January 9 marks a very special anniversary for US sport although few Americans will know about it. For it was on 9 January 1954 that a USA team played their first ever rugby league international. The touring Americans were hammered 31-0 by France fifty years ago today at the famous Parc de Princes Stadium in Paris, in front of a crowd of 20,000.
There was little disgrace in the result. At that particular time, France were arguably the greatest team in the world - they'd beaten Wales and a World XIII in the previous month and went on to beat Australia and draw with Great Britain in the inaugural World Cup later that year.
The Americans, put together from scratch by manager Mike Dimitro, won just one of their five games on tour but the French were still keen to invite them to compete in the World Cup. That offer was quashed by the RFL and, instead, the game went into hibernation in the States for over thirty years! The USA next played an international in 1987, when they lost 23-10 to Canada in Pittsburgh. The revival of the 1990s has seen the US national team play 32 international matches in the last decade, and an eight-team league is now well-established on the EastCoast,from Connecticut to Washington, DC.
The 1954 tourists were virtually unknown in the rugby league world then and are still anonymous half a century later. One of the few players known to have played for the US is Ted Grossman, who went on to star as a Hollywood stuntman in films such as Jaws and Indiana Jones. Grossman had toured Australia and New Zealand with Dimitro's American All Stars team a few months earlier on their groundbreaking trip.
The USA are next in action in January when they tour Australia again and compete in the World Sevens tournament in Sydney.
Sportswriter Gavin Willacy is currently researching a book about the American All Stars of fifty years ago,titled 'NO HELMETS REQUIRED', which is due to be published later this year. It includes accounts of the Americans extraordinary adventures in Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Greymouth, Lyons, Paris, and other venues, interviews with the players, as well as their most fascinating life stories.
He is keen to hear from anyone who was at any of the US Allstars matches and/or was involved, especially in France in 1954. Also, to find out more, to be kept informed of publication etc., or to become a subscriber (a show of your support for the project by pre-ordering the book and having your name listed in the book)Like