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Feb. 5, 1928 – Providence Clamdiggers 3×1 J&P Coats

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Soccer was thriving and the U.S. was producing goal-scorers during the 1927-28 American Soccer League season. In this game, Tommy Florie would score Providence’s third goal on an 82nd-minute penalty kick and New Bedford-born Arnie Oliver would convert for the “JayPees.” Both Florie and Oliver led their team in scoring that season, and went on to join the U.S. national team for the first World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay.

Three of the ASL’s top eight scorers were U.S.-born, and others, such as Johnny Nelson and Archie Stark, had moved to the U.S. as teenagers.

Oliver went on to coach soccer at UMass Dartmouth, and by the time I met him he was in his 80s. We once went to a U.S. team presentation and Bora Milutinovic joked with Arnie, saying he was looking for “a good inside forward.” Oliver is listed as a “lof” (left outside forward) in the Boston Globe report about this game, in which he scored the opening goal past Joe Kennaway after four minutes.

In the following story in the Globe’s 10/19/93 editions, I interviewed U.S. Soccer historian Sam Foulds about Oliver. I had been hoping both would make to the ’94 World Cup, but Sam died soon after Arnie.

Oliver stood tall in US soccer heyday

Arnold Oliver often talked about scoring the winning goal against Pele’s grandfather while playing for the United States national team.

Oliver, 86, who died Friday after a brief illness in New Bedford, scored the deciding goal in a 4-3 US win over Santos in 1930 during a post-World Cup tour in Brazil. Oliver’s goal has been documented, but even though Pele played for Santos for nearly 20 years, there is little chance that his grandfather played on that Santos team.

That did not stop Oliver from regaling young interviewers with his tale, even though he did not need to exaggerate his accomplishments.

In Oliver’s day, there were hundreds of world-class soccer players in the US, and many competed for the US national team that was eliminated in the semifinals of the first World Cup competition in Montevideo. Oliver was a reserve on the team that defeated Belgium and Paraguay, both by scores of 3-0, then lost, 6-1, to Argentina. No substitutions were allowed in World Cup matches then, and the US’ Raphael Tracey hobbled on a broken leg for most of the semifinal match.

The US starting team included five British players, including James Brown of Scotch Plains, N.J., the only remaining survivor from the team. But most of the players on that team learned the game in the mill towns of New England. They included Billy Gonsalves and Bert Patenaude of Fall River and team captain Tommy Florie of Hughesdale, R.I.

“The American players were as good as the Old Country players,” said Sam Foulds, the 88-year-old historian for the US Soccer Federation. “Those players were all first-class players, and the American Soccer League of the ’20s was equal to any league in the world. American soccer in the ’20s was first-class soccer.”

Oliver had played for the Defenders, the US Amateur champion team, and had hoped to join the US team in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. However, his father, William, a Lancashire native, signed a professional contract with Hartford of the ASL, renouncing Oliver’s amateur standing.

“What could I say?” Oliver said in an interview in 1990. “We needed the money. You can’t eat glory. You can’t eat a place in the Olympics. There were soup lines and bread lines. We would go to New York for a game and the lines were blocks long.”

Oliver later became a successful businessman, coached soccer and golf at UMass-Dartmouth, then worked as an administrative aid to former state Sen. George Mendonca. He would likely have been a revered sporting figure in most other countries, but few of his business associates and fellow members of the Hazelwood Park Bowling and Recreation Club near his home in New Bedford appreciated his athletic accomplishments.

Oliver remained agile and gregarious most of his life, and he would go dancing once a week until recent months. When he performed the ceremonial kickoff for the Ireland-Italy match in the US Cup tournament June 4, 1992, at Foxboro Stadium, he surprised the players by sprightly stepping over the ball and back-heeling it toward the Italian team.

In an interview at the time, Oliver said he hoped to carry the US flag in the opening ceremonies for the 1994 World Cup. Oliver has many survivors in the New Bedford area, and World Cup organizers could do worse than to invite them to Chicago on June 17, 1994.


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