Long ago in the town of Bethlehem, there was born... a soccer team.
In the early 1900s, Bethlehem, Pa. was home to Bethlehem Steel Football Club, widely considered to be America’s first pro soccer dynasty. Now, as the soccer world prepares itself for the World Cup, the site of the original Bethlehem Steel plant – which sponsored the club – prepares itself for a unique World Cup viewing experience.
As part of the FIFA World Cup SoccerFest and Viewing Party, ESPN has selected Bethlehem SteelStacks as one of very few venues around the country where it will look-in live at crowd reactions during the USA vs. Ghana game on June 16.
for ArtsQuest, the nonprofit arts organization serving as the host for the SoccerFest and Viewing Party at SteelStacks, said.
“And we formally took steps about 15 months ago with an organizing committee made up of community volunteers to participate in creating a programming and working through all the ideas that culminate with what this event has become.”
However, the viewing party is just one aspect of SoccerFest as the overall event will span June 12-16 and 19-22 at SteelStacks. The venue is a recently renovated arts and cultural center that hosts other festivals and concerts throughout the year.
“We’re on an industrial brown field, the former headquarters for Bethlehem Steel,” Mosel said. “It’s an 1100-acre area that could have just as easily been torn down and turned into a Walmart, but instead it’s an arts and cultural campus that’s designed around urban revitalization through arts and culture.”
Though a major soccer team like Bethlehem Steel no longer exists in the town, there is certainly still a strong culture of soccer and a link to the history of the club.
“It’s always interesting having conversations with people about the event and if they knew there was the team in the past. Some people knew about the history and others don’t,” Mosel said. “There’s still a lot of club soccer being played and an NPSL team here called F.C. Sonic.”
In recent years, the strong tradition of Philadelphia-based soccer has been continued by the Philadelphia Union. The Union began playing in 2010 as an expansion team in Major League Soccer, and are currently one of very few remaining professional soccer teams in the area, following the dissolution of the Kixx and the Independence in the past five years.
“A couple years ago, [the Philadelphia Union] came out with their third kit, which is a Bethlehem Steel F.C. jersey, as a [tribute] to the team,” Mosel said. “That happening inspired a lot of the programming that we’re doing with our event.”
During the process of planning the event, Mosel and his team of community volunteers reached out to Daniel Paul Morrison, whose great uncle played for Bethlehem Steel F.C. After learning more about the team through Morrison, the committee reached out to Mitchell and Ness, a Philadelphia-based apparel company, which agreed to develop a line of 12 clothing items using the images provided by Morrison.
It is precisely that unique combination of community, historical soccer significance and culture that made the site an ideal venue for the event. Though the event is centered around the World Cup games, there is still plenty of other entertainment to be found there.
“In addition to the 26 games that will be shown on a giant LED screen, every night after the games there are concerts by nationally touring artists playing on our Levitt stage,” Mosel said.
“ESPN is going to be broadcasting live here on Monday doing live look-ins during the USA Ghana game. It’s going to be a place of national attention.”