being Woodside, Long Island, New York. The street guide for the Borough of Queens in 1933-34 lists a John J. Coll, and his wife Madge, as living at 47-21 44th Street in Woodside. In 1986 along with twelve other members of the 1930 World Cup team he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. He was not present at that time and it is thought that his family is unaware of the honor.

So did sports trainers carry bottles of chloroform around in their bags in the 20s and 30s, and do they today? We may never know what they did in the 20s and 30s, and if they do today you might like to contact this web site.

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Johnny Nelson, All-time USA Great, yet still a Mystery Man

One of the greatest puzzles facing American soccer historians these days is. Who was Johnny Nelson, where did he come from and where did he disappear to?

Currently Nelson ranks number 144 on the list of all time first division goalscorers with 223 goals in 250 games in the American Soccer League of the 1920s. Only the great Archie Stark has scored more goals among American goalscorers with 200 first division goals. The list is headed by Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas with 511.

By all that is fair in this unfair world Nelson should be one of the brightest stars in American soccer history, an automatic selection for the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Yet he has never even been nominated and no one seems to know anything about him.

Historians do not even know where he was born, although all the evidence seems to point that he was either born in the U.S. or came to this country at a very early age.

Nelson first comes to prominence in the spring of 1924 when he was signed by Brooklyn Wanderers of the American Soccer League from local club Yonkers Thistle of the New York State League. He immediately became a fixture in the side at center forward scoring 24 goals in 33 games in his first full season 1924-25. He played for Brooklyn until March 1928 when he was traded to Fall River Marksmen. His stay in the Spindle City was short and in the fall of 1928 he moved on to Pawtucket to play for J&P Coats. But once again he failed to settle and quickly found himself back in New York playing for the Nationals. With the Nationals he was the leagues leading goalscorer in 1929-30 with 39 goals in 33 games.

It was at this time that the selection process for the U.S. World Cup team of 1930 was under way. Nelson did not appear in any of the trial games for the U.S. team. He did, however, play for New York Nationals against the U.S., in one of the trials scoring twice as the teams tied 3-3.

When the New York Nationals changed its name to the Giants in the fall of 1930 he remained with the club. In the spring of 1931, he played his last game for the club on April 12 in New York against Fall River. From that point on his name never appears again in any soccer line up, even though at that time he was only in his late 20s. In fact Johnny Nelson seemed to fall through a hole. Oddly enough while Archie Stark and Davie Brown, two of his contemporaries among the great goalscorers of the past, were inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame long ago, no one seems to even remember Nelson.

Articles on the Brooklyn Wanderers team of his day listing the teams foreign imports do not mention Nelson, leading one to assume that he was an American. Yet he was never selected or mentioned in connection with any American team. Perhaps some explanation of the Nelson mystery is contained in a note in the September 30, 1927 edition of "Soccer Pictorial Weekly". It says "It has always been a mystery to me why Johnny Nelson has not been appreciated at his true worth at Brooklyn. He is a player who gives you the impression that he is always going to be doing something."

Checks in Yonkers have failed to turn up any clues. Letters in soccer publications asking for information have gone unanswered. Yet someone, somewhere, must have some answers. Who was Johnny Nelson. Where did he come from and where did he go?

New info recently found! Not much yet, but a good start: Johnny Nelson was born in Scotland in 1905, died in Yonkers, New York in 1984. He had at least one son and grandson. After his playing career, he was a carpet designer in New York City for over thirty years.

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Correcting some errors in the U. S. Cup Open record

The record of the winners and losing finalists in the U. S. Open Cup and Amateur Cup competitions have been widely published in various books and magazines over the years. Supposedly it is the official record of the competitions and yet there are two noteable errors in the record.

In the published record of the Open Cup final in the 1931 clash between Fall River F.C. and the Chicago Bricklayers is shown as being two game total final, the aggregate score being 7-3 for Fall river. Yet this was not a two game total series, but a best of three series, and the third game is never recorded.

The first game in 1931 was played in New York on April 5 and won 6-2 by Fall River, the return game in Chicago ended in a 1-1 tie. Thus, a third game was required. It was played in Chicago on April 19 with Fall river winning 2-0. All three games are well reported in the newspapers.

Records of the Amateur Cup published in the excellent North American Soccer Guides of the late 1940's and early 1950's contain the correct information. yet in later publications, the record has been changed.

The final in question took place in 1947. Todays records show that Ponta Delgada of Fall River beat Pittsburgh Curry Vets in both the 1947 and 1948 finals by identical 4-1 scores, a strange occurance. Yet the earlier records show that in 1947, Ponta Delgada beat St. Louis Carondelets 10-1. The error seems to have occurred in the early 1960's and has never been corrected.

In fact, in 1947 the Amateur Final was scheduled to be a two game total game affair, but after Ponta Delgada won the first game in North Tiverton, Rhode Island 10-1 on May 24, St. Louis Carondelets felt that playing the second leg was futile and conceded the final game to the Fall River team.

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Alexi Lalas the 3rd American to play in Italy "Serie A "

When Alexi Lalas joined Italian Serie A club Padova at the start of the 1994-95 season and made his Serie A debut on September 4, 1994 against Sampdoria in Genoa, he was generally regarded as the first American born player to crack the top Italian soccer league. But was he?

Despite the fact that even now almost two years later Lalas is still regarded as holding this distinction, the U.S. national team defender is in fact the third American-born player to play in Serie A.

The first American born player to play in Serie A was in fact Alfonso Negro who was born in New York City on June 27, 1915. Negro broke into the top flight of Italian soccer with Fiorentina in the 1934-35 season and remained with the Florentine club until the end of the 1938 season, appearing in 51 games and scoring five goals. At the start of the 1938-39 season, he moved to Napoli where he played in 22 games and scored 3 goals. Negro played for Satanzarese in Serie B in 1933-34 before joining Fiorentina.

The second American born player to play in Serie A was Armando Frigo who was born in Clinton, New Jersey on August 5, 1917. Like Negro he first appeared for Fiorentina this time in the 1939-1940 season. He stayed in Florence for three wartime seasons appearing in 43 games and scoring six goals. Before joining Fiorentina, he played four seasons with Vicenza in Serie C in 1935-1936.

Two other American born players (Alfio Argentieri and Umberto Piccolo) both played in Italy around the same time, but not in Serie A. Argentieri was with Cavese in Serie C and Piccolo with Schio in the same division.

In addition to being the first American born player to appear in Serie A, Negro also holds another distinction. He was the first American born player to play for the Italian national team. Negro made one appearance for Italy and that came in the 1936 Olympic Games when he played against Norway in Berlin scoring Italy's first goal in a 2-1 win.

Very little is known of either Negro or Frito. Presumeably they were both born in the United States of Italian parents and at some time when their parents returned to Italy, they went along.

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Last update: March 31, 2002

The USA Soccer History Archives are maintained by David Litterer

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