Simply put, Walter Bahr was an American soccer icon. From captaining the U.S. Men’s National Team, to assisting on the game-winning goal in the United States’ historic 1-0 upset of England at the 1950 World Cup, to a coaching and teaching career that spanned nearly 40 years, Bahr enjoyed a lifetime of influence on soccer in the United States. Sadly, America lost its soccer icon when Bahr, who had been the last surviving member of that 1950 World Cup team, passed away on June 18, 2018 at the age of 91.
He was, of course, most famous for his role in that United States 1-0 upset win over England in Belo Horizonte, assisting on Joe Gaetjens’ goal that gave the US the win over heavily favored England. But, he also made a name for himself on the sidelines as a coach, enjoying a career that included stops at his alma mater, Temple, and 14 successful years as head coach at Penn State.
He amassed a 205-78-32 record during his time at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances in those 14 years. An All-American himself as a player in 1944, he coached five All-Americans, two Olympians, 16 All-Region players and one Hermann Trophy award winner. He was the 1979 NSCAA Coach of the Year after leading PSU to the national semifinals. He was a 1986 NSCAA Honor Award winner and was inducted into the NSCAA (now United Soccer Coaches) Hall of Fame in 1995 and had a career coaching record of 448-137-70. His coaching career also included stints at the secondary school level at Frankford High in Philadelphia, as well as the Philadelphia Spartans and the Philadelphia Ukrainians immediately following the end of his playing career.
After his coaching career ended, Bahr stayed involved in the game he loved in a variety of ways. He served as head of the US delegation on several occasions, including when the men’s national team made its return to the Italy World Cup in 1990, the first trip to the World Cup for the U.S. since Bahr and his teammates’ historic effort in Brazil 40 years earlier.
“Walter was head of delegation in 1990 when the United States got back to World Cup,” said United Soccer Coaches’ Hall of Fame Committee Chair and Historian, Jack Huckel. “All the Italian officials wanted to meet Walter because he had beaten England, which made him an Italian hero as well.”
Bahr also served as a Red Apron, welcoming United Soccer Coaches Convention attendees and sharing stories with convention goers. Unfortunately, Bahr had been unable to attend the convention in his later years due to illness. The Red Aprons -- who wear…red aprons -- are an honorary group of the association’s legacy members that have taken on the mantle of making the Convention a warm and welcoming event for members and guests.
No matter the capacity whether it be as a player, a coach or a delegation leader, Bahr had an enormous impact on the game, but probably even more so on those around him. And the common theme through it all was the humility and how genuine of a man he was.
Following his passing, United Soccer Coaches reached out to people across the soccer community including coaches, administrators and media members for remembrances of Walter Bahr the man, the player and the coach. The responses are compiled below.
Lynn Berling-Manuel, CEO, United Soccer Coaches
“My best memory of Walt is a trip to Brazil over 25 years ago. It was put together by the Brazilian Federation honoring the U.S. World Cup defeat of England in 1950. He and his wife Davies, along with his 1950 teammate Harry Keough and his wife, Alma, plus a few journalists and other guests went back to Belo Horizonte to revisit that game. Walt and Harry held court giving blow by blow memories as much about the trip to get to Belo as the game itself. They were given a hero’s welcome and all of us there that day felt honored to be part of it. You hear about the ‘gentleman athlete’ and the ‘servant leader’… Walter Bahr epitomized both.”
Joe Cummings, Former CEO, United Soccer Coaches
“The time I spent with Walter, in person or on the phone, reminded me how genuine he was and how blessed we all were for such moments and how gracious he was with us all.”
Jonathan Tannenwald, Soccer reporter for Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News
“Like many Convention attendees, my main interactions with Walter were at the front entrances of the Convention halls we’ve gathered in over the years. But I always knew I had a special reason to talk to him, since I cover his sport for the newspaper in his home city.
“I had the privilege of interviewing Walter at length in 2010, when he received the Walt Chyzowych award at the Convention. It was a special year for soccer in Philadelphia, as it was the Union’s first year in MLS, the Independence’s first year in WPS, and of course a men’s World Cup year. He told me some great stories about how big soccer was in his old neighborhood, Kensington, when he was young. And of course, he talked about the 1950 World Cup win over England – and he remembered every detail of his assist on the famous winning goal.
“I would run into him in future years, and he remembered me. What an honor just to be known by such a legend of the sport in our country. I hope all of us – especially those of us in the media who have the platform to do it – continue to tell his story, so that future generations know how much of an impact he had on American soccer.”
Jim Sheldon, Former Executive Director, NSCAA
“I’ll miss Walter’s humble, honest and open personality. So will the game in this country. My one consoling thought is that Walter lived long enough to see American soccer grow to a level that his generation couldn’t have possibly imagined.”
JP Dellacamera, FOX Sports play-by-play announcer
"Walter Bahr was one of the great names in U.S. Soccer history. From player to coach, to soccer ambassador, he was world class in every way. As a person, you could not meet a finer man. He will be missed in so many ways both on and off the field."
Ian Barker, Director of Coaching Education, United Soccer Coaches
“Like so many in the soccer community I was aware of Walter’s achievements and commitments to the game. Beyond that, however, it was being introduced to him at a Convention that showed a little of the measure of the man. He was humble and he was always looking to “give back”. Walter was a person that had time for everyone and shared his love of the game generously. He was a gentleman and his influence in the game still resonates at all levels even in his passing.”
Ray Reid, Head Coach, Connecticut Men’s Soccer
“Coach Bahr influenced the game at the collegiate, professional and International level in America. He was a pioneer and did it all with the utmost level of class. Coach Bahr is an icon and will be remembered for helping us all grow the game we love.
Jack Huckel, Hall of Fame Committee Chair & Official Historian, United Soccer Coaches
“I knew of Walter and knew about the 1950 game a long time before I met him. My remembrances are what a genuine, honest, humble, caring person he was.
“My official interactions with him for the coaches’ association were as chair of the Hall of Fame committee which he was on. He was very good about talking about candidates under consideration, sharing what he knew. He was so unassuming, he was just Walter who loved soccer and liked being with people. He was a great storyteller and an all-around great person and he might have been the greatest player of his era. There was no pretention to it though. He wasn’t trying to tell a story that made him look good or cemented his reputation. He was telling a story because it was a fun story and people would be laughing. I think he loved telling stories and he loved being with people because that gave him the opportunity to tell stories and learn new things about people and he always had fun when he was with people.
“As a historian, I think we’ve now lost the connection with an underappreciated era of soccer in the United States. Underappreciated historically for the number of very good players of that era. Walter was the last big connection with that tradition in the late 1940s and into the 50s. He knew about soccer in the 1930s and was a principal player in the 40s and 50s. We’ve lost a big connection with that era, someone who could really speak authoritatively.”
Bob Warming, former Head Coach Penn State/Current Head Coach, Nebraska-Omaha
“Everyone who ever talked soccer with Coach Bahr instantly was reminded how simple and beautiful the game can be. Great coaches have the capacity to make the game simple. Coach Bahr could do it better than anyone. When he would come by my office at Penn State no matter where the conversation went I always learned something. People at Penn State adored him, and with good reason. Walter Bahr was simply the best.”
Anson Dorrance, Head Coach, North Carolina
“Walter was a warm and friendly Head of Delegation for me when I was a young U.S. Women’s National Team Coach back in the late 80’s on a China Tour. He had this joke about “his face rings a bell” that I thought was hilarious and not so much because the joke was funny, but for the way he would tell it! What he always managed to do, from all of my interactions with him over the years, was to elevate every encounter as a chance to connect with you in a more meaningful way and, as a result, he built a more joyous community for all of us that loved him and our beautiful game. Yes, I will miss him.”
Schellas Hyndman, Head Coach, Grand Canyon
“Very seldom in life do you meet such a gentleman, a man that has accomplished so much in his life and a man who is so very modest in all those special successful moments. Walter loved the game of soccer, he was the last of the great players at the WC 1950, but you would never know it because he just looked at it as just another accomplishment. His greatest joy in life was his family and he made sure that they all knew it. Whenever I had the pleasure to be around Walter I was always amazed at how kind and ordinary he was to friends as well as to strangers. I was blessed to have been in his presence.”
Jeff Cook, Head Coach, Penn State
“Walter and I not only had a Penn State connection, but also a Philadelphia connection as I was working with the (Philadelphia) Union and Walter is a renowned figure in the Philadelphia soccer community. My clearest memory of him was of his role as a Red Apron. He was joined by our former coach at Dartmouth, Whitey Burnham, who actually introduced me to him when they were Red Aprons.
“It’s an honor to sit in the same chair as Walter did at Penn State. Penn State men’s soccer has a wonderful history and he’s a huge part of that legacy. He’ll be missed, but his legacy will certainly live on through our program.
“It’s been heartwarming to see all the messages from his former players. It’s not surprising knowing Walter, but seeing the impact he’s had on so many lives through the sport of soccer is nothing short of phenomenal.”