While the founding meeting of the Newfoundland Amateur Football Association didn’t take place until August 11, 1950, soccer had been played in Newfoundland long before that time. The roots of soccer on the island can be traced back perhaps even to the 1700’s when British troops were stationed in St. John’s. The crews of fishing vessels, cargo ships and warships took advantage of their time in the port to get some exercise and play against one another or against local teams.
The first official soccer league in the city of St. John’s named the Newfoundland Football League began play on March 15, 1896. When the Newfoundland Football League began play there were six teams in competing; Saints, C.E.I., K.A.C., Rovers, Star, Methodist Institute and C.L.B. The Saints went through the series without the loss of a game and were only scored on three times! The League’s first playing pitch was known as the Llewellyn Grounds and that same pitch was used until July 11, 1899 when the league moved to St. George’s Field. Ports such as Botwood and Corner Brook sported soccer games early in the 1900s. The builders of the paper mill in Grand Falls played excellent soccer and it spread to Bishop’s Falls, Gander, Springdale, Stephenville and Clarenville. The Nerfoundland Football League name remained unchanged until 1949. Due to the fact that soccer was being played in other parts of the island, it could no longer be rightfully called the Newfoundland Football League and so the name was changed to the St. John’s Football League. On the mainland in Labrador, workers in Labrador City and Wabush established solid soccer leagues in those communities in the late 1950s and early 1960’s and soccer was played in Happy Valley-Goose Bay not only during the summer, but also on packed snow on frozen rivers or ponds during the winter months.
What is termed the “most popular era of soccer” began in the late 1940’s when the Ayre Athletic Grounds in St. John’s were leased annually from the United Church Board, and provided an excellent opportunity for 500 or more fans to watch nightly. The League relocated to Wishingwell Park for the 1969 and 1970 seasons, but soon after found a permanent home at the King George V pitch which staged a number of important international games including a World Cup qualifying game in 1972 against the United States. It also staged the game against Honduras in 1985 that decided Canada’s place in the 1986 World Cup finals.
Newfoundlanders have a long history of involvement in the Canadian Soccer Association they include Gus Etchegarry, Ben Lake, George Innes, Newman Bartlett, Angus Barrett, Clayton Welsh, Doug Redmond, Judi Kelloway, Jean Thompson, John McGrath and Joe Keating, with all having served in executive positions.