This is life in the Cosmopolitan League, one of the top amateur soccer leagues in the country and, in its various incarnations, also one of the oldest. Founded in 1923 by five teams of Germanic immigrants as the German-American league, the league has operated continually since, reaching a high-water mark in the 1950s and 1960s as global events and economies pushed players to the New York market.
The league has seen the ebbs and flows of American soccer as it has evolved through everything from foreign wars to industrial fortunes to globalization. Within the sport itself, the Cosmopolitan League has also witnessed the rise and fall and return of the North American Soccer League, the creation of Major League Soccer and the media phenomenon the European game has become in the digital era.
And through it all, it has represented a kind of core sample of both New York immigration and some enduring elements of American soccer.
“In the 1950s people were moving to New York, playing in the German-American League and earning $500 a game,” said Bill Marth, the league’s general secretary. “Even in the top division in England at the time, people were making virtually nothing, so players actually came to New York and were making more money playing in this league.”
Money spoke so loudly only in those days, when teams still largely hewed to ethnic lines and affiliations. In the 1950s, the league was dominated by teams like Hungaria SC — a squad built around players fleeing the response to the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Several top Hungarian internationals played for the team, in a decade when Hungary’s so-called Magnificent Magyars set the standard for the global game and reached the World Cup final in 1954.
The Pancyprian Freedoms, too, emerged out of political trauma. Christopher pinpointed the founding of the team to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus on July 20, 1974. He was an expat playing recreational soccer in New York when the invasion occurred, and with a group of friends decided to form a team that they said would not only compete locally, but also would “project the image of Cyprus.” The organization quickly transcended soccer.
“We built the Pancyprian Community Center in Astoria, and from there the club expanded into many more areas than just football,” Christopher said. “We were called the Eleutheria Pancyprians — Eleutheria means freedom. We have a cultural division, a women’s division. We have players that are involved with the community, that are involved with our youth teams.”
The club also sponsors students headed to college, he added. Rather than paying them money as players, “we give them scholarships,” he said.
But credibility on the field has always been a key part of the club’s identity. The Freedoms quickly established a friendly but heated rivalry with the more established Greek American Athletic Association, and another against the Brooklyn Italians.
“Our rivalry was crazy,” Christopher said of games against the Greeks and Italians. “I mean you feared for your life to go to Brooklyn. We had to separate the fans. The Greeks on one side, the Italians on the other. I mean, it was an ethnic sport ——”
The thought remained unfinished. Soccer in the United States has long struggled with exactly that perception — that it is an immigrant sport whose appeal was niche, if not downright suspicious. Marth remembers the period when the league’s profile became a source of crisis as much as strength.
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