The young upstart team S.C. Gruen Weiss had a year to remember in 1958.
The National Soccer League had essentially invented indoor soccer in America about a decade earlier. The games were played at the Chicago Armory on Chicago Avenue (It was torn down in the early 90s--the Museum of Contemporary Art now stands on that location), and it was a big draw for Chicago's expansive immigrant population. Green White was excited to play there for the first time in 1958.
“There were something like 3000 fans every Sunday when we played," Klaus Kilian remembers. "Every nationality had a section there. The sound/noise was deafening. It was so loud you couldn’t even hear the whistle sometimes. But it was exciting to play in front of such a big crowd."
Adam Kaempf loved being part of the club immediately. "That first Green White team we played on was something. We had some really good players. The Laxgang brothers. Sammy Berleth in the goal. I mean he was like a cat. Steve Zimmer. We had six, seven players that were top players—that’s why we were such a strong team. That’s one of the reasons we were great indoors.”
The atmosphere in the crowd might have been electric, but the conditions on the Armory field weren't exactly ideal.
"I hated playing indoors," Klaus Kilian says. "It was terrible. We were coughing constantly after those games because of the dust. I was stationed there in the National Guard. That was our base. Not exactly where I wanted to be."
The season came down to a game against the league favorites, a Greek team known as the Olympics. When the dust settled (literally), Green White came out victorious; Indoor Champions of 1958.
"When we beat them, the place went nuts," Kilian recalls.
It was their first championship ever. But it wasn't their only championship that year. In the summer of 1958, Green White also won the Midwest Soccer Tournament in July.
The photo of that team proudly hangs on the wall of the Green White clubhouse.
Kniend (kneeling): H. Bauer, R. Hrbacek, J. Laxgang, S. Berlet , A. Filian, F. Fernbach
And they weren't done yet. They began the 1958 outdoor season as the new kids on the block, and in their first year in the First Division, they ended up in first place. In just three seasons they had moved all the way up to the ultra-competitive Major Division. It was a heck of an accomplishment for an upstart team.
Look at the jubilation in the faces of these Green White members below. You can see it in their eyes: "It doesn't get any better than this".
They didn't know exactly what they would face in the Major Division in 1959, but they were excited and ready to find out.
(1958 was also the first year the Chicago Kickers played in the National Soccer League, beginning a long-time rivalry between the two clubs.)
While the first team was dominating, their farm team of youngsters in the Juniors were playing under more competitive circumstances too.
"That was really the first Junior team," Hans Bittenbinder remembers, "The first proper league team was in 1958.”
Not a bad way to break in. They finished in second place.
Elsewhere in soccer
*The 1954 German national team coached by Sepp Herberger had won the World Cup. Hopes were high among the Green White fans that the Germans could repeat as champions in 1958, but this was not to be their year. A 17-year-old phenom arrived on the scene from Sao Paolo, Brazil and upended the soccer apple cart. His name was Pele, and he awed and amazed the world with his skills. He saved his best for last in the World Cup, scoring three goals in the semi-finals, and two more in the finals; leading the Brazilians to a World Cup championship over host nation Sweden.
Green White Babies Born in 1958...
*Frank Olah (son of Green White's photographer)
In Pop Culture
~The #1 pop hit of the year was “At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors.
~The #1 TV show of the year was “Gunsmoke”
~The Academy Award for Best Picture went to “Gigi”
*Elsewhere in Chicago
~The Tri-State, East-West, and Northwest Tollways all opened in 1958. Chicago also became connected with the new Indiana Toll Road when the Chicago (originally Calumet) Skyway opened that same year.
~An unspeakable tragedy happened on the South Side of Chicago as 1958 came to a close. On December 1st, a fire began in the basement of Our Lady of the Angels school. The fire quickly spread up the staircase and onto the second floor, trapping children and teachers in their classrooms. Ninety two people died. It was third deadliest fire in Chicago history, behind only the Iroquois Theatre fire (602 dead) and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (between 250-300 dead).
Coming next month: 1959. Green White plays in the Major Division, and makes it in the Chicago Daily News. A Green White wedding. The Queen of England visits Chicago. Hef buys a mansion, Second City is formed, and much much more.
As always, if you have any thing to add or correct in this month’s installment, please drop me a line at email@example.com. I consider this a group project, and a work in progress, so we can add and subtract until we get it all exactly correct. If you have photos you’d like to contribute, please do.