Philadelphia is perhaps the heart of soccer in North America, as detailed in Stephen Holyroyd’s excellent work the History of Soccer in Philadelphia. And throughout the long and storied history of soccer in Philadelphia, the tradition of Lighthouse shines brightest.
The Lighthouse, formed in 1893 in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, has served as a settlement house, a benevolent organization, library, nursery, restaurant, and recreation center. Just a few years after it formed, Lighthouse quickly became one of the Philadelphia’s largest and most influential community organizations (the Pennsylvania Historical Society produced a detailed history of the Lighthouse organization; you can download a PDF of it here). Boys and Girls clubs prospered, with membership reaching almost twenty thousand by 1924, and soccer became a natural outlet for the mostly British and Irish immigrants and their descendants. By 1940, Lighthouse Soccer Club was “the largest single soccer organization in the world,” was renowned worldwide, and was considered America’s premier soccer organization.
Ed Farnsworth, of Philly Soccer Page, writes “It is very difficult to overstate the importance of the Lighthouse Boys Club not just in the history of soccer in Philadelphia but in the history of soccer in the United States. Aside from providing the richest source of soccer talent for Philadelphia clubs at all levels of the game for much of the 20th Century, Lighthouse also provided a model for the community-based soccer clubs that were intrinsic to the youth soccer boom that began in the 1970s and continues to grow to this day.”
Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer details a great bit of lore regarding a visit in 1952 by Manchester United. Having just won the English League, Man U came to the United States to showcase their professional soccer skills. When they came to the U.S., they came to Philadelphia, and when they came to Philadelphia they came to Lighthouse. Along with over 3,000 fans.
“The heart of United States soccer was at Lighthouse,” said Kensington’s John Hughes, who coached soccer for 48 years at George Washington High in the Northeast and across the river at Delran High. Hughes played against Manchester United that day and had the best scoring chance for Lighthouse when he hit the crossbar in what would eventually be a 4-0 loss.
Lighthouse Soccer Club won its first National Junior Championship in 1938, and then again in 1948, 1949, 1957 and 1967.
In 2010, Lighthouse Soccer Club was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, in a star-studded class including Philadelphia sports icons Tug McGraw, Ron Hextall, Marianne Stanley, Tom Brookshier, and Mike Quick.
Today Lighthouse Soccer Club continues to serve the youth of Philadelphia, with a membership of over 300, a dedicated family of supporters, volunteers, and coaches, and a commitment to keep the beacon as one of soccer’s founding traditions in the United States as bright as ever.
If you are considering a youth soccer program for your child in the Philadelphia area, consider becoming a becoming a part of the richest soccer tradition in the city. For more information about current Lighthouse soccer teams and to register your child with Philadelphia’s Youth Soccer Club, click here.