Soccer has some very deep roots in Central Alberta

The first organized soccer match in Red Deer took place in May 1897

Springtime brings not only warmer weather, but also the start of the season for many outdoor sports.

Traditionally, one of the most popular of the warm weather sports was soccer (originally better known as football). This may have been due to the large numbers of immigrants from the British Isles and Europe.

The sport has some very deep roots in Central Alberta.

The first organized soccer match in Red Deer took place in May 1897, when the community had less than 200 residents.

The inaugural game took place between a team captained by the local Presbyterian student minister Rev. J. Donnell and a team of Methodists from the Red Deer Indian Industrial School.

The first out-of-town match took place at the official celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in Innisfail on June 22nd, 1897. Red Deer lost to the hometown team by a score of 2 to 1.

In the early 1900s, as large numbers of new settlers flooded into the region, soccer really took off as a popular team sport. The annual soccer matches between various Central Alberta teams at the Red Deer Dominion Day celebrations on July 1st were particularly popular.

An indication of the passion of many local players for the sport was demonstrated by a Scottish settler who lived east of Red Deer.

He used to walk several kilometres into town at least one evening a week to play soccer and, “Get a bit of exercise.”

The local competitions attracted some impressive trophies.

In 1908, Dr. Harold Snell, a local jeweler and optician, provided the Red Deer and District Football (soccer) League with a large silver shield.

It cost $100, at a time when a $1 per day was considered a pretty good wage.

In 1909, Edward Michener, Red Deer’s MLA, provided the impressive Michener Trophy, as the award for the Red Deer city league champions. That same year, the Red Deer News provided a cup for the local high school champions.

The year 1909 was also the year that former Alberta premier, A.C. Rutherford, provided the trophy for the provincial high school and collegiate champions.

Red Deer earned a prestigious place in the Alberta soccer scene by winning the Rutherford Cup in 1910 and 1911.

In 1910, the Citizens’ Cup was awarded to the winners of the regional soccer competition at Red Deer’s Dominion Day sports event.

This very large trophy soon became one of the leading provincial championship awards. It was frequently won by teams from Calgary and Edmonton.

The outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914 created a hiatus in soccer competition as most of the young men went overseas to fight in the War.

However, the sport revived in the early 1920s with high school, city and regional leagues being formed.

The Snell Shield continued to be the leading championship trophy in Central Alberta, while the Red Deer Citizens’ Cup continued to be one of the most prestigious championship trophies in the province.

By the mid-1920s, the real provincial powerhouse teams were those made up largely of Welshmen from the Ponoka Mental Hospital and the community of Wood River near Ponoka.

With the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930s, organized soccer on a regional and provincial level began to disappear.

The last competition for the Citizens’ Cup took place in 1930 when Wood River won it. The last winner of the Snell Shield was also the Wood River team in 1934.

In the 1950s, soccer again took off in Red Deer and area as the community experienced a tremendous boom and accompanying surge in population.

Fortunately the Citizens’ Cup was rediscovered in June 1960 in a closet in the Osborne (Ming) building in the 4900 block of Gaetz Avenue.

Not long afterwards, the Snell Shield was discovered in the basement of a house in the Mountview area.

Both the Snell Shield and the Citizens’ Cup now reside in the Red Deer Museum. The Michener Trophy is displayed in one of Red Deer’s Fire Halls.

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