Mention the word “football” to Harrison Councilman Michael Dolaghan and it’s like unleashing a volcano of names, dates, leagues and legends involving individuals and teams from Kearny, Harrison and East Newark.
Sometimes his memories of people and events are so vivid that you might think these events are happening in the moment.
And, to a large extent, they are, as evidenced by the continued dominance of local teams in county, state and regional football games.
That’s why – given the rich heritage that football has left in West Hudson, from its origins in the teams encouraged by old Scottish factories and German breweries – Dolaghan and his friends have organized a fundraising campaign to pay tribute to this legacy by commissioning a monument to this beloved. sport.
This monument – in the form of a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of the proto-typical West Hudson football player – will be unveiled on Saturday, October 8 at 11 a.m., at Library Park in Harrison, where he will be in permanently exposed.
Friends of Harrison Soccer and the Harrison Education Association, campaign sponsors, say the statue “will be a proud reminder of a proud chapter in Harrison’s past, present and future and the love story of a community with a sport”.
The dedication ceremony, according to its sponsors, will mark the “celebration of more than 135 years of history, passion, joy and tears” by marking West Hudson as “the birthplace of football in America – the sport that gave to Harrison and the world so very much.”
Like so many before and afters, Dolaghan and the likes of former football prodigy Kearny and later professional Hugh O’Neill and others too numerous to mention got their start in “the beautiful game” at the Kearny Oval and, of course, the Harrison Courts, adjoining Library Park.
In the United States, local enthusiasts trace the game’s origins on the East Coast to at least the 1880s and the Clark ONT (Our New Thread) team, named after spinning along the Passaic River in Newark , but the team – whose members came from factory workers – played across the river in East Newark.
The team won the formative American Cup championship for three consecutive years and hosted international soccer matches featuring teams from England and Canada.
“Clark ONT is really the epicenter where the game has thrived,” O’Neill said. “It was from there that tons of clubs, on both sides of the river, sprang up during the golden age of football in the 1920s and 30s.”
Hopefully, he said, the Clark Thread factory re-developer can be persuaded to set aside space for a West Hudson football museum.
Across West Hudson, football clubs like the Thistle in Kearny and others sponsored by local parishes and businesses recruited top young players for local and regional competitions. Dolaghan recalled that his paternal grandfather, as a bar owner at Fifth Street and Harrison Avenue, sponsored football teams in the early 1950s that competed in various New Jersey leagues.
Many youngsters have also played for their local schools, with Kearny and Harrison high schools typically featuring top talent, as evidenced by the record number of league seasons recorded by both schools over the decades, most notably the Harrison High team of 1950 who recorded an undefeated, unscored on the season as Group II state champions.
And it’s no surprise that no less than 11 West Hudson sons have been enshrined in the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame in Fresco, Texas: Archie Stark and Adelino “Billy” Gonsalves (who spent 35 years in Kearny), both installed in 1950; Davey Brown in 1951; George Tintle in 1952; Jim Douglas in 1954; Fred Shields in 1968; Tom Florie in 1986; William “Shamus” O’Brien in 1990; John Harkes and Tab Ramos in 2005; and Tony Meola in 2012.
The last three played in the World Cup in the 1990s, when Kearny became popularly known as “Soccer Town, USA”
Kearny’s enthusiasm for the sport was clearly captured in a 2019 documentary of the same name.
That same year, Dolaghan – perhaps inspired by the feverish intensity of the film – enlisted the help of the Harrison Education Association and Friends of Harrison Soccer to launch a fundraising campaign to support the design and manufacture of a “statue of public art”. representing the proud history, success and reputation that this community has earned throughout the football playing communities of the United States.
Dolaghan said the sculptor, Andre Iwancyzk, a native of Poland who ended up fleeing his native country because of his support for the Solidarity movement, was recommended by Jersey City monument maker John Burns Jr., who was the campaign project manager.
Iwancyzk developed a reputation as an artist in the United States, where he received several commissions for public art projects. No stranger to the West Hudson/South Bergen area, he designed and executed the granite bust of Christopher Columbus resting on a pedestal in North Arlington’s dedicated Columbus Park in 1992.
“We showed Andre 25 or 30 photos of West Hudson football players mostly from the 20s and 30s, and he came up with a generic look for a player from that era,” Dolaghan recalled.
In early 2020, Iwancyzk, then living in Somerset, visited a friend’s studio in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn to begin exploring the statue. Soon after, however, complications followed. The pandemic took hold and rather than travel to New York City, a hotbed of COVID-19, the artist opted instead to relocate to a workplace in Jersey City, arranged with the help of Burns.
But the pandemic created supply chain issues, and materials like silica, bronze and granite – all needed to assemble the statue – became scarce and more expensive to acquire, raising the cost of the project by around $40. $000 and extending its completion time to 14 months, according to Dolaghan.
“We are still fundraising to cover the overall cost,” he said.
Of the many volunteers working on the campaign, Dolaghan singled out Henry Villanueva as having been “invaluable with his IT expertise in helping to spread the word via social media”. And he praised Celia Mariano, secretary of the HEA and longtime secretary of the Harrison Board of Education, for her invaluable assistance in processing mailings promoting the campaign and handling tax-deductible donations.
Sadly, the sculptor passed away in March.
Iwancyzk was 78 years old.
Ron Leir | For the observer
Ron Leir has been a journalist since the late 1960s, beginning his career at the Jersey Journal, after being a summer reporter at university. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working primarily as a generalist in all but sports, including a 3-year stint as associate editor for entertainment, reporting, religion, etc.
He retired from JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer soon after.
He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York