A Passage to Indiana
The Swedish great Murren Carlsson’s doomed attempt to make it in the USA
The Swedish forward Herbert Carlsson was top scorer at the 1920 Olympic Games. He was a star of IFK Gothenburg and one of the mainstays of the American Soccer League, with 106 goals in 269 games. He was, without question, the first Swedish player to make a name for himself abroad. His nickname, ‘Murren’, would perhaps translate best from the local dialect as ‘grumpy’. He was also the first tragic superstar of the Swedish game.
Herbert Carlsson was born in Gothenburg on 8 September 1896. He was the seventh and last son of Johan, who was 43 years old at the time, and Christina, aged 41. The couple had lost a baby daughter in 1890, but would see all their boys grow to adulthood.
Gothenburg had expanded tenfold over the previous century and at that point had a population of 130,000. The boom was down to industrialisation, especially shipbuilding, and the port developed into the largest in Scandinavia. A lot of the industrial know-how came from Britain. Football went along for the ride.
A Scottish workforce, from Johnston, Shields & Co Ltd in Newmilns, in the Upper Irvine Valley of East Ayrshire, arrived in 1891 to set up a weaving mill in suburban Mölndal,and brought football to Sweden. The Scots joined Örgryte IS, a sports club founded a few years before, to gain access to their field and training facilities. The Örgryte members were mostly teenagers and young men who were eager to learn. Their first, pre-Scottish, interpretation of the game was based on hearsay. “In the beginning we mostly kicked from our hands,” Aron Hammarbäck, an early player, recalled 50 years later. ”If someone strong enough got hold of the ball, he ran half the length of the pitch and threw it into the goal. Unless he was tripped, of course, and buried under half a dozen boys. But we didn’t do this for very long. Friberg [the chairman] got a book with, I believe, an early version of the Association Football rules. We were no longer allowed to use our hands and we also learned that if two players, one from each party, ran side by side in the same direction, any of them was allowed to push, or rather to give the opponent a boost with the hip to send him a few yards off course. In this case a teammate was there to get the ball and send it on to another teammate.”
It was at this rudimentary stage of their football education that the Örgryte youngsters were blessed by the arrival of the Scots. Hammarbäck, one of the charter members of the club and still only 16 years old, quickly picked up the Scottish way to play. After less than a year Örgryte were ready for their first official game against another club. At a sports festival held in Gothenburg in May 1892 they faced Lyckans Soldater (Soldiers of Fortune) and won 1–0. The Örgryte team was captained by James Lawson and consisted of six Scots and five Swedes. Four years later, after most of the Scots had returned home, the first national football championship was contested. Örgryte won it and continued to dominate football in the early years, claiming 10 of the first 14 championships.
Sport in general was still only of interest to affluent, white-collar workers. But that didn’t last for long. Gothenburg expanded relentlessly. The old fortifications were long gone and so were most of the grassy fields on the other side of the moat. The grazing sheep and the farms were pushed further and further out by housing and new neighbourhoods like Masthugget, Annedal, Olivedal, Krokslätt, Landala and Haga. That meant lots of large families with hordes of children. A family with seven kids, like the Carlssons, was not unusual. About 15 years after that first exhibition game football was on the verge of being taken over by the workers.
The Swedish football federation was formed in 1904 and the first international was staged four years later, in Gothenburg, against Norway. The Swedes won 11–3, with five goals from Erik Börjesson. He was one of the new breed, born and raised in Jonsered, a small industrial community 10 miles west of Gothenburg. The mill there, which produced canvas, was established and owned by the Gibsons, a family originally from Arbroath. Sport was becoming an important part of life in Jonsered and Börjesson belonged to a bunch of promising youngsters who were the first to take to the game of football. Some of them were good enough to attract the attention of IFK Gothenburg.
IFK were also formed in 1904 and soon challenged the might of Örgryte. Contrary to their well-established opponents they did not recruit players on the basis of social class. IFK were a workers’ club and they tried to poach any player who was good enough. Going for Börjesson and three of his teammates from Jonsered was their first major manoeuvre in that regard. They got the quartet in 1907 and won their first championship the year after.
Erik Börjesson, who was born in 1886, started work at the mill at age of 12. While still a boy he got stuck in the machinery, losing two fingers and part of his hand. Like the Frenchman Raymond Kopa, victim of a mining accident in his teens, he always hid his crippled hand on photographs. As Börjesson matured into a tall and slim but strong striker, and developed his trademark untamed moustache, he was the obvious star among his pals. As such he had the last say in most things, such as when they were to play real games and needed a proper kit. Not all team members had enough money to pay for it but Erik solved the problem in a practical way: “Fuck the shorts, let’s go for the shirts only.”
Erik may have been the best of the players coming out of Jonsered, but football to him was no more than a means to an end. He was lured by IFK Gothenburg. He would in fact change club several times – moving back and forth between Jonsered, IFK Gothenburg and even Örgryte – to become a very well paid amateur player. Equality was the by-word for amateur sports but Börjesson was always a little bit more equal than the rest. He used football to provide for his Finnish-born wife Hilja and their two daughters Aili and Ebba. All through his long career he always put his family first. In the process he became a true working-class hero, revered and loved by the crowds. The fans quickly learned to expect something extra from Börjesson and he rarely disappointed.
In the spring of 1914, Liverpool visited Gothenburg and beat IFK 4–1. Although on the losing side, Börjesson still impressed the manager Tom Watson to the extent that he was offered a deal to sign for the Englishmen. Nothing was official, but word got out and added to Börjesson’s reputation. The crowd loved him even more when he decided to stay where he was.
He knew what he had and was not prepared to give it up. His mother had died five years earlier, but he still had his father and his siblings close by in Jonsered, and his second daughter was on the way. Commuting to Gothenburg to play suited him and he never even considered moving there. Shifting to another country was altogether alien to a man who defined himself so much as a part of Jonsered – where the mill, the club and the 1800 people who lived there were inseparable. He was a celebrity in Gothenburg but able to lead a private life at home. At the same time he knew how to make best use of his status. He was friendly with the train conductors, who kindly arranged a special stop at Jonsered whenever Erik was on his way back with the express from an away game in Stockholm. Erik swiftly jumped off and walked straight home, instead of going all the way to Gothenburg and then back with a local train. A little bit more equal than the rest.
Players like Börjesson became locomotives that pulled a steadily growing sport forwards. Small clubs shot up like mushrooms in the new neighbourhoods and became feeders to the established IFK, Örgryte and GAIS. They existed for a couple of years, typically until the members grew out of their teens and got married, and didn’t necessarily join the official local league system. They played each other in prestigious ‘friendlies’ or competed in local cup competitions. Together these clubs made up an ecosystem of their own, with a total of 160 football clubs being started locally between 1892 and 1919. Some of them still exist, although most are long gone and forgotten.
Herbert Carlsson made his way up from this football jungle. His first taste of organised play came with IK Niord, formed in 1909 and proudly named after one of the more powerful gods of Norse mythology. When Niord was swallowed by IFK Gothenburg two years later, becoming a youth team, Carlsson was still only fifteen, and too young to be part of the deal. He spent some time with IK Vega, a somewhat larger and more established team, but found it hard to get into the first eleven. Instead he went back to neighbourhood level and tried his luck with Annedals FF.
In 1916, when he was 20, IFK Gothenburg needed another refill and Annedal was annexed. The bait was probably a new kit and the honour of representing a big-time club. IFK’s motivation was to secure one or two known nuggets by buying the whole mountain. The IFK board members knew that only the very best of the young acquisitions would continue to play and, hopefully, make the first team. Their less useful mates would soon be gone.
IFK had five senior teams in 1916 as well as two youth combinations. Carlsson started in the third team and made an impression. The following spring he was promoted to the second. The first XI was within reach but as the whole first-team attack had at least one cap each, he needed a bit of luck to break through. Erik Börjesson took ill during the summer of 1917, and was out for the remainder of the year. Georg Karlsson, the usual replacement for many years, was first in line. He did fairly well, but in August was called up by the Navy. The team manager Carl Linde, who also was responsible for the talent-spotting, knew Carlsson well enough and gave him a deserved chance. Carlsson made his debut in late August, scoring once in a 7–0-win in a friendly against a combined provincial team.
Herbert Carlsson travelled with the team to the next game, the National Championship quarter-final away to Helsingborg. He was only a reserve, but was made a starter when Georg Karlsson didn’t get his leave. Murren lined up at centre-forward, cushioned by the international inside-forwards Erik Hjelm and Caleb Schylander. The latter welcomed Carlsson into the fold. A couple of years earlier he had left him behind when Niord joined IFK.
IFK drew 1–1 in Helsingborg, with Carlsson nearly deciding the tie in the closing minutes. IFK won the replay 6–0 in pouring rain with the three central forwards getting two goals each. Carlsson’s double strike was labeled “fantastic” and the IFK crowd had a new favourite. But success eluded the team, as they could not get past Djurgården in the championship semi- final.
Carlsson’s reputation grew steadily over the following three years. 1918 saw him form a lethal partnership with a rejuvenated Erik Börjesson, who at 32 was as sly and cunning as ever. ‘Old Börje’ was the key player as top-scorer and a provider for his partner. IFK played only 10 competitive games that year, but won both the mini-league and the knock-out championship. Börjesson played in nine games and scored nineteen goals. Carlsson played eight and averaged a goal a game. Carlsson also got his first cap, against Norway in Oslo.
By 1919, he was a regular for Sweden. He scored his first hat-trick against the Netherlands in Stockholm (4–1) and got another one against Denmark, also in Stockholm (3–0). Beating the Dutch was good enough, but the second win was truly remarkable. Danish football was far more advanced than the game in Sweden and before that game Denmark had only lost once in 11 contests between the neighbours. The local hero became a national icon.
In 1920 Carlsson was picked for the Olympic Games in Antwerp. Sweden started well enough, with a fine victory against Greece (9–0). Carlsson scored five goals. He got a further two against the Dutch, a strange game that was lost 5-4. The Czech referee Fanta made a few confusing decisions during the game and players from both teams wondered what was going on. Afterwards the ref knocked on the Swedish dressing-room door, not to apologise, but to congratulate his favourites on their victory. Foolishly, he had got the teams mixed up. Sweden had changed from yellow to white, to avoid a clash with the orange worn by the Dutch and so, in trying to favour the Swedes, he had favoured their opponents. Needless to say, Fanta was thrown out. Sweden then lost their last game, to the tournament sensations Spain (1–2). Carlsson’s seven goals made him top-scorer of the Olympics.
How did he do it? What kind of a player was he? Newspaper reports usually praised his strength, his quickness off the mark and especially his sharp turns. The strength was there from the start. Herbert and his brothers, a few of whom worked in the harbour as longshoremen, were all powerfully built. Murren was even strong (and confident) enough to enter a diving competition. The speed he had gained after arriving at IFK. Carl Linde understood what Carlsson needed and put him through heavy and specially designed training. Carlsson also packed a ferocious shot. He once knocked out a goalkeeper with a shot that hit him in the solar plexus. That caught the imagination of the kids in the Gothenburg playgrounds. In their version the poor goalie was strung up in the nets, with his entrails flooding the goalmouth (or so the poet Bengt Anderberg wrote when reminiscing about his childhood).
Börjesson was not in Antwerp. He had, temporarily, lost interest in the game and was about to leave IFK. The selection committee weren’t too unhappy. The FA considered him a pain in the neck and used every excuse available to leave him out. He was actually only picked for about a third of the internationals played during his heyday. Börjesson was “moody”, the selectors said. Maybe he was. But he was also particular about his worth. The FA used the post-international banquets as part-reward for representing Sweden. Börjesson, the family man, never touched alcohol and usually went straight from the dressing-room to the train station. He thought he should be compensated, as an abstainer. Sometimes he even became particular towards his club and made demands to play certain games. It was nothing dramatic. He just wanted a free taxi to get home.
Carlsson, on the other hand, seemed a bit too interested in what was offered to him by hangers-on. But all this has to be put into perspective. Sweden had managed to stay out of the Great War, as had Denmark, Norway and Finland. The war still hit the Swedish people. The politically independent but conservative wartime government, led by the inflexible and stubborn Hjalmar Hammarskjöld [whose youngest son Dag would become Secretary General of the United Nations], was a strange constellation. A banker was Minister of Foreign Affairs. A leading industrialist kept an eye on finance and industry. A wealthy landowner (and member of the nobility) had the final say for environment, food and rural affairs. The naval minister was also the leading shipowner. They all acted in the best interest of – themselves. Swedish industry was running day and night and served both sides of the war. Everything that was produced was shipped out of the country. Food became scarce (people had jobs but there was nothing in the shops for them to buy), even more so when rye and potato harvests failed in 1916. The Prime Minister locked up the supplies of grain, flour and potatoes. Rationing was introduced. The unrestricted submarine warfare proclaimed by Germany in late January 1917 increased problems as no more grain could be imported from the United States. Hammarskjöld, who kept the stock of potatoes to himself until it began to rot, was (un-)popularly renamed Hungerskjöld.
The government resigned in March 1917, but it was too late to repair the mistakes. Queues grew longer, starvation led to protests and demonstrations. The February Revolution in Russia inspired riots. Even the Army passively took a stance against the government. For a period of two weeks in April the strain edged towards revolution. Tensions ran high but not everywhere at once and lack of synchronisation (and mutual interests) between Syndicalists, Social Democrats and the military meant it never got past unrest. It all ended when a riot in central Stockholm was quelled on June 5.
The new government quickly changed course as they stopped exporting food and instead sold iron ore. The war was over within 18 months. At that point all exports ended at once. Both sides of the war were exhausted and simply couldn’t afford to buy anything. Swedish industry halted, unemployment figures rocketed.
Through this crisis Börjesson looked after his family above all else, while the maturing Carlsson was partly blinded by his own success and popularity. Today Carlsson’s 16 goals in 13 internationals (at that stage) would have taken him abroad. In 1920 there weren’t many leagues to choose from. The English and Scottish leagues were the only professional set-ups in Europe. Still, the offer from Liverpool to Börjesson can only be seen as hypothetical. Quite a few Swedes had guested for English clubs during the preceding decade, but all as amateurs and only to play for the second or third teams. There were too many obstacles if you wanted to turn professional. One man was unique in this respect, the Dane Nils Middelboe. He combined banking with nine years of amateur football for Chelsea. Börjesson, a machine-repairer at a canvas mill, was considerably restricted in that area.
The post-war economic depression hit football. Many of those unemployed could no longer afford to watch games. The players themselves had been given food for thought in Antwerp, where they met and socialised with foreign colleagues. As they compared terms with them it became clear that the Swedish version of amateurism was indeed by the book, but rather harsher than the earnings of amateurs in other countries. The players confronted the FA to discuss the interpretation of the rules. The root of the problem was the question of broken time, something that was widely discussed and led to the English FA resigning from Fifa for more than two decades. The Swedish FA secretary Anton Johanson reacted vehemently to the players’ appeals and for about 10 months there was a stalemate. Johanson said the players of the Olympic squad were disqualified, while the players themselves claimed they were on strike. Murren didn’t play for Sweden again until July 1921, against Austria. In the meantime the selection committee picked 11 new players for almost every one of the next seven internationals.
Carlsson had faced American opposition a couple of times. Bethlehem Steel and a combined team from St Louis had visited Sweden in 1919 and 1920 respectively. Carlsson had made an impression on Bethlehem by scoring all three goals when they were beaten 3–1 by IFK Gothenburg, one of only two losses on a thirteen-game tour. Bethlehem wanted him immediately and he was on his way in late April 1920. Murren got as far as the American consulate in Gothenburg, where he applied for a visa but got it all wrong. The crucial question was this: “Do you have a job waiting over there?”
”Yes!” he replied with a proud smile – and was kicked out of the building. He was also barred from entering the US for some time. Why? Because this was the only way to fight trafficking. If someone had a job waiting for him, the trip would most probably be paid for by the future employer who, in turn, had bought himself effectively a slave. With a different response to that question Carlsson would have been gone before the Olympic Games. Forced to stay, out of a job (like everybody else) and socialising with the wrong kind of people, his career for the first time took a downward turn. He played on, but the national team lockout did him no good. He lost his edge.
The situation started to worry Carl Linde. He was a remarkable man, involved in sport at all possible levels. At the time he was managing IFK and was newly elected to the FA board and the selection committee. He was also a leading football columnist, in the tri-weekly Idrottsbladet (The Sports Gazette). In 1920 he had made a grand tour of Europe, travelling endlessly between the football hotbeds of the continent. He could watch how others played the game with his own eyes and he got to know people everywhere. Back in Gothenburg he recruited players and teams with a manic energy. In 1921 IFK had 17 teams, most of them youths. With 200 players available he hired a full-time coach, Alexander (Sándor) Bródy. The former centre-half of FTC and Hungary had seventeen caps and eight league wins to his name. Linde was the boss of one of the largest football operations in Europe, if not the whole world, and now his best player, the jewel in this oversized crown, began to lose interest.
On Thursday 7 September 1922, late in the afternoon, Valdus Lund passed along the quays of the harbour. He was a full-back for IFK and Sweden, a stalwart of both teams. For more than 10 years Gothenburg had a direct connection to New York by ocean steamer. Lund made a habit of passing by after work on days of departure. Emigration to the US had intensified in the wake of the post-war depression. He had seen lots of people waving goodbye, not least footballers. Lund knew there were whole clubs in New York entirely made up of Swedes.
The Swedish population of New York was approaching 70,000 and they were about to get one more: when Lund gazed upwards to the deck he caught sight of a familiar face. But he had to look twice, because the image of Herbert Carlsson in a white waiter’s uniform didn’t really add up. It was for real, though, and Lund immediately notified Carl Linde.
Linde knew nothing. His most well-known player was about to leave the country, sneaking out without telling anyone. Linde ordered a phone call to his editor in Stockholm. “Clear the front for tomorrow’s edition, I need it,” he said, and explained the situation. In a rage he typed and delivered a piece that, together with a drawing of Carlsson at the prow of the ship with an American flag, covered most of the front page and continued inside the paper.
Linde told how he had cultivated this player “who from the outset was equipped with the necessary technical skills as well as the physique. If we told him to release his winger, or if we told him to advance as far as he could and then pass the ball to avoid an onrushing full-back or half-back, he would do it in the next game.” Carlsson also used crosses aimed for the outside-left or simply went for goal himself. “But he knew the art of scoring from the very beginning. There was no need to teach him that.” The crucial detail was speed. Carlsson used to trap the ball, have a look ahead and then nudge his way through a defence. Linde shortened his stride by using mini-sprints. In the end Carlsson became unstoppable over 10-25 yards. And then there were those strong ankles, part of the original package and the main reason behind his feared shooting ability. Only praise so far.
Linde then went into sceptical mode when analysing the previous season. Carlsson had had a tough year in 1922. He had difficulties getting a steady job and without the regularity of work he gradually lost his way. Carlsson was hanging around with other jobless unfortunates. He lost weight and developed ingrowing toenails as his shoes were too small and his football boots too large. He tried to fill out the boots, using as many as four soles, only to get weighed down when the pitch was wet. He was about to undergo surgery to get rid of those toenails.
“We can only express a heartfelt hope that he will succeed, because Murren was a good and kind boy whose character happened to be too weak to cope with a longer period of redundancy. … His departure resembles an escape … [and] he is not coming back. He will stay in the US where professional football no doubt will grab him. Who knows, they may even have organised his hasty departure.”
Herbert Carlsson thus left Sweden with 20 caps and 19 international goals under his belt as well as equally splendid stats in the league and championship for IFK Gothenburg: 47 games and 42 goals.
Linde was dead right about the organiser. He might as well have given the name: Ernest J Viberg. Born in 1891, he left Stockholm for New York in 1912. He served as the travel guide when the USA national team visited Sweden in 1916 as well as for Bethlehem Steel in 1919 and St Louis in 1920. Viberg was well-known, and feared, since he was the intermediary behind that first botched attempt to encourage Carlsson to emigrate in 1920.
Ernest Viberg was an engineer with the Western Electric Company. He was also the American correspondent for Idrottsbladet. He wrote about soccer in New York for the Evening Mail and the Telegram, where a young Nat Fleischer [who that year, 1922, founded a boxing magazine called The Ring] was a colleague. Since the previous year Viberg had been the manager of Viking Athletic Club, a Swedish side formed in 1918 and based in the Bronx. With Viberg at the helm the club had started to poach players from Sweden, not just picking up the ones who happened to turn up in New York with the steamer. He had tried to get Carlsson for more than a year.
Viking competed in the New York State League, an amateur organisation with 10 member clubs in their top division. Carlson (as he was by then called) made his debut on the 17th, the day after setting foot on American soil. Viking beat the Danish side Thor 6–1 and Carlson delivered. He scored three in this cup tie and two weeks later did the same in his league debut, a 3-0 win against Steinway in the season opener. The first was a solo effort, the second a shot into the corner, the third a thunderbolt via the crossbar.
Viberg raked in the profits. I have found one of his articles, an enthusiastic presentation of Viking AC for the 1922-23 season, in no fewer than four different publications. This is what he had to say about his star: “Herbert Carlson, known in Sweden as Murren, could fill a whole page with his record. Herbert came over here 10 weeks ago as one of the greatest forwards in Europe and he has already been recognised as America’s best centre. The American teams who played against him in 1919 and 1920 told long stories about this player when they returned home. They hoped that he would come over here to show his wonderful ability with one of the best professional teams. Murren has arrived but he would rather stay with his amateur countrymen than go over to one of the so-called big teams. Carlson is a product of the Gothenburg Comrades school and a Swedish international since 1919 [sic]. There has hardly been a federation game played against a foreign country since that year that Murren didn›t play either as center or inside right. The latter position is his best, and as such he is rated the best in the world.’ PT Barnum had a serious competitor as ‘the King of Humbug’.
There was a building boom in New York and jobs were plentiful. Murren indeed had a job waiting for him. Most of the Viking players were employed by the Indiana Flooring Company, for nine dollars a day. Murren went to work as a floor finisher. He enjoyed this new-found social stability and scored 15 goals in 17 games as Viking finished third in the league. Late in the season the team was reinforced by two new full-backs from Sweden. One of them, Eric Levin, was a former teammate of Murren’s from IFK Gothenburg. He had been capped by Sweden but was unable to secure a regular place at IFK.
Then Viberg puzzled everybody by announcing his retirement as manager. But he had a little surprise up his sleeve. He had negotiated with the owner of the Indiana Flooring Company, Daniel von Bremen, and reached an agreement to start a new team – Indiana Flooring Company Football Club. Viberg, forever true to his own interests only, snatched 10 players from Viking, and the Flooring foreman Charles Olson, who had also been assistant manager and treasurer at Viking. The Viking members detested him for it. Indiana went straight into the top division of the New York State League in 1923-24. They beat Viking in both games (8–0, 5–1) and won the competition. Indiana played 15 of their 18 scheduled games (walk-overs were not unusual), won 13 and drew two. Carlson scored 21 goals. He also scored 20 in nine cup games.
By then, Carlson had been joined by Caleb Schylander, his old partner from Gothenburg. Schylander wanted to get away from Sweden at all costs. He had retired from football to open a butcher’s shop, which failed. He then went to Tønsberg in Norway to play and coach. There he also worked as a butcher. When winter approached he signed up with a Norwegian whaler destined for South Georgia in the South Atlantic. He went back, briefly, to Gothenburg, and played a few games before going to New York. His wife Anna and son Rune stayed behind but eventually made it to New York in 1925. Schylander was around 5’6” in height and a little pudgy. He also had a cheek that sometimes got him into trouble. In Gothenburg they called him Cairo, in New York he became ‘Sky-lander’ or ‘Sky-hook’ because of his phenomenal ability to reach and trap a high ball.
With these two stars, Viberg took the next step, into the professional American Soccer League. The ASL had started in 1921 and was concentrated in the north-eastern states. The league worked like any North American professional league: you had to buy a franchise to get in. When New York City withdrew, Viberg took their place, with the help of Daniel von Bremen, and went on to strengthen the team. This time Von Bremen didn’t look to Sweden, but instead went for Scottish professionals. The Swedish influence in the Indiana team waned and only the best – the former internationals – were able to hold down a regular place. A few of the Swedes rejoined Viking.
By 1926, Carlson and Schylander were the only Swedes left in the team, good enough to be included in an All Star team to face the touring Jewish side, Hakoah of Vienna. The game was played at the Polo Grounds, by then home to Viberg, who was responsible for the maintenance of the baseball stadium. Hakoah had done some excellent marketing: 46,000 watched as Carlson scored once and the New Yorkers won 3–0. The crowd set a record for soccer in the US that wouldn’t be surpassed until 1977 by Pelé and the Cosmos.
That same year, as Carlson turned 30 and was perhaps slowing down, Indiana tried to sign his successor at IFK Gothenburg, the swarthy Filip Johansson. He had arrived with a bang, scoring 39 goals in a 22-game season in his first season. But ‘Black Filip’, as he was known, eventually said no and instead, on the advice of the veteran Scottish player-coach Bob Millar, originally from St Mirren, they went for James ‘Hooky’ Leonard of Cowdenbeath.
Daniel von Bremen, whose money had made all this possible, proved to be a shady figure. His company had been virtually bankrupt as early as 1925. But by cooking the books he was able to magnify a meagre profit of $2,000 into a glorious $266,000. He used that figure to secure huge loans totalling $800,000. He was gone by the time the bubble burst in 1927. Both Von Bremen and his successor, Thomas L Zimmerman Jr, ended up in court. The players lost their jobs as well as their investments in the company.
Viberg once more used his powers of persuasion. This time he approached Charles H Stoneham, owner of the Polo Grounds as well as its baseball team, the New York Giants. Stoneham had watched the Hakoah game the year before and had become curious. With soccer as a sport to fill the winter months, he would have year-round use of the stadium. The deal was done in September 1927. The team was renamed the New York Nationals. Viberg and Millar remained, with Nat Fleischer as new secretary. Fleischer at the same time launched the weekly Soccer Pictorial (which lasted for six months).
The Nationals kicked off without any Swedish players. Redundant once again, Carlson had gone back to Sweden that summer on a tour with expatriates from all over the US. They used the name Viking and played 33 games in Sweden. His mother had died that spring and he chose to remain in Gothenburg until April 1928. Schylander dropped out of professional soccer altogether. At 34, he concentrated on his new butcher’s shop in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.
Caleb Schylander was very sceptical about his former teammate as his son, Rune, revealed when we met in 1995. “I know for a fact that my father didn’t rate Murren very highly,” he said. “He simply didn’t like him.” Schylander was raised in a religious family. But his distaste for Murren went deeper than just the God-fearing family man against the happy-go-lucky bachelor who sometimes behaved like a slob: “They were all bums, more or less. They drank like fish. My mother didn’t approve of the footballers at all. ‘They are peasants, all of them,’ she said.”
There was more to it than the boozing. Carl-Axel Ahlgren, who worked and played in the New York area between 1929 and 1932, remembered an evening of partying and dancing at a special Swedish celebration at the Palisades in New Jersey. “Murren was there,” he said. “He tried to steal the till, but was caught and got badly beaten.” Murren had just one friend, the former wrestler Theddy Bergquist, a member of Örgryte who had competed at the 1912 Olympics.
Carlson returned to the US in the spring of 1928 to continue his career. There was no more floor finishing, just football. In 1930, several of his teammates at the Nationals prepared for the first World Cup tournament in Uruguay. The now-retired Millar was coaching the US side. Jimmy Douglas was in goal while the Scottish-born Jimmy Gallagher and Bart McGhee were regulars at right-half and outside-left.
Carlson, the top scorer of the Olympic Games in 1920 and now nearing 34, got close to that World Cup, but only in geographical terms. He was a three-hour ferry ride away while guesting for Hakoah All-Stars on their South American tour of Brazil and Argentina. The Jewish New Yorkers, with a team mostly made up of players cheered on by the 46,000 at Polo Grounds four years earlier, were on the other side of the River Plate. Their captain, Béla Guttmann, led the team through losses in both Rio and São Paulo and then realised they were running out of money in Buenos Aires, where gates (and income) disappointed, largely because nobody had expected football fans would use that ferry to go to Montevideo and watch the World Cup. Carlson played in the first few games, but was then benched. He spent the rest of the trip complaining.
Back in New York, the ASL was badly rocked by the onset of the great depression. Franchises changed hands in an attempt to save the league. The NY Giants became the NY Soccer Club. With the Giants name free, Stoneham moved quickly and secured it for his own Nationals. That meant Stoneham owned the New York Giants in both baseball and soccer.
Carlson was nearing the end of his long career. His swansong at the highest level came in 1931 together with the young striker Bert Patenaude, who had scored the first hat-trick in World Cup history, for the US against Paraguay (3–0). With Patenaude as centre-forward and Carlson at inside-left the Giants won the ASL championship in 1931. The league collapsed soon afterwards. Murren continued to play through the depression wherever he could find payment. He spent the autumn of 1932 with 1st German SC (New York), then the whole of 1933 with Swedish FC (Brooklyn) and two further years with Worcester Scandinavian SC (Massachusetts).
After that there was no more football. Herbert Carlson was ill, diagnosed with syphilis. Despairing, he attempted suicide. The members of Swedish FC in New York were informed and decided to help. They set up a committee to arrange a big party for his 40th birthday. Tickets were sold to everyone within the ethnic community, regardless of whether they would attend or not. There were also lotteries while organisers got in touch with the Swedish consulate, Svenska Amerika Linien (to get him a one-way ticket to Gothenburg), authorities, shops, well-to-do Swedes in New York and newspapers. All in all he got everything he needed to go back – a suit, shoes, underwear, hats, a watch, a wallet.
He turned up in Gothenburg in October 1936, 14 years after his original departure. He actually played a game that month, for the IFK veterans against a works team. He had treatment during the winter, but there were no antibiotics; syphilis was treated with mercury. If you didn’t die of the ailment you almost certainly suffered badly from the medication.
Fritte Hillén, an old rival with GAIS, helped Carlsson find a job. He would sweep the floors at Eriksberg, one of the shipyards. He did it for one day, then became very aggressive the following day when he realised he had to do it again. Punches were thrown. He also got upset when pay was deducted for his no-show days. More fisticuffs, this time at the company’s offices.
While developing a reputation as a loose cannon, Carlsson applied to the football federation in May 1937 to be reinstated as an amateur. He said his aim (at 40 years of age) was to get back into the national team. The Federation wrote to the USFA for details, and were told by their executive secretary James Armstrong that Carlsson had been paid to play as late as 1935. The Federation denied Carlsson permission to play. The decision was made on August 24. On November 13, he was admitted to Lillhagen Mental Hospital, where he remained until his death on 21 October 1952.
Carl Linde had died earlier that year. He was exhausted at 62. But he did not die before delivering the decisive speech that ensured the 1958 World Cup would be held in Sweden. Caleb Schylander stayed in the US, continued in the meat business, rallied after losing his money when the Bank of America collapsed, retired to Florida and died in 1977. Erik Börjesson died in 1983, at 96, forever faithful to Hilja. He also nurtured the football career of his son Reino, born in 1929 and a proud member of the Sweden team in the 1958 World Cup final. Carlsson was long since gone.