F & AC
Just west of Philadelphia, along the Schuylkill River, lies the borough of Conshohocken. The community's first football club, the Iron Men, formed in 1893. That team is generally regarded as the forerunner of later teams from the area, including the most accomplished eleven in the town's history, the Conshohocken Athletic Club. The Conshohocken AC burst onto the local scene in 1914. Rising above teams from such places as Norristown, Phoenixville and Pottstown, it wasn't long before "Consy" laid claim to the mythical championship of the Schuylkill. But there were many well established, successful football clubs scattered throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. The Conshohocken AC would need to prove its worth against the strongest of these before it could hope receive recognition beyond the Schuylkill Valley...
Beyond the Valley
The Conshohocken Athletic Club entered the 1919 football season in typical fashion for a club on the verge of something big. On one hand its prospects looked good. Over the past several years the team had become both successful and popular. The upcoming season's lineup consisted mostly of returning veterans and featured a well-balanced mix of regional and collegiate talent. On the other hand, the season was about to begin and the club still hadn't secured a regular coach. More importantly, there were some key players missing from the roster. After several seasons as the club's workhorse, Earl Potteiger had retired from the game. At the same time Bert Yeabsley, whom many expected to pick-up much of Potteiger's former load, was finishing out the baseball season as a catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. While there was little doubt that Yeabsley would be returning to the gridiron, there was concern that Conshy wouldn't be able to meet his demands. Then there was the newly formed Allen Wood Steel team, sponsored by the local mill of the same name. The appearance of a new club in the area was nothing unusual, nor was the fact that it might drain some veterans from the older team's roster. But it was a distraction that could potentially draw off curious fans. For a football club like the Conshohocken AC, that could mean the difference between financial success and failure.
The 1919 campaign got underway on the last Saturday of September, when a team of sailors from the USS Nevada paid a visit to the borough. Although advertised as the best team in the Navy, these sailors proved no match for their hosts. The scoring started just three minutes into the game, when Conshohocken's Llewellyn Jones took a forward pass over the Nevada goal line for the first of six Conshohocken touchdowns that afternoon. The locals sprinted to a 41-0 victory. A week later the Kaywood Catholic Club, of Philadelphia, came calling. Based on the club's athletic reputation, these South Philly natives were expected to provide good competition. Competition, however, is hardly the word for what Kaywood brought to the Twelfth Street Grounds. Conshy's offense ran up sixty-two unanswered points, thanks mostly to a dead-on passing attack. Meanwhile, a strong defensive effort kept the outclassed Philadelphians off the board.
With two blowout victories in as many outings, the club was off to a good start. But these initial games were merely warm-ups. The first real challenge of the new season would not come until the following weekend.
The Thomas AC, of Bethlehem (PA), made the trip down to Conshohocken on October 11, for a battle pitting the Schuylkill Valley against the Lehigh Valley. Thomas was by far the best team the local club had faced this young season. It was claimed, in fact, that many of the visiting team's members had played on the same undefeated eleven while serving together in France during WWI. Their coordination seemed to bear that out, as Thomas' execution was sharp in the opening quarter. The first points of the contest came early in the second quarter when Dan Cable, the Conshy quarterback, took a short plunge through the line and over the Bethlehemites' goal. This was the first of three touchdowns he would score that afternoon. On the defensive side of the ball, Llewellyn Jones and Billy Williams each returned interceptions for long gains. This game was exactly what Conshohocken Manager Bob Crawford had hoped for – Thomas played strong, but locals proved to be the better team. By the end of the sweltering Indian summer afternoon, Conshohocken had notched a 22-0 victory.
Not long after the Thomas game, Manager Crawford announced that Conshohocken had secured the services of J. Howard “Nig” Berry as coach. Berry was well known throughout the area, having been a multi-sport star at Philadelphia's Northeast High School and the University of Pennsylvania. Expectations surrounding the team's new mentor were high. He quickly started working his charges with an eye towards the upcoming clash with Holmesburg.
Of a slightly more immediate concern, however, was the next game on the schedule, against the Atlantic Squadron. An aggregation of naval officers and seamen from various ships in port at Philadelphia's League Island Navy Yard, the Atlantic Squadron was due at the Twelfth Street Grounds the following Saturday. Several members of the team's lineup had played at Annapolis, so everyone looked forward to a competitive contest. Unfortunately the naval gridders were forced to cancel on Friday afternoon, leaving Manager Crawford scrambling to find a substitute opponent. He booked the Parkside Club, of Wilmington (DE), one of the few teams around with an open date. Parkside, however, was clearly unprepared for a game played on such short notice. Conshohocken waltzed through a 49- 0 rout. The lopsided victory allowed Coach Berry to try out some new plays and combinations he was planning for use against Holmesburg. Coincidentally, that very same afternoon Holmesburg was engaged in its own 90-0 rout of the Parkside Club, ...of Camden (NJ)!
Widely touted as the championship of Eastern Pennsylvania, the clash with the Holmesburg AC was easily Conshohocken's most anticipated game of the season. Holmesburg was generally recognized as the best team in Philadelphia. The club's lineup featured several well known players, including Olympic rowing champion Jack Kelly, former Lafayette star Johnny Scott, former Lehigh standout Bull Lowe and none other than Bert Yeabsley, who had finally found a club willing to meet his terms. Seeing Yeabsley listed in their opponent's lineup was a bit of a surprise, but Conshy had an ace up its own sleeve, in the person of Earl Potteiger! These two clubs had split their two previous meetings: a 25-2 Conshohocken victory in 1915, and a 13-0 Holmesburg victory the following year. In both contests the home team won, so this season’s match-up was slated for a neutral site, the Norristown High School grounds, commonly known as the Great Stockade.
On game day upwards of 6,000 spectators jammed into the stadium. It didn't take long for the action to get started. After a quick exchange of kicks Holmesburg took over on offense, and halfback Johnny Scott charged through the line on a fifty-three yard dash to the end zone. Scott's successful extra point gave the 'Burg an early 7-0 lead. As if to make amends for surrendering its first points of the season, Conshy stepped up the pressure on defense. It wasn't long before the extra effort began to pay off. Just minutes later Whitey Thomas snatched a Bert Yeabsley fumble and sprinted thirty-seven yards for a touchdown. Thomas missed the extra point, leaving his team down 6-7, but the tone had been set for the rest of the game. Fumbles plagued Holmesburg the balance of the afternoon, and provided Conshohocken all the opportunities it needed. Later in the game Conshy capitalized on two such turnovers to set up a pair of Earl Potteiger touchdowns. Conshohocken's 19-7 victory left little doubt in anyone's mind as to which was the better team.
Conshohocken's next scheduled contest, against an aggregation known as the Haddington All-Stars, was called-off due to inclement weather. That cancellation provided a bit of a breather before the club faced its next opponent, the Vincome AA. One of the most successful teams in Philadelphia, Vincome had already notched victories over regional favorites Frankford, Ewing and Riverside. The Philadelphians were coached by Gus Zeigler, who had tutored Conshy for a brief period during the team's inaugural season. Zeigler had a fine reputation and everyone expect his team to be well prepared. These two clubs, in fact, were very evenly matched. The first points of the contest came in opening quarter, when Wheeler, the Vincome quarterback, intercepted a Llewellyn Jones pass and returned it sixty yards to the Conshy 5-yard line. Two plays later Vincome's Reddington plunged into the end zone. The visitors had another scoring opportunity in the second quarter, attempting a short field goal after recovering a fumbled punt, but the kick was blocked. Conshohocken finally got on the board in the middle of the third quarter, when Calvin "Fats" Eyrick connected with Cal Riggs on a ten yard touchdown pass. The follow-up kick by Jones evened the score. Conshy then took the lead in the fourth quarter when, following a long drive, Potteiger plunged over the goal line. Another successful kick by Jones gave home team a 14-7 lead and the victory.
Toward the end of the week it was announced that prodigal son Bert Yeabsley would be returning to the locals' lineup. This was looked upon as a good thing, because club's next opponent, the USS Michigan Bluejackets, was a question mark in the eyes of many. Ship-bound naval teams were often over-rated, but some concern may have been justified regarding the Michigan's eleven. On the day after Conshohocken defeated Vincome, the Bluejackets bested Pottstown, a club that had fortified its lineup with several members of the Conshohocken roster, including Eyrick, Jones, Potteiger, Riggs and Yeabsley. This fact, coupled with the recent departure of scoring leader Whitey Thomas, meant Conshy would do well to take this opponent seriously. Once the game got underway, a pair of first quarter touchdowns by Dan Cable and Fats Eyrick, quickly put any concerns to rest. The Bluejackets only tally of the contest came on a forty yard return for a touchdown of a Cable fumble in the second quarter. Conshy responded with additional touchdowns by Eble, Riggs, Cable and Potteiger, as the club rolled to a 40-7 victory.
Early on in the season Bob Crawford had arranged for his team to play the Ewing AA, of Philadelphia, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. But the Philadelphian's had cancelled for unspecified reasons, leaving a hole in the Conshohocken schedule. As recently as the Friday before the game, Crawford had still been unable to fill the void. Then, at what seemed like the last possible moment, he reached an agreement with Merchant Ship, of Bristol (PA). Unfortunately, when the shipbuilders' squad assembled at the Twelfth Street Grounds on the afternoon of the game, only ten of the team's players were on hand! In order to allow for a proper contest the host team loaned the visitors Seth Mitchell, along with Charlie Hartig, for use "in case of an emergency." By all accounts Mitchell played a strong game for the visitors, who nonetheless went down in defeat, 14-3.
Bob Crawford had left Thanksgiving Day open on his team's schedule in the hope that as the end of the season approached he would find a suitable opponent to play in a meaningful (i.e., championship) finale on that date. There had been talk of a Thanksgiving Day match-up with the Union Club, of Phoenixville (PA), but that contest never materialized. As a result, Conshy sat idle on the holiday, their season, for all intents and purposes, over. Then, on the day after Thanksgiving, it was announced that Conshohocken had accepted a challenge from a different Phoenixville club, the Phoenix AC, to play for the championship of the Schuylkill. Phoenix went to great lengths to ensure a victory, bringing together an all-star lineup that included several well known gridiron mercenaries, including former Penn star Heinie Miller, Penn State's Butch Spagna, and former Lafayette standouts Bodie Weldon and Johnny Scott. All of these men would later go on to play in the fledgling National Football League. Conshohocken, on the other hand, came into the game with its regular lineup, minus Earl Potteiger and Bert Yeabsley. Most fans expected the contest to be a walk-over for Phoenix.
The game itself was played on the bitterly cold first Saturday of December. Conditions on the field were sloppy, as the gridiron was covered in several inches of snow from the first winter storm of the season. Even so, nearly 5,000 fans from throughout the area turned out to watch Conshohocken take on what was said to be the most formidable collection of all-stars ever seen in the area. The game itself was a hard fought punting duel, with most of the action taking place between the 30-yard lines. Conshohocken had only three real scoring opportunities. Quarterback Charlie McGuckin attempted field goals of 40, 30 and 25 yards respectively. Each time the ball fell short of the crossbar. Phoenix's best opportunity came in the fourth quarter, when Bodie Weldon broke free around the right end for a thirty yard gain. But the Conshy defense soon stiffened, stopping the drive. At the final whistle the score stood at 0-0, the game ending in a hard fought draw.
Having completed its regular season undefeated, and then fighting a team of all-stars – one that had been brought together for the singular purpose of defeating them – to a standstill, Conshy finally removed all doubt about the caliber of their play. The Conshohocken Athletic Club had proved themselves to be true champions.
Transformation: From AC to AA
Beginning in its inaugural season the Conshohocken Athletic Club fielded a series of remarkable football teams. On field success, however, proved difficult to maintain. By 1920 the club was near the financial breaking point. That season's lackluster campaign proved to be the last under the Conshohocken AC banner.
Conshohocken Athletic Club
Before the club's final season even started a plan was under way to preserve the football team. During the summer of 1920 the citizens of Conshohocken mobilized to form a community based organization with the purpose of promoting and supporting outdoor athletics. The Conshohocken Athletic Association, as this new entity called itself, had the full blessing of the Conshohocken Athletic Club. In fact, several key figures in the older organization served the newer one in leadership positions. That first year the Conshohocken AA did not sponsor any sports teams, but instead focused its efforts on enlisting members and establishing a permanent athletic complex for the community. Shortly after the close of the 1920 football season it successfully secured the rights to the Twelfth Street Grounds, as well as some adjacent property, and began work on improving and expanding site's facilities. A new baseball diamond allowed the association to organize a semi-pro baseball team the following spring. Then, as autumn approached and construction of a grandstand for the football gridiron neared completion, the Conshohocken AA took over sponsorship of the old Conshohocken AC football team.
Conshohocken Athletic Association
A Place Called Home
In 1914 Bob Crawford leased a portion of the Corson estate. The leased property, bounded by 11th, 12th, Harry and Hallowell Sts., was cleared and graded with equipment borrowed from the borough. A modest stand was erected and the property was enclosed with a wooden fence. The Twelfth Street Grounds, as the site quickly became known, served as the home of Conshohocken AC In addition to these facilities, the nearby Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2 generously offered its firehouse and baths for use by visiting teams.
In the early 1920s a covered grandstand was constructed along the home sideline, and the property became known as the Conshohocken Community Field. In the mid-1940s local philanthropist Albert A. Garthwaite had a main entrance and locker rooms constructed, along with a solid wall to replace the old fence. Shortly after Garthwaite's death in 1967, the facility was renamed in his honor. Garthwaite Stadium, more commonly referred to as the "A-Field," presently serves as the home field of several area high school, semi-pro and youth teams.
Although the Conshohocken AC played its home games at the Twelfth Street Grounds, the team routinely practiced in the open field located behind Crawford's cigar store. The club also played several neutral site games at the Great Stockade, the home grounds of Norristown High School, in nearby Norristown.
Links to Current Conshohocken Area Football Clubs
© John J. Fenton, 2007-2001, all rights reserved.