The Manitoba Football Association is the oldest provincial soccer association in Canada. Formed in Brandon, Manitoba on March 19, 1896 by delegates from Neepawa, McGregor, Ancrum, Austin, Carberry, Elkhorn, Portage la Prairie, Brandon, Souris, Hartney and Winnipeg, the constitution was based on that of the Western Football Association of Ontario, itself formed in 1880. The first president was J. ,Shoemaker of Carberry, the vice-presidents C.A. St. John of Neepawa, C.F. Travis of Elkhorn, George Fraser from Elkhorn, A.M. Campbell from Souris, Chris Newton from Rounthwaite and Ben Woodhall from Holland. The secretary-treasurer W.A. Harvey was from Winnipeg.
By June of 1898 the team from Carberry were touring Ontario and played in Wingham, Clinton, Seaforth, Berlin (Kitchener), Burlington, Bright, Toronto and Deseronto. On the way east they even played in St. Paul, Minnesota.
In July of 1902 Winnipeg Shamrocks came east to Ontario and Quebec and played in Berlin, Galt, Toronto, Cornwall, Montreal and Ottawa. The Shamrocks beat Ottawa 10-0 and Montreal 4-0.
In 1903 Galt Football Club returned the favour playing in Winnipeg, Gretna, Manitou, Plum Coulee, Crystal City, Pilot Mound, Deloraine, Hartney, Brandon, Souris, Gladstone and Portage la Prairie. Galt played the Shamrocks in Winnipeg and won 1-0.
In August of 1907 Winnipeg Britannias entered competition for the People’s Shield, then the unofficial championship of Canada, and beat Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan 2-0 before losing to Calgary Caledonians in the final 1-0. In 1909 United Weston from Winnipeg played in the same competition but was defeated 3-2 by Vancouver Celtic in Calgary. The Calgary Herald of August 26, 1909 contains biographies of the following United Weston players. A.G. Sutherland, T. Stacey, A. Little, R. Smith, I. Creighton, H. Tyles, J. Moir, C. Howell, C. Colvin, H. Bignall, A. Noble and A, Hawker.
The summer of 1911 saw the first visit of an overseas touring team to Winnipeg, with the famous Corinthians from England playing in the city. The Corinthians won 2-1 and the players who represented Winnipeg on that historic occasion were A. Bennett, Adam Smith, J. Farish, W. Leslie, L. Creighton, Harry McMaster, A. Wilkie, W. Bradshaw, H. Bignell, J. Robertson and R.S. Bennett. It was to be the first of many visits from overseas teams. Prior to World War Two touring teams often played in Winnipeg once on their way to the west coast by CPR, via Regina and Calgary, and once on their way back by CNR via Edmonton and Saskatoon.
Winnipeg also has the distinction of being the city in which the Dominion of Canada Football Association, today’s Canadian Soccer Association, was formed. The meetings took place in July of 1912. At the meeting the Manitoba Football Association joined with the provincial associations of Ontario, New Ontario (that area of the Province from today’s Thunder Bay, westward to the Manitoba border), Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta to form the national association. Sam Larkin of Winnipeg was elected a vice-president.
One year later the competition for the Connaught Cup, the national championship, began with Norwood Wanderers from Winnipeg being the first winners, with the competition being played in Fort William, Ontario. In 1914 Norwood won again this time on home turf in Winnipeg, while in that same year E. Bailey Fisher from Winnipeg was elected president of the DCFA,
Winnipeg Scottish became the third team from Manitoba to win the Connaught Cup in 1915, while following World War One, Winnipeg War Veterans in 1919 and Winnipeg Britannia reached the national final, but ended up on the losing side. After the Connaught Cup was replaced by the trophy presented by the Football Association of England, United Weston won the championship in 1924 and 1926 and were on the losing side in 1929 and 1936.
By the time that the 1920s arrived the competition for the championship of Manitoba was in full force and teams such as Fort Rouge Rangers, United Weston, Winnipeg Nationals, Robertson Memorial, St. James, Winnipeg Scottish, Winnipeg Irish and in the 1930’s Government Telephones were in the final.
Touring teams came and went. The Scottish F.A. team in 1921, Corinthians in 1924, England in 1926, the Scottish F.A. again in 1927, Vienna Hakoah also in 1927, the Welsh F.A. in 1929, Glasgow Rangers in 1930, England again in 1931, Scotland in 1935 and 1939 and Charlton Athletic in 1937. In 1927 the Scots played Hakoah in a battle royal.
In the years between the two World Wars, the national cup final was played at Carruthers Park in Winnipeg 15 out of the 20 times. As a result Winnipeg referees such as Sandy McMahon, Jimmy Duncanson, Billy Bowman, Jack Mitchell, Jimmy Kelly, Art King and Harold Gillespie were in great demand. In that same period Winnipeg’s Dan McNeil and John Easton were president of the national association, and David Roy and Sam Davidson were national association secretaries. Davidson was secretary, and arguably the most powerful man in Canadian soccer, from 1922 to 1940 running the national association through the very difficult years of the Great Depression.
In 1924, Bob Harley from United Weston captained the highly successful Canadian team that toured Australia. Also on that tour was J. Hood from Brandon. In 1927 on the tour of New Zealand, Manitoba was represented by Bill Brolley from Winnipeg Irish, Bill Gibson from Winnipeg Nationals and D. Thompson from Winnipeg St. James.
When the Scottish F.A. team toured Canada in 1935 and played the Manitoba All-Stars in Winnipeg, the Manitoba line up included; F. Davis, Ernie Scholes, J. Morison, A. Pratt, Alex Archer, J. Daly, G. Hutchinson, S. Murray, Bobby Hampton, J. Fulton and George Pickup. Archer was born in England, but grew up in Winnipeg, where he played soccer and hockey. He was a member of the Winnipeg Scottish team that won the Manitoba championship in 1927 but was defeated in the finals of 1928 and 1930. Shortly after the 1935 game against the Scots, he was on his way to England to play hockey for Wembley Lions in the British League. Early in 1936 he was a gold medalist at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Germany as a member of the British national team that beat Canada in the final.
While officially, the Pan American Games did not start until 1955, there was a Pan American Exposition held in Dallas, Texas in 1937 in which there was a soccer tournament. Canada, the United States and Argentina, sent teams, Canada was represented by a team made up largely of players from Winnipeg Irish, who beat the U.S. 3-2 but lost 8-1 to Argentina.
The Winnipeg players who went to Texas back then were: ‘Spud’ Birch, Steve Olander, ‘Shifty’ Jennings, Joe Shack, Joe Playfoot, Jackie Low, Sandy Murray, Ernie Scholes, ‘Buzz’ Horne, George Pickup and G, Ness (all from Winnipeg Irish). In addition the team included Jack Boyd (St. James Legion) and Harry Beckwith (Elmwood United).
Towards the end of the inter-war period one Winnipeg player was sent for a trial with England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, This was Doug McMahon, son of Winnipeg referee Sandy McMahon. Wolves signed Doug McMahon, and played one game in the First Division of the Football League of England, before the war interrupted his career.