Steve Hunt: Telling Pele to “F*** Off”

Steve hunt played for the New York Cosmos during a period when soccer threatened to break into the mainstream of America sports. Here is a review of his time rubbing shoulders with Pele, Chinaglia, Beckenbauer et al, and how he became a Cosmos legend.

This profile was originally published on Gav’s excellent Les Rosbifs blog. Check his blog out, and thanks to him for hosting it.

Steve Hunt: Telling Pele To “F*ck off”

The New York Cosmos’ 1977 NASL roster was undoubtedly one of the most star-studded in world soccer. A strike partnership of Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia, Brazilian 1970 World Cup legend Carlos Alberto at the back partnering Franz Beckenbauer, a smattering of glamorous South Americans, and ex-Aston Villa reserve Steve Hunt flying down the wing.

Yes, Steve Hunt. One of the stranger things that the NASL through up, was the sight of journeyman English players and American college kids lining up with some of the (albeit aging) stars of the world stage. Usually the journeymen knew their place and remained essentially the same standard of player that they were in the UK. Hunt however was different, and the 21 year-old who signed for the Cosmos in 1977 would go on to become a star in his own right in America.

Hunt was born in Willenhall, a suburb of Birmingham on the 4th of August 1956 and signed for Aston Villa as a schoolboy. Success was hard to come by, and by the age of 21 he had made only 7 league appearances in the first team, with 4 being starts. Disillusioned by the lack of playing time in England he was looking around for a new club when he was approached after a training session by a representative of the Cosmos. Evidently Cosmos’s European PR was not up to scratch as Hunt has stated that he didn’t know who the Cosmos were, or that football was even being played in America, but Hunt was soon persuaded to ditch Birmingham for New York City. He was also different than a lot of the English players who joined NASL teams in the fact that he signed a permanent deal, rather than just a loan deal to cover the summer season. The transfer fee was reported as being £30,000. The idea of playing with Pele was a unique selling point which Hunt could not refuse, even though he had only been married a month. This to an extent represent Pele’s role in establishing football in America. If the NASL was good enough for Pele, who could turn it down by saying it was sub-standard?

Hunt arrived for pre-season training in spring 1977 and quickly realised that he had made a good choice when the training camp was held in the sunny climes of Bermuda. This was further enhanced when his first 2 games for the club were away in Honolulu and Las Vegas. Hunt was a first team regular with the Cosmos, playing as a winger or 3rd forward alongside Pele and Chinaglia. He may not have had the skill of the some of his team mates, but he impressed the crowd with his speed, stamina, and dogged determination.

Although the 1977 Cosmos were a talented team, they were also a team with a collection of large egos and questionable temperaments, none more so that the combustible Italian forward Giorgio Chinaglia. Hunt himself fell foul of his quick temper (and fists). Daring to criticise him in training by calling him “lazy”, Chinaglia responded by punching him in the face, resulting in an all out fight between the pair of them. When the dust settled they sat down for a clear the air chat, and in fact got on reasonably well for the rest of the season.  Hunt’s work rate, and his concern about the lack of it in some of his more talented teammates would also lead him to be seen telling Pele to “F*ck off” during the middle of a nationally televised game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Hunt had been performing tirelessly on the wing, Pele had decided to tell him that he wasn’t using his head and needed to slow down and think about the game more. Hunt responded with the above comment and raised the ire of some of his teammates for speaking to Pele in such a manner. Hunt had also got some fans backs up mid-season by making an obscene gesture towards them after being booed, although he managed to win them round again.

Hunt was one of the team’s best performers over the season, and was lively in every match. He also registered his first hat-trick in a 6-0 mauling of Toronto Metros-Croatia. He also played and scored in the record beating match against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, when 77,691 fans attended, the largest crowd figure in the history of soccer in America and Canada.

Off the pitch, the Cosmos were also the hottest tickets on the New York social scene, in part thanks to some clever early examples of cross-marketing by their owners, Warner Bros. Cosmos games were frequently attended by rock stars, film stars, politicians, and celebrities of all description, leading to Hunt having conversations with Mick Jagger and Henry Kissinger in the locker room, as well as attending the infamous Studio 54 nightclub on a semi-regular basis.

For his debut season Hunt played 23 games for the Cosmos, scoring 8 goals and registering 10 assists, with only 2 players playing more regular season games. After breezing through the playoffs they were to meet the Seattle Sounders in the 1977 Soccer Bowl, a match that would also be Pele’s last as a professional.  Hunt started the game and although no-one would dislodge Pele from the headlines, Hunt was the undoubted star of the show.  The game began inauspiciously for the Cosmos with Seattle dominating when in the 19th minute, a piece of impudence and quick thinking by Hunt would break the deadlock. Seattle goalkeeper Tony Chursky had nipped the ball off Hunt’s feet on an attack and rolled the ball out to kick the ball upfield without checking on Hunt’s position. Hunt nipped out in front of Chursky, stole the ball and rolled it into the empty net to put them one up, and leading to Pele lifting Hunt up in the air in celebration. Watch his cheeky goal here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQYmnOA5umE

The Sounders equalised, and with the match heading for extra time Hunt began another tireless sprint down the wing. Reaching the touchline after outpacing the defenders he put in an inch perfect cross for Chinaglia to head the winning goal. Hunt’s teammate Terry Garbett said of Hunt’s performance; “thank Goodness for Steve who was dynamite. It was a great exhibition and a great goal”. Hunt was awarded the MVP as the best player in the Soccer Bowl, which was some achievement when you think of who he was sharing the pitch with. Hunt had ended his first season in New York with a championship ring (the U.S. equivalent of a medal), and a high profile that had ended up with Hunt appearing on T.V. commercials in the states. He had stated that he would leave the Cosmos as the end of the season, but he was persuaded to stay.

The 1978 season would be another successful one for Hunt, featuring in 25 games, scoring 12 goals and making 12 others. This made him the 3rd Highest points scorer in the Cosmos with 36 (2 pts per goal, 1 per assist), behind Chinaglia and Vladislav Bogicevic. The Cosmos again reached the Soccer Bowl where they were to face the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Before the game Hunt revealed that he would be leaving after the game to return to England, and he asked the team to make the victory for him. In the end they beat the Rowdies 3-1 in front of 75,000 fans. Before the game fans held placards imploring him not to leave as he stood in the tunnel waiting to make his entrance and he stated that he had tears in his eyes at the thought of leaving.  He also nearly broke down after the warm up, but managed to keep his composure. With the Cosmos winning and the last few seconds of the match counting down on the clock, Hunt sunk to his knees on the Astroturf. He told reporters that he was thinking of his time in New York, the fans, and the good times he had had. He was also endearingly modest stating “I hope i’ve done enough to leave a bit of a memory”.

The fact that Hunt was leaving the team stunned a lot of the fans and his teammates. He had been talked early on in the 1978 season about leaving at the end, even though he would have to take a drop in salary of he went back to England. He stated that he saw the NASL as a stepping stone towards being a Division 1 player. He was living in New York, had a large salary, a well appointed apartment provided by Warner Bros, a personal fanbase, and was rubbing shoulders with celebrities on a weekly basis. Where could he go to better, or even match that?

In the Autumn of 1978 Hunt signed with Coventry City (as a Coventry fan I would have done much the same thing), largely because he had always dreamed of playing for England, and good as his performances were in America they went largely unnoticed back home. By playing regularly in the first division he would greatly increase his chances of getting a call-up, so he said goodbye to New York and hello Coventry.

By 1982 Hunt was still at Coventry, and still cap-less (he would later win 2 England caps in 1984), when he received an offer to go back to New York for the 1982 NASL season. The deal was that New York would pay Coventry $100,000 to sign him, with a clause stating that Coventry could buy him back at the end of the NASL season for the same amount.  Hunt was delighted to return, having realised that he missed New York as soon as he had returned to England. In turn the Cosmos were delighted to have him back. Ahmet Ertugrun, the Cosmos President, stated that his return was “a most generous gift to our fans and the team of an electric and popular player”. He also stated that it was “one of the historic moments of our club”, which is high praise when you’ve had stars the calibre of Pele playing for your team previously.

They say never go back however, and the Cosmos and NASL that Hunt returned to was not the same as the one he had left 4 years earlier. By 1982 the NASL’s peak had gone, crowds were down, the calibre of play and players was poorer, and general interest at all levels was beginning to tail off.

Hunt featured in 22 regular season games, scoring 9 goals and making 15. The Cosmos again reached the Soccer Bowl, which they won again, 1-0 against the Seattle Sounders. 4 years earlier in Hunt’s last Soccer Bowl appearance the attendance was 75,000; this year’s game drew only 22,364 fans. Hunt decided to return to England, for him “Pele had gone, and the magic and the crowds went with him”. Hunt returned to Coventry for 2 years after the game, before playing out the rest of his career with West Bromwich Albion. He retired due to injury at the age of just 30 in 1986, before moving into a career in coaching.

Hunt’s career as a Rosbif was remarkable. He played with some of the world’s finest players, in front of huge crowds, met celebrities and politicians, and even starred in ad campaigns. On top of this he also won a championship in every season he played abroad, and was greatly loved and respected by football fans the entire country over. The experience helped him as a player, with him stating that playing with the Cosmos “gave me new confidence and a better understanding of the game”. He also probably played in probably the only 2 seasons where football in America really threatened to break through and challenge the hegemony of American Football, Baseball, and Basketball as the 3 major sports. To paraphrase the famous saying – “may you play in interesting times” – Steve Hunt certainly did.

 

Laurie Abrahams – From Tailor’s Shop to NASL

Laurie Abrahams was one of the most prolific goalscorers in the NASL. Here is a profile of his career in the states. This article was originally hosted by Gav on his excellent Les Rosbifs blog. Many thanks to him, and go check out his blog.

In today’s time, when talent is highlighted at the under 9 level and players at the top level rarely have any experience of real-life work before becoming highly paid superstars it is worth remembering the people who came through a different way.

Laurie was born in Stepney, East London on the 3rd of April 1953, and had a tough upbringing and although talented on the football field was only playing semi-professionally for non-league Barking. His main job was working in a tailor’s shop, measuring up the customers, making trousers, and selling suits.  He has stated that he had no desire to play professionally as he felt he wouldn’t like the business. He actually only signed for Charlton Athletic in 1977 at the age of 24 in 1977.

After one season with Charlton, making 17 appearances upfront and scoring twice he was approached to move to the NASL and sign with the Boston based franchise, The New England Tea Man (the team’s odd name was due to the fact that they were owned by the Lipton Tea Company, and also to relate to the Boston tea party of 1773). The Lipton Tea Co. Were owned by Unilever, who in turn owned Charlton’s training ground, so when it came to putting a team together Charlton were the first port of call. The Tea Men were a new franchise and had decided to build their team around largely English talent. Irishman Noel Cantwell was named as Head Coach and Manchester United legend Dennis Viollett his assistant. Joining Abrahams on the team would be fellow striker Mike Flanagan (on loan from Charlton), midfielder Roger Gibbins, 37 year old goalkeeper Kevin Keelan, and ex England international Keith Weller amongst others.

Abrahams’ debut season in the NASL was a success, with the team winning their division and qualifying for the playoffs at the first attempt. The team was very dependent on Flanagan who notched a hugely impressive 30 goals from just 28 games. Abrahams played 17 games, notching a respectable 7 goals and 10 assists. During the season Abrahams had started to develop a reputation as being a bit of a difficult character, with even Noel Cantwell stated that he had rubbed him up the wrong way, and wasn’t sorry to see him go at the end of the season. Cantwell stated “he was a bit of a Jack-the-lad, he would play well for a week or two, then disappear, then come back and do something exceptional. I don’t think he took football seriously”

At the end of the season Abrahams left. The contract that the Tea Men had signed would mean that if he stayed another season they would have to pay more money to Charlton which they were unwilling to do.  Abrahams was approached by the Tulsa Roughnecks, another team who had debuted in 1978, and after he impressed in a friendly against Portsmouth was signed. The Roughnecks were owned by oilman Carl Moore, whose son Joe-Max would go on to play for Everton, and had caused a bit of a stir in the pro sports franchise desert of Oklahoma. Like the Tea Men, the Roughnecks were a largely “English” team under Head Coach Alan Hinton (ex Notts Forest, Derby, and Wolves). Abrahams would be paired upfront with Roger Davies, with David Nish at the back alongside Terry Darracott.

The 1979 season saw Abrahams start well in Tulsa, scoring 10 goals in 15 games, but another clash of personalities, this time with Alan Hinton saw him traded mid-season to Anaheim, home of Disneyland, and the California Surf NASL team. The Surf were not one of the NASL’s more successful franchises, and frequently only scraped through into the playoffs before being knocked out in the first round. His half season with the Surf showed his worth with 8 goals from 10 games. His first full season (1980) in California under English Head Coach Peter Wall was successful, scoring 17 goals from 28 games and making 17 assists. Abrahams was the undoubted star of the Surf franchise, wand it was felt that if he played well, the team played well and vice versa. He was also not averse to having a sly dig at his coach stating in the press that “we’ve played well and delighted a few people, but the coach shouldn’t be too pleased with himself. Some days we go out there and get slaughtered”. At the end of the season Wall was fired and replaced by fellow Englishman Laurie Calloway.

The close season also saw Abrahams’ first experience of indoor soccer. The Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) had been founded in 1978 playing a winter schedule, and had proved to be hugely successful in terms of fan attendance, with some indoor teams outdrawing their outdoor counterparts. The indoor pitch was roughly the same size as an ice hockey rink, with 6 players per team, endless substitutions, rebounds, and a healthy dose of razzamatazz. Eager to cash in on this boom for indoor soccer, the NASL launched its own indoor competition to be played in the winter.  Abrahams had had talks with the MISL’s Hartford Hellions, but terms couldn’t be agreed. Instead Abrahams stayed in Anaheim and played the 1980-81 NASL indoor season with the Surf, scoring 14 goals in as many games. The Surf won their indoor divison, but again lost in the playoffs at the first hurdle.

The 1981 season was not a happy one for Abrahams. Although he featured heavily in the first half of the season, by the second half his relationship with the club had broken down and he found himself increasingly sidelined and hardly featured. The club were reputedly trying to trade him to another team, but he had had a “no trade” clause inserted into his contract making this impossible. From this point Abrahams has admitted himself that his attitude could have been better. The Surf management went around each player asking them if they wanted to play, Abrahams refused to say, not because he didn’t want to play, but upset that anyone would question his desire to play. The management took this as a refusal to play and told him that he would not be involved in any future games. Then on a road trip, the management backtracked telling him he could play, at which Abrahams refused to play. His ex-coach at California Peter Wall has stated that “Laurie was a weird guy with a strange personality, but a brilliant finisher and quick”.  He also stated that Laurie had a difficult attitude and could easily rub people up the wrong way, and wasn’t the world’s best trainer. Another insight was given by his English teammate Mark Lindsay, who said that one day Abrahams out of the blue was going to go into the management office and demand a better contract. If they refused he was going to quit and go back to making trousers.

At the end of the 1981 season the Surf folded, an all too common experience for players in U.S. professional soccer until the MLS provided a more stable environment. The players from franchises who had folded were placed in a special NASL “Dispersal Draft”, where they hoped they would be picked up by another NASL team.

Abrahams was picked up by the Roughnecks, and head back to Tulsa for the next 2 NASL seasons, forming a formidable striking presence with fellow English import Ron Futcher. By this time the future of the NASL was in doubt, and the quality of play and fan interest had dropped sharply. However, these 2 seasons would prove to be Abrahams most successful in his career. In his first season he featured regularly, scoring 17 goals in 31 games. His relationship with the Roughnecks Welsh coach Terry Hennessey was by no means perfect, as Hennessey was always upset with Abrahams’ efforts in training, but he just felt he could play for him. Even Hennessey came close to losing it with him, once saying to him “you are the hardest player I have ever had to manage, when you stop scoring goals you will be gone”. Abrahams responded, somewhat disparagingly towards his teammates, “all you have to do is make sure these clowns get the ball to me”, which at least gives an insight into his levels of self-confidence. Mark Lindsay has also said that maybe some people didn’t get Abraham’s rather dry sense of humour.

It was to be the 1983 season that would be the high point, probably for pro sports in Tulsa. Like most franchises by this stage, the Roughnecks were existing on a shoestring budget (they actually had the lowest budget of any team in the NASL), and were thought to have one of the weaker teams, stuffed with rejects from other teams. Despite this they won their division, with Abrahams again prolific scoring 11 goals from 22 games. They excelled in the playoffs reaching the 1983 Soccer Bowl against the Toronto Blizzard. 58,452 fans saw the Roughnecks defeat the Blizzard 2-0, and claim an unlikely championship.

The close season saw the Roughnecks in danger of folding; only a fan appeal saw them able to field a team to defend their 1983 triumph. Abrahams was gone however, being traded to the San Diego Sockers for midfielder Peter Skouras and reputedly, 2 used footballs. Abrahams scoring touch deserted him in San Diego, with him scoring only once from 19 appearances. Abrahams was largely used from the bench, and said that “San Diego was a very strange team, with a lot of factions”.

After the season the NASL folded, leaving Abrahams ninth in the NASL all-time points scorer list with 76 goals and 63 assists from 162 games. The San Diego Sockers jumped ship to the MISL, a move that made sense as the Sockers had a higher average attendance playing the indoor version of the game. Abrahams was sold however, moving to the once great New York Cosmos for $25,000. The Cosmos by 1984 were playing in from of 4 figure crowds, the stars had gone, and Warner Bros. weren’t able to continue funding the club. They had failed to post their bond for the prospective 1985 NASL season, and instead joined the MISL. Abrahams played 18 games and scored 7 goals before the Cosmos sold him mid-season to the Kansas City Comets, one of the stronger teams in the MISL. This proved to be a good move as after 33 games of the season the Cosmos folded.

Abrahams spent 2 seasons in Kansas City, scoring 38 goals from 55 games, before being reunited with his 1983 NASL Championship coach Terry Hennessey. Hennessey was working in Australia, acting as Head Coach of the Melbourne Croatia in the NSL. Abrahams spent the summer there, scoring 5 goals from 9 games, before returning to the MISL for his final season as a pro. He signed another strong team, the Wichita Wings for the 1986-87 season. After 23 games and 14 goals, he retired at the end of the season, aged 34.

Abrahams was an example of a player who made a career for himself in America. Unknown in his home country he ended his NASL career in ninth place in the all-time points scoring list with 216. He played 167 NASL games, scoring 76 goals and registering 64 assists, and won one NASL Championship. When asked about the secret of his success in America he stated that one reason was it “was easier scoring goals in San Diego in the summer, than Hull in the winter”. He continues to live in America, where he is Assistant Soccer Coach at Irvine Valley College in California.

Clive Toye interview

My interview with Clive Toye, ex-GM of the New York Cosmos, Chicago Sting, Toronto Blizzard, and the Baltimore Bays.
Many thanks to Gav @ les rosbifs for helping to set up the interview, and hosting it ob his excellent blog.

When it comes to talking about the most influential people in U.S. soccer in the last century, Englishman Clive Toye would be comfortably ensconced in the top 5. Along with Welshman Phil Woosnam, he saw the potential for soccer stateside when few other people cared, and the two of them almost single-handedly kept the NASL alive during its early years. Through hard work, determination, and an overwhelming desire to force the beautiful game on to the consciousness of the American people, they succeeded in making the league a success and bringing soccer to millions.

Toye was instrumental in almost all of the defining moments in the NASL. He was there at the start in 1967 as the GM of the Baltimore Bays, in 1969 when only 5 sides would compete after short-sighted owners pulled out. He brought Soccer back to New York City with the Cosmos, and brought the financial muscle of Warner Communications into the game. He chased down Pele over 5 years and eventually signed him, as well as Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, George Best (almost), and an Italian striker who will remain nameless… He was there when the Cosmos, the team he had built, turned into a Frankenstein’s Monster of a team, and shamefully forced him out. He worked wonders and built successful teams in Chicago and Toronto, and was there when the NASL finally bowed out in 1985, despite his best efforts to save it.

He was there arranging coaching clinics for thousands of school kids, he was there when they painted the pitch with green paint for Pele’s debut, and he was there when one of the biggest draws at a Cosmos press conference was a chimpanzee on loan from a New York zoo.

Even after the NASL folded he still wanted to make Soccer a success, and set up a new incarnation of the American Soccer League so the game still had a base in America. He brought the likes of Flamengo, Juventus, and America Cali to the country to play games, and finally he worked for CONCACAF, helping nurture Soccer over all of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

As a Rosbif, I doubt whether any player, coach or administrator could match his achievements in the late 20th century. He convinced Pele to come to America by saying that “if you go to another country, you can only win a cup or league, if you come to America, you can win a country”. Pele came and conquered, but I think it is only fair to pay tribute to one of the key men who made it possible, and who laid the foundations for the MLS, and for the future of the game in America.

Monkfromhavana: How did you go from being chief Sports Writer for the Daily Express to General Manager of the Baltimore Bays in the NASL? 

CLIVE TOYE: My life’s ambition had been achieved on the Express – and we sold 4.5 million a day then – the World Cup won and another 32 years to a gold watch and farewell. No, I could not stand the thought, there must be something else.  English clubs were very badly run in those days from the PR and marketing point of view and I made a proposal toChelsea which the chairman Joe Mears and his son Brian approved but the other three board members said no. So, I had met Bill Cox when the Express sent me out to North America in ’61 and he was the leader in the pro soccer movement and I helped Bill a lot – just to get the stories – and then got more involved and then said bugger it, we’ll go for a couple of years, get soccer started and learn about us marketing etc.

What was the standard of football like in the early days of the NASL? Danny Blanchflower wasn’t too complimentary during his CBS commentary?

No, it wasn’t great. Danny gave no thought to the fact that everything was put together in no time at all, what the hell did he expect?

When you and Phil Woosnam were sat in your office in the locker room at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta you both seemed to share a vision of how to out soccer on the map in America?

Not sure we had time to share a vision. As I said in my book ‘A Kick In The Grass’ , Phil – a Welshman – had this feeling of mission in life. I just had the feeling of ‘you bloody well will like soccer’.

What was your blueprint to try and achieve this?

Get the kids playing. Get soccer in everyone’s backyard. Get a league and grow it gradually. Get the World Cup here asap. Get owners in New York with money, and get Pele.

Was there any time in those difficult early years where you thought about returning to the UK? What kept your spirits up?

At one point I was offered the job as General Manager ofLeicesterCity– then in Division 1 with Len Shipman, Chairman of the league, as Chairman. I was very tempted but Lamar Hunt asked me to hold off – and wrote to Len Shipman about it – for a few months to see if we found the rightNew Yorkowners. We found Warner Communications, I became GM and that was that.

The NASL was based on a lot of imports from England and around the world. Do you feel that American talent was given enough space to play? Especially when the imports tended to be only on loan deals.

Americans were not yet playing the game. If anyone had said Americans would be playing in top euro clubs, they’d have been carted off to the loony bin. But we had a rule – three Americans must be on each team on the field at all times. And slowly they came through. More than the MLS has now!!!!

Attracting fans and journalists to the games was one of the major challenges for teams in the NASL. What methods did you use to get people to give football a go?

In short – confronting them at all times in all ways. Not letting a PR opportunity to go to waste – not letting a school go without a visit – not letting a community miss the chance of a coaching lesson – not letting a day pass without creating a moment of contact.

How did you find Steve Ross as an owner? He seemed to be someone who started something on a business level but gradually became infatuated with the game – sometimes at the risk of losing perspective?

I want to get Pele, I said. Who’s he, he said? Ok, go and get him he said, so I did. But Warner Communications wasn’t just Steve Ross…..there were the Erteguns (Ahmet & Nesuhi) and all was not rosy in the garden. One day Jay Emmett, Ross’ number 2, said “go and talk to Nesuhi, he’s feeling left out, talk about the players for next year”. So, having already made up my mind about needing two, I went to see Nesuhi and he said he had a list of about 11 players. I thought I would keep him happy with a chat about it. He looked at the list, said we’ll sign him, him, him, him, and him. Trouble was, three of them were left backs. Then Steve Ross became enamoured with that blank-blank-blank Chinaglia and lost all perspective on all things at all times. Ludicrous. I had great support for six and a half years, then it all became idiotic. So I said “I’ve run this club for all those years on my terms; we either continue that way or there is no point in my staying”, and Steve Ross said ok then, off you go.

 

How much of the blame for the failure of franchises could be laid at the owners feet? A lot of them didn’t seem to have a long-term vision about their teams?

All of it was the owners’ fault, the owners who didn’t have a bloody clue and wanted the obvious – TV and franchise fees – and the traditional American ways of doing things.  The good guys like Lamar Hunt, Bob Herman, Sonny Werblin, George Strawbridge and Walt Daggett were overwhelmed by the jackasses.

Prior to Pele, you came close to signing George Best, even calling a press conference to announce his arrival. Why didn’t Best end up at the Cosmos?

I had a verbal agreement with George. Went to Old Trafford and did a proper deal with Man U – Tommy Doc (Tommy Docherty – United’s manager) and Les Olive, the secretary – 10,000 quid for every game George was available to play. So I went to see George to finish it off and could not find him. Tommy Doc sent Pat Crerand with me to all of George’s haunts but we could not find him. So I left a message – I’ll be at Ringway (now Manchester Airport) at 11 am tomorrow, see you there or else. Well, a year later he had signed for the Los Angeles Aztecs and we played them in a pre-season game in Tempe, Arizona and there was George, lining up for the national anthem. So I went up behind him, wrapped my arms around him and said, so that’s where you got to, you little bugger. He turned around and said oh, hello Clive and we smiled and that was that. I was able to get in one of my better lines when I signed Pele and one of the media asked….”what about George Best?” I said “why sign George Best when you can sign the best?”

You were famously the man who brought Pele to America after many years trying. Can you tell us about how it all came about?

Phil and I decided that had to be done way back in 1969, all we had to do was find the New York owners with money and then persuade Pele. First meeting was in Jamaica in 1971, before I’d even signed one player for the Cosmos.  The conclusive meeting was in Brussels in 1975 which is when he finally said he would sign. I have his signature on a piece of hotel stationary, 2 years he said for so much money. A few weeks later we met againRomeand I put the final offer to him…..less money for three years; I needed him in 1977 when Giants Stadium would be built. “Clivee”, he said, he always pronounced the final e….”Clivee, my English is not good”….”yes it is fine”, I said….”no”, he said “in Belgium I said I would sign for two years, you offer me less for three years. My English is not good”. Anyway that was it, he signed inHamilton,Bermudaa few weeks later.

At the risk of sending your blood pressure up to dangerous levels, can you tell us a little about Giorgio Chinaglia and his influence on the Cosmos?

Shithouse. Lying bastard. Human garbage. How about that? And as Jay Emmett said to me years later – what was it between Chinaglia and Steve Ross? Buggered if I know, said he, choosing his words carefully.

After you left the Cosmos in 1977 you became President of the Chicago Sting. How did the Sting compare to the Cosmos? They seemed to have problems attracting fans and getting the right stadium.

We didn’t have a stadium, which was part of the problem. Soldier field was undergoing renovation, so we had to move between the two baseball stadia, Wrigley Field and ComiskeyPark. We did ok, got crowds up in the 30s, but I didn’t like Chicago and the owner Lee Stern wanted to do things his way. That was fine, Lee was a decent guy….as I said to him the other day….you’re the only person I ever worked for that I still speak to.

Were you in any way bitter about your exit from the Cosmos? It seemed that as someone who had been there from the start you had become sidelined by factions within the team, that had turned into something of a circus.

Bitter? I could have shot the bastards.

Did you feel that Phil Woosnam’s policy of expansion for the 1978 season was a good idea? Many people feel that this decision was one that unwittingly set the NASL on a downward spiral.

Yes, Phil and I had many agreements and some disagreements. Expansion was one of them. I was totally against it, as were some of the owners…..but not enough of them. So the good guys in ownership were soon to be outnumbered by the idiots, and just because you’re a millionaire doesn’t mean you’re not an idiot.

During your time in the states you signed and saw a lot of English players. Which players stood out for you, both on the pitch, and in making a contribution off it?

English coaches first…….Gordon Bradley, Tony Waiters, Bob Houghton, Rodney Marsh, Ron Newman as player and coach. Then, dear me, so many did something to help….Barry Mahy, Steve Hunt, David Fairclough, Trevor Francis, Matt Dillon, Richie Blackmore, Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks…..

After 2 years at the Sting you quit and moved to the Toronto Blizzard? Was it more of the same problems, or was football in Canada a different proposition?

Toronto was great, We had crowds as high as 40,000-plus. Also, it was only an hour’s flight from my home in New York and Cuban cigars were legal. We worked on Canadian players, ended up reaching the Soccer Bowl – the final – in 83 and 84, playing as many as eight Canadians. They were the same players who qualified for the World Cup finals in 86, Canada’s only time.

By the early 1980’s the indoor game had seemed to have stolen a march on outdoor soccer. How did you feel about the indoor game? Initially you seemed quite supportive?

Yes it was bad that it came….caused us to pay attention to a load of rubbish.

What in your opinion caused the collapse of the NASL? Too rapid expansion? The failure to get the 1986 World Cup?

Too much expansion, too many idiot owners.

After the death of NASL league President Howard Samuels in 1984 you stepped into the breach at a crucial time. How difficult was that time trying to keep the league afloat, and what was the substance of the 43 page report you issued to help keep the game alive?

A hopeless situation. Howard Samuels had messed up some important legal and financial timings, Cosmos ownership had allegedly gone from Warner Comms to that Italian player we mentioned earlier and there wasn’t anything there to save.

When the NASL collapsed in the spring of 1985 did you think that Football’s time was up in North America?

By no means, We had built a huge foundation for the game as a game. Millions of kids playing, girls as well as boys. People knew about Soccer, about the World Cup, about the great clubs. They saw it on TV, they played it in the parks. When we started people asked….”what’s the World cup?”

In 1987-88 yourself and Chuck Blazer were integral in the establishment of the American Soccer League. With the collapse of the NASL what steps would be taken to ensure the ASL survived?

We started a semi-pro league so that something would be happening. I also formed Mundial Sports Group and we promoted really big tournaments all over featuring teams such as theUSnational team,Juventus,Colombia, Flamengo,Benfica,AmericaCali etc etc etc.

What do you feel about the state of football in America in 2011? Is it time that the MLS changed its single-entity structure and gave owners the ability to invest at their own levels, or are owners still too inclined to take risks?

It’s now an American game. I’ve Just driven home with my grandson and three friends with them having a big discussion about Barcelona and Messi. Also these days the country takes it for granted that Friedel and Dempsey and a host of others play professionally in top leagues. Of course the US should have the World Cup again. Today there are so many games are on TV you could spend all day watching, compared to back in 1970 when Phil Woosnam and I could not find a single bloody TV station to carry the 1970 World Cup games for which we had paid the huge sum of $15,000 for the rights.

Being a CONCACAF Hall of famer, and also having worked for CONCACAF as special advisor how do you feel about the current situation with FIFA and the involvement of Jack Warner & Chuck Blazer in corruption claims?

I shake my head at that question. I know that Chuck did what he knew was right – the rest is still a right bloody mess as I write this and I do not know how it will end. I do know that I was Sir Stanley Rous’ ghost writer when he was president of FIFA and, as I said in my book ‘A Kick In The Grass’, as far as I’m concerned he was the last honest man in that position. I am no fan of ‘Septic Bladder’ and won two law suits against Bladder and FIFA some years ago.

You seemed to be a lot more pragmatic than Phil Woosnam who was prone to hyperbolic statements about the NASL. How would things have turned out if you had become the NASL commissioner, and he had gone to launch the Cosmos?

Disaster. I could not have stood the owners all day, Phil could not have put up with all the public presence and media attention we needed. That was one advantage I always had – as an (ex) journalist, I always got on well with the media, didn’t think of them as enemies, as so many people do. And I knew what they needed….stories. And I knew stories! So I told them, I fabricated them, I gave the media a good, warm welcome and reason to come and see us.

There are many stories regarding the Cosmos – can you tell us a little about Harold the Chimp, painting the pitch for Pele’s debut, Shep Messing’s unique way of attracting press via VIVA magazine, and “the Italian” threatening to throw the NASL lawyers out of the window when the Cosmos weren’t admitted to the 1985 NASL season?

It wasn’t long before the media would turn up in strength any time I said we’d be having a press meeting so we mentioned a new signing and there, in uniform, was Harold the Chimp, signed for the day from Jungle Habitat. He did a great job until the call of nature caused him to pee all over the pile of press releases.

Shep was his own PR man. Posed nude for Playgirl, I think it was, and had to put up with much locker room sniggering over his attributes. Then he sued me, for $1500 I think over some contract dispute. Got lots of media media attention, of course. He got free legal advice, from his father, and when we had the meeting to get the depositions I recall it ended in great hilarity. We bump into each other occasionally and always have a good laugh about something. Not quite the same legal meeting when whatshisname failed to come up with the Cosmos legal guarantees/performance bond etc for the 1985 season. When we had the formal meeting required by law to throw the Cosmos out of the league, he threatened to throw the lawyer out of the window, rather high up it was, too. Until then, there was a chance of the league surviving – I had owners ready in Charlotte and Houston and was, in fact, in a meeting with new Vancouverowners when the wire service story came through suggesting the Cosmos were not going to post the bond. End of Vancouverinterest.

Why did the teams seem to stop using the tried and trusted methods for attracting fans, and start using gimmicks? Ron Newman worked so hard in Atlanta, yet when he was Coach at the Fort Lauderdale Strikers they were the most gimmicky team around (entrances, concerts after the games)?

Disagree totally. We all used every “gimmick” we could think of but we called them promotions. Concerts afterwards – The Beach Boys, the Fifth Dimension, big names I forget now. We had armadillo races, parachute landings, stagecoach races, half-time kicking contests for a new car. Anything and everything to get a mention, to get attention, to get someone to come to the game and enjoy themselves so they might come back again.

Thanks to Clive Toye for agreeing to be interviewed, and for giving such great answers. Here’s hoping Exeter City do well in 2011-12!

 

 

Utah Golden Spikers / Utah Pioneers

Utah Golden Spikers logo

The Utah Golden Spikers joined the American Soccer League only 3 weeks before the 1976 season kicked off, having only been founded on the 2nd March. George Brokaladis was instrumental in bringing professional soccer to Utah, with him representing the Chicago-based owners of the team.

The Spikers were placed in the ASL’s West Division, an entirely new division made up of 5 first year franchises, as part of the ASL’s westward expansion policy which had been planned over the previous 2 years. Lining up against the Spikers were the Los Angeles Skyhawks, Oakland Buccaneers, Tacoma Tides, and the Sacramento Spirits. The team would play a 21 game regular season, with one game being a game against a touring team from another country.

Tim Kotronakis (known as Tim Themy) was named as the team’s President, with Bill Hesterman named as VP.

The Spikers home would be Fairgrounds Stadium, although their renovation work of the stadium was halted after an injunction was served by local car racing promoter Ferrol Papworth. Papworth claimed that he still had the rights to the stadium, and that the Spikers had no permission to change the stadium around. Papworth had operated stock cars at the stadium until 1973, when he was denied a license because of noise infractions. This delayed the renovation work for a week as the matter was discussed, before Papworth’s injunction was thrown out. Due to the delay, the inaugural fixture of the Spikers would take place at Rice Stadium, a 32,500 capacity ground on the University of Utah’s campus.

The team’s head coach was named as Nick Kambolis, who had previously had a 3 season spell as Head Coach of the ASL’s New York Apollo.  He was under pressure as he had to create a competitive team within 3 weeks, and assess players in league play rather than in pre-season exhibitions.

Key players on the Spikers roster were English goalkeeper Peter Thomas, formerly of Coventry City and the NASL’s Washington Diplomats. In front of him the defence would be marshalled by Argentinian defender Daniel Mammana. Irishman Sid Wallace was signed as the team’s main goal threat, supported by Vince McCarthy, Bill McNicol, and Kiriako Fitilis.

The Los Angeles Skyhawks would be the opposition for the first ever professional game to be held in Utah on May 2nd 1976. 8,000 fans turned out to see the Spikers lose 1-0. English striker Jimmy Rolland got the goal midway through the first half. The goal wasn’t a classic, as he tapped home from 3 yards after a pass from Steve Ralbovsky. Overall the team’s defence played well, but they lacked an attacking threat. Kambolis wasn’t unhappy with the defeat, as the Skyhawks had been able to play exhibition matches before the season began, and thus were better prepared.

The Spikers started poorly, losing the first 3 games of the season. This was mostly due to the team getting to know each other and tryouts for the team basically happening in league play. A 1-1 draw in an exhibition match against the Sacramento Spirits raised hopes that the team was improving however. Newcomers to the team were Trinidadian forward Tony Douglas, Irish defender Tom O’Dea, and veteran ASL defender George Kondilidis (formerly of the New York Apollo).

Tony Douglas - star forward

The changes seemed to work as the Spikers registered their first victory, a 1-0 win over the Tacoma Tides, with a goal from newcomer Tony Douglas. Approximately 2,000 fans saw the victory, with the Spikers dominating, taking 17 shots on Bruce Arena in the tides goal. Scottish midfielder Vinny McCarthy said that he felt the team was beginning to come together.

The end of May saw the owner and founder of the Spikers, George Brokalakis relieved of his duties of the club, with a new corporate structure being put in place. Team President Tim Themy stated that Brokalakis had severed all ties with the club, and the Spikers would now focus on giving Utah a winning team first, and a sound business second. Themy said that the franchise was financially sound, although it would make a loss for the 1976 season, and probably the 1977 season as well. Bill Hesterman was relieved of the position of Vice-President and named as Public Relations Director and General Manager. Head Coach Nick Kambolis was given full backing and some GM duties. Themy stated that Brokalakis and his associates were relieved from his position because of alleged mismanagement of the team.

Midway through the season the Spikers scored a notable scalp by beating the Irish side Hibernians 2-0. Hibernians were on tour of the ASL, and each team’s game against them would count as part of the regular season record.  Hibernians players however were seemingly treating the tour like a holiday, so were not in peak form or fitness when they played the ASL teams. Three members of the Spikers were familiar with the opposition as Peter Thomas, Sid Wallace and Vinny McCarthy all played over the winter in Ireland with Waterford. Trinidadian forward Tony Douglas scored both goals, the first coming after just 45 seconds of the first half on an assist from Sid Wallace. At half-time the Irish players reputedly asked for salt tablets to help their dehydration, caused by the heat and their drinking around the pool in the Holiday Inn. Douglas’ second was the result of a 40 yard pass from the Brazilian midfielder Helio ‘Boom-Boom’ Barbosa. The Spikers were thankful for their goalkeeper Peter Thomas, who performed heroically to keep the Hibernians forwards at bay.

The game against Hibernians would have an unexpected consequence however. The team’s the Hibernians faced were liable for their travel payments, and the Spikers owed the Irish team money. They also owed the league franchise payments and fines, which totalled around $13,500. The ASL filed an injunction against the Spikers on June 18th to claim the money back, or be banned from completing the ASL season.

Brazilian midfielder (and Pele lookalike) Helio Barbosa was named as the Spikers Assistant Coach.

By June the team was in financial difficulty. The team had reputedly fallen $60,000 behind in its payments to the league, and the ASL’s President, Nick Scalvounos, had even been allegedly assaulted by Spikers President Tim Themy. The Spikers would have to bring their financial affairs before a Salt Lake City judge. On the field however the team were proving to be successful, winning 6 games on the bounce. The signing of Tony Douglas had proved instrumental as he performed impressively and scored goals.

In August, Spikers President & General Manager Tim Themy was suspended from the ASL for 4 years and fined $2,000 for his assault on ASL President Nick Scavounos. This ended almost 3 months of infighting, accusations, counter-accusations and vendettas between the Spikers front office and the ASL.

On August 3rd, after 18 games of the season, the Utah Golden Spikers license was revoked due to the $18,000 they owed to the ASL and the assault on Scalvounos. The team had also reputedly incurred debts of more than $100,000. Six days later the Spikers place in the ASL was taken by the Utah Pioneers, who inherited the Golden Spikers record.  The team’s new owners included Joseph Jimenez and Tony Escobar, both board members of a southern Californian company called Frontier USA, a 23 million dollar company which dealt in collateral lending. Escobar was named as General Manager, and told the press that the company was not interested in making a profit, only in achieving positive publicity for their company. Also the Pioneers could be used to lessen Frontier USA’s tax liability. The financial future of the Pioneers seemed rosy however, as they stated they were willing to pour in as much money as necessary to make the team a success. They had reputedly set a budget of $559,000 for the following season. At the team’s press conference at the Gala Hilton Hotel, they admitted having no players and nowhere to play, a tricky situation given they were to play against the Tacoma Tides the following evening.

Nick Kambolis was named as the coach (having coached the Spikers) and was tasked with trying to sign up ex-Spikers players to complete the season. Three local people with soccer experience were named as part of the team’s front office, with Keith Fisher, Bruno Gerzeli, and Joseph Raymond taking positions. It was announced that the Tides game would take place at the team’s new stadium as Cottonwood High School. The Spikers roster signed up to play for the Pioneers, having been guaranteed their plane fare home in an escrow account established by the club. The Pioneers management also agreed to play the player’s salaries one week in advance, as well as a generous bonus package for the remaining games and playoffs. Escobar also agreed to pay the travel expenses of the other ASL teams coming to Salt Lake City.

The Pioneers owners would not assume any of the Spikers debts however. This situation led to Spikers resident Tim Themy suggesting that he might sue the Pioneers ownership for taking the place of the Spikers.

The Spikers/Pioneers finished the regular season with 10 wins, 3 ties, and 7 defeats from their shortened 20 game season. This saw them finish 3rd in the West Division behind the Skyhawks and the Tides, with the 4th best record in the ASL. They scored 28 goals and conceded 22, for a total record of 84 points, and qualified for the playoffs. Tony Douglas was the team’s leading goals and points scorer with 7 goals and 4 assists from his 17 games for 18 points. This placed him 11th in ASL scoring for the 1976 season.

In the first round of the playoffs the Pioneers were paired in a winner takes all game against the Tacoma Tides in Tacoma. Unfortunately the Pioneers lost 2-1 and were eliminated.

The Pioneers folded after the playoff defeat.

In December 1976, ex-Spikers President Tim Themy was named in a suit by the U.S. Attorney’s Office over possible tax liabilities of the Utah Golden Spikers.

Utah Golden Spikers / Utah Pioneers 1976 roster:

Goalkeepers: Peter Thomas, Terry Weekes

Defence: Daniel Mammana, Gus Collesides, Paulo Peralta, Hans Henchen, John Micklewright, Kiriako Fitilis, George Kondilidis, Tom O’Dea, Ed Kelly, George Kossman

Midfield: Helio Barbosa, Jon Swerniak, Ramon Ramirez, Dee Benson, Arturo Martunich, Cres McTavish, Tony Escobar, Vinny McCarthy, Dimitrios Dimitrakis, Tibor Gemeri, Fernando Carvalho

Forwards: Sid Wallace, Billy McNicol, Tony Douglas

Midfielder Dee Benson went on to become a judge, and currently presides as a Federal Judge for The United States District Court in Utah.

 

Southern California Lazers

The Southern California Lazers were a professional soccer team who lasted just one season in the American Soccer League (ASL)

The team was based in Torrance, a south-western part of Los Angeles County and competed in the 1978 season. The Lazers home stadium would be Murdock Stadium at El Camino College, which had a capacity of 12,127

The Lazers were placed in the ASL’s Western Division, where they lined up against 2 more Los Angeles based teams, the Los Angeles Skyhawks, and the California Sunshine.  Rounding out the 4 team division was the Sacramento Gold. The regular season was 24 games, and draws were permitted.

The teams head coach was English defender Laurie Calloway, who had spent the previous 5 season playing in the NASL with the San Jose Earthquakes. This was to be his first appointment in a career that would see him coaching professional soccer teams in America to this day. Assisting him was fellow Englishman Jimmy Melia. Melia had been a professional in England with Liverpool and Wolves, and had coaching experience with Aldershot, Crewe, and Southport.

The size of the roster was unlimited, but a maximum of 6 foreign players were allowed. The budget for the team was probably around the ASL average of between $300,000 and $350,000 for the season.

The biggest star on the roster was ex-Brazil international defender Rildo Menezes who had played the 1977 season with the almighty New York Cosmos of the NASL. Partnering him in defence was English defenders Jack Howarth (signed from Southport), and Paul Cahill (ex-Portsmouth). An intriguing addition to the roster was 20 year old Scottish midfielder John McGeady, who had played 16 games for Sheffield United. His son, Aiden would go on to play for Celtic, and currently features in the Russian Premier League with Spartak Moscow. Charged with scoring the goals for the new franchise was Irish striker Sid Wallace, who had previously played in the ASL with the Utah Golden Spikers. Keeping goal would be Trinidad & Tobago international goalkeeper John Granville who was signed from the NASL’s Oakland Stompers. His back-up was Hugo Buitrago.

Laurie Calloway on his time as Head Coach:

“I got the job ten days before the start of the season. They asked if I minded them bringing in a fellow from England who could bring some players with him. It turned out to be Jimmy Melia. I said: ‘Sure, I used to play with him and clean his boots’. Actually, I didn’t. I was a bit older but I did use to clean Ron Flowers’ boots and it felt like an honour”.

“It was a good cop, bad cop thing and Jimmy taught me a lot. We had a bunch of rag tags from England, but also Rildo, the Brazilian international. He had an emotional interest in being in LA, so came to play for very little money. He owned plenty of apartments at Copacabana, so he didn’t need the cash”.

The Lazers inaugural game was a 1-1 tie with the California Sunshine. The game had finished tied after the 90 minutes, plus two ten minute overtime periods. The attendance was 2,700 at the Sunshine’s LaBard Stadium.

After the 24 game regular season, the Lazers were placed 3rd in the Western Division, having amassed a record of 15 wins, 1 tie, and 8 losses for a total of 117 points. They scored 44 goals and conceded 29. They qualified for the playoffs as they had the 4th best overall record in the ASL.

In the first round of the playoffs the Lazers were up against the California Sunshine in a winner takes all game. The Sunshine won in sudden death on a penalty goal from Brazilian defender Ramon Moraldo. The Lazers had played the last 17 minutes of regular time and overtime with 9 men after having 2 players sent off. The defeat eliminated the Lazers from the playoffs.

Irish striker Sid Wallace was the Lazers top scorer with 14 goals and 7 assists from 24 games. He finished the 4th highest scorer in the ASL with 35 points. Goalkeeper John Granville finished the season as the highest ranked goalkeeper in the ASL. He led the league with a goals against average of 0.99 from his 18 games. Granville would go on to play in England for Millwall, Wycombe Wanderers, and numerous non-league teams.

Four players from the Lazers roster were selected by the leagues Head Coaches on to the ASL’s All-star team.  Granville, Wallace, Rildo, and Paul Cahill were all selected after their stellar performances during the season.

After the 1978 season the team folded. Calloway returned to play for the San Jose Earthquakes the next year, whilst Jimmy Melia became head coach of the Cleveland Cobras in the ASL. McGeady returned to Britain where his professional career would end with 2 games for Newport County. Sid Wallace followed Melia to the Cobras, whilst Jack Howarth returned to England to sign with Basingstoke after his one year sojourn in the states.

Full 1978 ASL Roster:

Goalkeepers – John Granville, Peter Thomas, Hugo Buitrago, David Theobald

Defenders – Rildo, Paul Cahill, Jack Howarth, Mike Young, Kurt Stierle, Keith Walley, Frank Towers

Midfielders – John McGeady, Paul Johnson, Juan Sandoval, Carlos Ravel, Charlie Kadupski, Jim Popov

Forwards – Sid Wallace, Nikica Jankovic, Zivorad Stamenkovic

Miami Americans

The Miami Americans were a professional soccer team in the American Soccer League, though they only featured for the 1980 season before folding. The franchise was originally based in New Jersey, but in the early months of 1980 the New Jersey Americans owner Joseph Raymond sold the franchise to an English consortium that moved the team to Miami. In the process of the move the new owners dispensed with most of the playing and back office staff.

The Americans played their home games at the Tropical Park stadium, a 10,000 capacity ground in the Olympia Heights area of Miami.

The Miami Americans Stadium - Tropical Park

The ASL in 1980 was to be an 8 team league, split into 2 four team divisions, A National Conference and an American Conference.  The top 2 sides in each division after the regular season would meet in a best of three playoff series to decide who would play in the ASL Championship game. The Americans were placed into the American Conference, lining up against the Sacramento Gold, California Sunshine, and another new franchise, the Golden Gate Gales from San Francisco. The regular season would be 28 games long, with each team playing each other 4 times.

The English investors looking to bring the New Jersey Americans to Miami were named as the artist Barry Leighton-Jones, and broker Stanley Worshore. Both of them were based in South Florida, and co-owned the Fort Lauderdale Saints soccer team of the semi-professional Southern Soccer League.  Jones was quoted as being “very excited” about the move, with a “60-40” chance in favour of the teams move. Even if the team didn’t make the move in time for the 1980 season, they would be prepared to wait for 1981.

The Americans Head Coach and GM, Ron Newman

Before the franchise had been sold the potential English ownership group had begun discussions with Ron Newman about taking the job. Newman had been a successful coach and player in the higher profile North American Soccer League (NASL) with the Dallas Tornado and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. He had also had a championship winning season in the ASL as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Newman had been dismissed at the Strikers Head Coach after the 1979 season, although he was in the process of filing papers against the Strikers ownership to collect the money he was owed on his contract. Newman was very interested in the Americans job, and convinced that the sale and move of the team would happen.  He also thought a franchise in Miami could work, although he had frowned about soccer’s potential in Miami before, due to the poor performance of the Miami Toros in the NASL. The media did not quite share his belief however, pointing to the Toros failure, and wondering whether South Florida was a strong enough soccer market to support the Americans and the Strikers.

Despite Newman’s enthusiasm, he was still keeping his options open, speaking to the owners of the New York Eagles of the ASL, and another potential new ASL franchise in Charlotte about their vacant Head Coach positions. The NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes were also chasing him.

By Mid-January 1980 Newman was leaning towards taking the offer made to him by the Americans. The offer of a 5-year contract, worth $200,000 a season (plus bonuses and incentives) would make him the highest paid coach in North America. The deal to move the Americans to Miami was done, but Leighton-Jones and Worshore said that they would not complete the deal without Newman agreeing to coach the team. Newman eventually agreed the deal in February and took the position, also assuming the position as the team President. Fellow Brit Brian Tiler was named as Assistant Coach, having  played for and managed the Portland Timbers of the NASL, as well as having a lengthy playing career in England.

The team’s roster contained few stars. Newman’s son Guy followed his father from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to play in the defence. One of his first signings was English goalkeeper Brian Parkinson, who had won an ASL championship with Newman at the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Other signings were American players Ernie Buriano, Ernst-Jean Baptiste, and Charlie Greene. Welsh defender Bob Delgado was signed from English side Port Vale after a 281 game league career and installed as captain. Holdovers from the New Jersey Americans roster were midfielder Denny Vaninger and Nigerian striker Solomon Hilton. 33 year old Scottish midfielder and ex-Tampa Bay Rowdies player Stewart Scullion was also signed to give the team some experience. The players with the team were reputedly some of the better paid players in the ASL.

Before the season kicked off Newman had stated that his role with the Americans was the toughest task he had faced in soccer. Due to the short time before the franchises relocation and the start of play (roughly 2 months) he had found it hard to find the players he wanted, as well as an acceptable office to work out of. Despite managing in the ASL before, he also stated that the league was a bit of a mystery to him, with regards to the level of play and finances. He was hoping for crowds of around 3,000 for the early fixtures, steadily rising to 6,000 during the season.

Pre-season games were quite plentiful, playing the U.S. Olympic team, as well as fixtures against local amateur teams such as Miami Dade. Their fixture against the Pennsylvania Stoners caused some controversy however. The game was played in Charlotte and intended to show the Charlotte public what ASL soccer was all about, with the hope that a franchise could be established in the city in 1981. During the first half, and 1-0 down, Denny Vaninger punched the Stoners midfielder Paulo DaSilva in the face, getting sent off in the process. Then after a foul against his son Guy, Ron Newman charged on to the pitch in his suit to remonstrate with the referee.  It was also reported that he “threatened Pennsylvania players and match officials with his umbrella”. The Americans ran out 2-1 winners, although their style of play was described as defensive and boring. In order to establish the franchise in the minds of South Florida soccer fans, the players were doing a huge amount of public engagements, from coaching clinics to visiting local churches and hospitals.

The team’s inaugural game was away against the Pennsylvania Stoners on the 20th of April, a fixture that they lost 1-0 due to a Roman Urbanczuk goal in the second period of overtime. The Stoners broke their attendance record, with 8,300 fans attending the game. Like the reports of their performance in the pre-season encounter between the teams, the game was defensive with both sides mustering only 9 shots on goal between them during the 90 minutes. Newman defended his team, instead criticising the pitch at the Stoners stadium, saying it was impossible to play on. Their second fixture was due to be against New York United away, but the game had to be postponed due to New York being unable to post the $100,000 bond required for them to use Shea Stadium.

After their first game, the Americans signed Haitian international forward Manu Sanon from Belgian club Germinal Beerschot. He signed a 3 year contract and was expected to be a key player for the team. Their first home fixture was against Cleveland Cobras on the 30th April which they lost, and attracting around 2,000 fans.

On May the 4th the Miami Americans were due to play an exhibition match against the Trinidad & Tobago national team; however it descended into farce when the Trinidadian failed to turn up. Instead the Americans played an inter-squad game in front of roughly 300 fans. Still at least the Americans were guaranteed to win this game, as by their 6th game the Americans had only won 1 ASL game, beating the Golden Gate Gales away in San Francisco 4-1. Their attendances were also stalling, with a 2-2 draw at home against the Gales attracting only 1,843 fans, over a thousand less than Newman wanted.

The attendance figures weren’t the biggest problem however. The team’s co-owner Barry Leighton- Jones had started saying that if the ASL failed to improve they would move the franchise to Jacksonville for the 1981 season. Leighton-Jones also stated that the team was going to lose $1,000,000 dollars over the season, and that Newman was to blame for the team’s slow start due to spending too much time sat behind the President’s desk rather than working with the team.  Newman responded saying that these remarks had hurt the credibility of the franchise, and that he had had to spend all his day apologizing to sponsors and fans, as well as being called to explain the comments before the ASL at a league meeting. He also insisted that there was no way the team would relocate, and that Leighton-Jones remarks were made as a frustrated fan, rather than as an owner. Newman insisted that he got on with the co-owner, and that his remarks had maybe been a misguided attempt to get more fans on board. According to goalkeeper Brain Parkinson, the team were fairly insulated from the comments, and that they were fully concentrated on performing better on the field.

In early June, Newman was being linked with the Head Coach position of the NASL’s Portland Timbers, with a meeting between him and Timbers’ General Manager Peter Warner after a Timbers game.  Newman had expressed a desire to leave the Americans, but said it would be up to NASL teams to contact him. After losing out on the Timbers job to Vic Crowe, the Atlanta Chiefs had also reputedly spoken to him. He was concerned about the financial viability of the Americans, amidst rumours that the ownership were ready to jump ship. And that the team was ready to fold. On a positive note, English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom joined the team. He had been a steady goalkeeper in England and signed from Sheffield United.

On June 19th, after only 9 games at the helm Ron Newman resigned as Head Coach and President. He stated that he would still be available to offer advice to the team whilst he searched for a new job. His 9 games in charge had yielded 2 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses. One of the team’s directors, Richard Marx (not the long haired pop star) stated that he was sorry to see Newman go, but with the Americans finances being quite perilous it was an economic necessity.

To replace Newman, his Assistant Coach Brian Tiler was appointed for the remainder of the season. The team’s Business Manager Jerry Sagehorn was promoted, and would take over as General Manager, assuming a lot of Newman’s off-field responsibilities.

Tiler’s first game in charge saw them win 2-1 over New York United in Shea Stadium in front of Ron Newman who watched from the stands.

On June the 25th, six days after Newman’s departure, the English ownership group had reputedly agreed to sell the franchise to two Rhodesians, Stan Noah and Archie Oliver for an undisclosed purchase price. Noah and Oliver stated that there would be a “substantial infusion of capital” into the team. They also attempted to re-hire Newman as Head Coach, but baulked and reinstating his $200,000 a year contract.

Results improved under Tiler, but the attendances dwindled, with only 843 fans turning out to see them beat the California Sunshine 2-1. Neil Ramsbottom was playing well in goal, and getting good reviews for his performances. Against the Sunshine he turned out straight from hospital, where he had been with bruised ribs and a stitched up face. The infusion of capital that the new owners had promised didn’t seem to materialise, with the team’s roster basically being limited to just 13 players. Top striker Manu Sanon left and joined Ron Newman and his new NASL team, the San Diego Sockers, and after selling him the Americans would lose 7 of their next 8 games. With him also went the Americans Haitian fans, leaving attendances plummeting.

Americans Haitian striker Manu Sanon

Off the field the chaos continued however, with newly promoted General Manager Jerry Sagehorn quitting, and being replaced by Allan James, the Americans PR officer. According to Brian Tiler, Sagehorn just couldn’t take the aggravation of working with the financially crippled franchise any longer. The Director Richard Marx was named as President.  Brian Tiler was also fed up working with the franchise, but vowed to continue as a professional. He claimed that the new owners wanted him out to save money and hadn’t even spoken to him in a long time.

The financial situation was also being discussed by the players, with Bob Delgado stating that he didn’t know if there would even be a club next week, let alone next year. He had just put rent money down on an apartment, and at best if the team folded would only get 2 week’s severance pay. What made it worse was that a week early the new ownership had said every member of the team would get a new 12 month contract, but now the ownership was even backing down on completing the entire purchase of the team. Stan Noah and Archie Oliver instead had apparently bought a controlling interest in the Columbus Magic, one of the Americans ASL rivals. This was met with some scepticism given the events in Miami, and also due to the pair of them reputedly trying to save the Sacramento Gold who were in financial difficulty. The Gold folded, but were resurrected and funded until the end of the season by the ASL.

In early July the ownership were set to fire Tiler and replace him with George Rada, the Head Coach of the semi-professional Florida outfit, the St. Petersburg Kickers, but the players objected and Tiler’s job was saved.

On July 23rd though Tiler quit and Rada was named as the new Head Coach. The ownership had stated that they wanted an American coach instead of a foreigner. Captain Bob Delgado, and striker Denny Vaninger were named as Assistant Coaches, in addition to their place on the playing roster.

At the start of August English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom requested to be released from his contract so he could return to his pregnant wife in England. He had played 14 games for the Americans and was replaced by the back-up keeper Richie Poole. 18 year old Fort Lauderdale High graduate Mitchell Mordas was signed as the new back-up. A week after this, Haiti international defender Ernst-Jean Baptiste also left the club to return to his sick wife in Haiti and midfielder David Bluem also left. New additions to the roster were new goalkeeper Armand Cordoba, defender Daniel Gaston, midfielders Mike Cogan & Jean Tienne, and strikers Louis Rodriguez, and Kenny Pavlioski. The forwards were needed as striker Denny Vaninger had been banned by the league for the rest of the season, having been sent off in the Americans last 3 away games.

The Americans win record was boosted by their home game against the Columbus Magic being awarded to them as the Magic could not afford the travelling expenses. This was the second game where the Americans had profited from another team’s misfortune, with the Sacramento Gold also forfeiting a game during the season. Remarkably, despite the Americans own financial problems, the Americans were still in with a shout for the playoffs.

For the Miami Americans last ever home game they were thumped 8-2 by the Cleveland Cobras in front of a crowd of around 200 fans. Defender Ernesto summed up the feelings of the entire roster by stating that they didn’t care. The players had not been paid, and the money situation was so bad that even though they still had a chance of making the playoffs, Miami officials were praying that they didn’t because it would cost more money. Bob Delgado stated that of they did make the playoffs he wouldn’t stick around, instead he’d be back in England.

The Americans did not have a successful season, finishing third in the American Conference, thus missing out on the playoffs. They won 10 games, drawing 3, and losing the other 15. They scored 54 goals and conceded 45, giving the Americans a total point’s tally of 97.

After the season the Miami Americans folded, along with the other new franchise the Golden Gate Gales.

Los Angeles Lazers

The Los Angeles Lazers were a professional indoor soccer team who played in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) between 1982 and 1989. They played their home games at the 15,893 capacity Forum in Inglewood, a city in south western Los Angeles County.

The Lazers franchise was awarded on the 26th June 1982 by MISL commissioner Earl Foreman, having previously operated as the Philadelphia Fever for the MISL 1981-82 season. The franchise was sold to real estate magnate Jerry Buss who moved it to Los Angeles where his sports empire was based. Buss owned 90% of the franchise, with another 10% belonging to Gene De Piano, President of the Rancho Bank of San Dimas. Buss had started in sports as one of the owners in the World Team Tennis League before buying the Los Angeles Lakers NBA franchise and the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL. He also owned the Forum where all of his sports franchises played.  The Lazers were the MISL’s 13th franchise, and if the ownership had paid more attention to superstition may have gained an inkling into the future performance of the franchise.

Buss named his 25 year old son John as the Lazers President. His Vice President was named as Bill Sharman, who was the President of the Lakers. The former Assistant General Manager of the Kings, Parker McDonald, was named as General Manager.

For the Lazers inaugural 1982-83 season, Englishman Peter Wall was named as head coach. Wall was new to indoor soccer, but had played over 250 league games in England, as well as featuring for the St. Louis Stars & California Surf in the NASL. Whilst plating for the Surf he also handled the Head Coach role for the last 3 seasons of the franchise’s existence.

The team’s roster for its first season had a familiar look to it for fans of the NASL. English defender Clive Charles signed, along with American international Poli Garcia. Other standouts would be future American international defender Cle Kooiman, Bermudan international forward Clyde Best, English midfielder Don Tobin, and Greek defender Gus Mokalis. The goalkeeping position would be shared between Americans Gary Allison and Kirk Shermer.

The Lazers were placed in the MISL’s Western Division, lining up against the Wichita Wings, Kansas City Comets, St. Louis Steamers, Phoenix Inferno, and 2 teams from the outdoor NASL, the Golden Bay Earthquakes and the San Diego Sockers.

The Lazers debuted on November 5th, with a home match against the Phoenix Inferno, which ended in defeat. In fact the Lazers didn’t start the season well, losing their first 9 games straight. Even motivational pre-game talks by Jerry Buss seemed to have little effect. They slightly changed the roster after the 9th game, with Argentine forward Eduardo Marasco (9 games 5 goals) leaving and English defender Lee Cornwell coming in. They didn’t register their win until they beat the Memphis Americans in December; nearly a month after the season had started. For their next game out they reverted to type, blowing a 4-1 lead to lose 9-7 to the Wichita Wings.

The fans veered from being supportive of the team, to booing them after performances. By the 21st game the team had a record of 3 wins and 18 losses. The team also had problems with injuries, sometimes only naming 14 players for the game, instead of the 16 allowed. Wall told the press that he was unsure what the Lazers had to do to win a game, and how many chances they needed to score. He suggested that the team “should start going to church”.

On January 19th, General Manager Parker MacDonald quit, with President John Buss assuming his role on a temporary basis.

The Lazers first season was not a successful one, finishing dead last of the Western Division with the worst record of any team in the MISL. OF the 48 game season, the Lazers won only 8 games and losing the other 40.They scored the fewest goals of any team (191) and had the second worst record for goals conceded (286). The teams leading goal scorer was Poli Garcia with 41, whilst Don Tobin lead the way with 29 assists. Garcia was the leading points scorer overall with 65.The only bright spot was that goalkeeper Kirk Shermer was unanimously named the MISL ‘Rookie of the Year’ by the Professional Soccer Reporters Association. The average attendance was a measly 3,963, far short of the 7-8,000 needed for the team to break even. The Lazers were also branded as “failures” by Basketball superstar Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, who was in a contractual dispute over money with Jerry Buss.

Despite the poor debut season, Wall was appointed a new 2 year contract as Head Coach in the close season.

For the 1983-84 season the team operated a slightly smaller roster for the second season, with quite a few changes. The key players from the previous season (Best, Kooiman, Tobin, Garcia & Shermer) were retained, but with some new additions. In came Brazilians Beto & Batata, Englishmen Stuart Lee & Mark Lindsay. Other players coming back for a second season were English defenders Lee Cornwell and Alan Kelley, Colombian striker Willie Molano, and Greek defender Gus Mokalis. Despite winning the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award the previous season, goalkeeper Kirk Shermer was reduced to the bench, behind new English goalie Mike Mahoney.

Just after the start of the season the Brazilian Batata signed a 3 year contract. The 28 year old midfielder’s transfer fee from Mexican side Club America was reputedly $250,000, and he was also named as Assistant Coach. His reputation was greatly enhanced by the fact that he had played alongside Pele for Santos in Brazil. He debuted with 3 goals in an 8-3 victory over the New York Arrows. In February Batata and forward Poli Garcia were both named to the MISL Western Division’s All Star team.

The team was again placed in a slightly smaller Western Division, this year lining up against the Wichita Wings, St. Louis Steamers, Tacoma Stars, Kansas City Comets, and the Phoenix Pride for a playoff position.

The Lazers opening game of the season was a 6-2 win away at the newly formed Tacoma Stars in front of 12,284 fans, more than the Lazers would ever play in front of at the Forum .Their first home game came against the Kansas City Comets.

The team’s record was much improved on their debut season, finishing 3rd in the division after the 48 game regular season, thus qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. The regular season ended with an even 24 wins and losses, scoring 223 goals and conceding 239. The Lazers fell in the first round of the playoffs however, losing in a best of 5 series against the Wichita Wings. Poli Garcia again led the way on the field, scoring a team-high 39 goals and making 33 assists for a total points score of 72. The Brazilian duo of Beto and Batata also had strong debut seasons. This meant he rated as the 7th best points scorer in the MISL. Attendance rose slightly, but was still a disappointing 4,405 average. Peter Wall was rewarded for the Lazers better performance, by being named runner up as ‘Coach of the Year’.

The 1984-85 season saw the Lazers start with a few new additions to the roster. Gone were Don Tobin, Clyde Best, Kirk Shermer, and Mark Lindsay. Newcomers were the Yugoslav striker Zoran Savic, South African defender Nathan Sacks, and the Canadian defender Greg Ion.  Wall was again Head Coach, as the team had made a steady improvement on the field over the 2 previous seasons. Ron Weinstein was named as Vice President for the Lazers. Gary Hindley was named as Assistant Coach of the team.

The team started their 3rd season in the Western Division, but with again a slight re-jigging of the teams. Familiar foes were the Tacoma Stars, Wichita Wings, Kansas City Comets, with the San Diego Sockers. Completing the line up were 2 new franchises, the Dallas Sidekicks, and the Las Vegas Americans (previously the Memphis Americans). Overall the MISL was stronger than previous seasons. The collapse of the NASL had led to a lot of experienced players seeking contracts, as well as 4 teams quitting outdoor soccer to play indoors. It also ended the bidding war for talent that had erupted between the leagues, and cemented the MISL as THE professional soccer league in America.

The Lazers again finished 3rd in their division, with an exact replica of the previous year’s form, 24 wins and 24 losses.  Even their goals scored and conceded were nearly the same, scoring 232 and conceding 230. They qualified for the Quarter Finals of the playoffs where they were whitewashed 3-0 by the Baltimore Blast, going down 4-3, 12-3, and 5-4, thus ending their MISL title chances for another season. The teams leading goalscorer this year was the Englishman Stuart Lee with 42 goals, whilst Poli Garcia again held the assist crown with 31. Lee ended up as overall leading points scorer with 57, 2 clear of Colombian forward Willie Molano. Peter Wall was however named as MISL ‘Coach of the Year’, which seems a little surprising considering the teams rather average performance. The crowds had again picked up, with an average of 5,062 attending the Lazers home games. This was still disappointing as the Forum held over 3 times that amount.

The Lazers returned for the 1985-86 season with Wall still at the helm. The roster had changed little apart from the departure of last season’s top scorer Stuart Lee, and the Yugoslav Zoran Savic. Newcomers were English midfielder David Madden, one-time US prodigy Darryl Gee in midfield, and the German midfielder Kai Steffen. The goalkeeping line-up was unchanged with Englishman Mike Mahoney as number one, and American Tim Harris as back-up.

Bill MacDonald was named as the Lazers Play-by-Play announcer in the close season.

The Western Division had lost the Sidekicks to the Eastern Division, with the St. Louis Steamers moving the opposite way, and the one season Las Vegas Americans who had folded.

Midway through the season with the Lazers not performing well, President Jim Buss stated that the entire roster were playing for their Lazers careers, and only 8-10 players had a chance for a new contract.

This seemed to have an effect on the team, as during an away fixture against the St. Louis Steamers, Peter Wall was ejected in the 4th quarter for throwing water at the referees. He went to the Lazers locker room, but returned later in the quarter to shout instructions from the stand behind the goal. Also, Lazers Brazilian players Batata and Val Fernandez were ejected for lying down on the field play, joining Willie Molano and Cle Kooiman in the sin bin. This game saw the Lazers set the MISL record with 12 penalties, totalling 30 minutes. Due to this St. Louis set the record for most power play goals in MISL history (Power play goals are when the scoring team has an advantage in terms of number of players on the field due to penalties). By the final 3 minutes of the game the Lazers had only 3 players on the pitch. MISL commissioner Francis Dale said the league would be investigating the Lazers conduct and issuing fines if required.

The season also saw tempers fray between the San Diego Sockers and the Lazers. During a game on February 11th, with the Sockers leading 7-4, Sockers coach Ron Newman withdrew his goalkeeper for a 6th attacker with only 3 seconds left to play. This incensed Peter Wall after the game, who said it was “uncalled for”. Newman had been accused of running up scores against beaten teams, which was kind of against an unwritten law between coaches in the MISL. Newman said he was purely using the time to experiment with his line up.  When the 3 seconds of play resumed Lazers defender Greg Willen kicked the Sockers forward Ade Coker, which Newman stated was “one of the worst things i’ve seen in soccer”. When the final hooter went, Wall approached Newman and jabbed his fingers in Newman’s eyes resulting in a brawl between the 2 teams. At the All-Star game a week later Newman attempted to shake hands and apologize, but was snubbed by Wall. Before the teams next encounter in April, Wall stated that the game would be “a blood bath”. In fact the game passed off peacefully and Newman and Wall shook hands at the end of the game, making their peace.

The 48 game season was not a successful one for the Lazers. They finished the 48 game season with a record of only 13 wins and 35 losses, meaning they were dead last of the Western Division. They scored only 197 goals (2nd worst by one goal), and conceded a season high 270 goals.

Poli Garcia was the team’s highest goal scorer with 36, whilst the Brazilian Batata registered most assists with 39. Garcia was the team’s leading point scorer with 57. The average attendance fell back to 4,470, far short of the MISL’s 8,696 average for the season.

The team decided to retain Peter Wall as Head Coach for the 1986-87 season, but the feeling was that the team would soon have to start performing better for him to keep the job. The team’s Assistant Coach Gary Hindley left to become Assistant at the Chicago Sting, and was replaced by the Lazers recently retired goalkeeper Mike Mahoney.

The 1986-87 season would see the team have a lot less settled roster, with 33 players having game-time with the Lazers. Mike Mahoney’s, place on the roster was filled by the American David Brcic, with Tim Harris as back up. Also one of the teams key players, the Brazilian Batata, was traded to the Chicago Sting for future considerations and $5,000. English striker Stuart Lee returned after a season’s absence, and the Lazers also signed American defenders Paul Kitson and Jim Gabarra.

For the first time the Western Division did not lose or gain and teams, so the opposition would be familiar, however the regular season had been expanded to 52 games instead of 48. Another bonus was ESPN covering more MISL games than ever, with 18 matches available this season. A concern for the league was the improving performance of a rival nationwide indoor soccer league, the AISA (American Indoor Soccer Association). It looked as if a new bidding war for players was going to erupt between the 2 leagues.

1986 Los Angeles Lazers TV advert.

In January, with the team underperforming, Peter Wall was dismissed.  According to the Lazers president Jim Buss, the sacking of Wall was the first step in a new direction for the team. Buss stated he would “do whatever it takes to improve this team and make it a winner”.  Buss also stated that Wall was a terrific person and a good friend, who had been an excellent spokesperson for the Lazers and soccer as a whole in Los Angeles. Goalkeeper Mike Mahoney was named as interim Head Coach. Under Wall’s charge the Lazers had a record of 75 wins and 134 losses. A fair few coaches expressed interest in taking the position, including Don Popovic and John Kowalski. In the end Wall’s replacement was named as the American coach Keith Tozer, who stated that he was surprised to be given the role as he felt the other candidates were far more experienced. Tozer was brought over from the Louisville Thunder of the rival AISA. He had acted as player-coach of the Thunder, but would take up a strictly coaching role with the Lazers.

Tozer’s first 7 games yielded only one win, but the team had undergone wholesale changes, with Tozer promising even more as he seeked to reduce the average age of the roster. In came English defender Chris Whyte and American midfielder Michel Collins from the fading New York Express. Also incoming were Nigerian forward Thompson Usiyan (Minnesota Strikers), Chris Chueden (trade with Cleveland Force for Paul Kitson), and Don Ebert and Steve Pecher from the St. Louis Steamers (traded for Poli Garcia and Jim Kavanaugh). Usiyan was traded for Canadian defender Greg Ion and a 3rd round draft choice.

The season was again a disaster for the Lazers, for the 2nd season running finishing dead last of the Western Division. Their 52 game season yielded only 16 wins, and 36 losses, scoring 183 goals and conceding 254. The teams leading goal scorer was Stuart Lee with only 31 goals, whilst Canadian defender Greg Ion registered most assists with a paltry 18. Lazers’ mainstay Poli Garcia only featured in 20 games, scoring 9 and making 5 assists. The overall leading points scorer was Stuart Lee with 41, which was pretty abysmal. The average attendance was largely unchanged, standing at 4,647. The Lazers poor performance was becoming a source of concern for the league. They were the largest market area, but still underperforming on the field and in the stands.

There were wholesale changes to the Lazers roster for the 1987-88 season after the poor form of the past 2 seasons. The only notable players to avoid the purge were defenders Jim Gabarra and Chris Whyte, striker Thompson Usiyan, goalkeeper David Brcic, and midfielder Michael Collins. Out went Stuart Lee, the long serving Cle Kooiman and Lee Cornwell, Brazilian defender Beto and Colombian striker Willie Molano. Gus Mokalis left for San Diego in a trade for 3 draft picks. In their place came strikers Chico Borja and NASL legend Paul Child, American midfielder Mark Frederickson and defender Mike Windischmann.

The MISL Western Division was unchanged for a second successive season, so the Lazers had a mountain to climb considering the dismal performance of the team in their last 2 campaigns. The regular season was again expanded, this time to 56 games. A bright point for the decade old MISL was the 2 year TV deal signed with the FNN/SCORE network. The deal included a Friday “Game of the Week”, a weekly highlight show, the playoffs and championship game, as well as the end of season all-star game. Each team’s salary cap was set at $1,275,000.

The season began with controversy when new striker Chico Borja was arrested for allegedly punching a 13 year old Tacoma Stars fan in the mouth following a game in Tacoma. Borja could have been imprisoned but the charges were later dropped.

Nearing the end of the season the bidding war with the AISA for talent had really heated up, as was begin to take a toll on some of the more precariously financed franchises. The league asked the MISL Player’s Association (MISLPA) to accept a plan to reduce the player’s salary compensation cap. After negotiations an agreement was reached for a 2 years stabilization deal.

The Lazers had a complete turnaround this year, recorded the franchises best ever stats. They finished the season in their highest place (2nd), with their best record (31 wins and 25 losses) and in the process scoring 291 goals and conceding 266. Disappointingly however they again fell at the first hurdle in the playoffs, being whitewashed by the Kansas City Comets 9-6, 4-2, 7-5. The teams leading goal scorer was the Nigerian Thompson Usiyan with 52, narrowly topping Chico Borja’s 47 goal return. Borja however made the most assists with 52, and finished as overall leading points scorer with 98, placing him 4th overall in the MISL scoring chart (Usiyan came in 7th). Attendances were a franchise high average of 5,879 per game.

During the close season the MISL and the MISLPA again met to discuss the financial ill-health of a number of the league and franchises like the Lazers. An agreement for a 4-year collective bargaining agreement was made with the players, which imposed a salary cap of $850,000 per team for the forthcoming season. Jim Buss had originally stated that he was going to close the team rather than play in a league with less than 8 teams, but after the talks decided to keep the team operational. They paid their $400,000 letter of credit to the MISL for the forthcoming season.

After his good debut performance, Keith Tozer was retained to coach the team for the 1988-89 season.

The roster again had a major overhaul, with only Jim Gabarra, Cha Cha Namdar, Michael Collins, and Mark Frederickson being retained. Top scorers Usiyan and Borja left the team, and were replaced by the Englishmen Gary Heale and Steve Kinsey. They also signed Canadian indoor goal machine Hector Marinaro, defender Fernando Clavijo, and American midfielder Daryl Doran. The goalkeeping duties would be shared between Jim Gorsek, A.J. Lachowecki, and Kris Peat.

The MISL had lost 5 franchises in the close season due to financial ill-health, so the 2 divisions were merged to form one national league of only 7 teams. The Lazers were lining up for a 48 game regular season against the San Diego Sockers, Tacoma Stars, Wichita Wings, Dallas Sidekicks, Baltimore Blast, and the Kansas City Comets.

The Lazers finished their last season in 6th position, and missed out on the playoffs. Their record was 21 wins and 27 defeats, scoring 218 and conceding 222. The team’s leading goal scorer was Marinaro with 47, and Heale registered the most assists with 29. Overall leading point’s scorer was Marinaro with 75, which left him 5th in the MISL leading point’s scorers, with Heale a further position back. The team’s average attendance was 4,356.

After the season the Lazers folded due to heavy financial losses.

MISL regular season record:

348 games played, with 137 wins and 211 losses. They scored 1,535 goals, conceding 1,767.

MISL playoff record:

10 games played, with 1 win and 9 losses. They scored 45 goals and conceded 66.

All-time leading goal scorer: Poli Garcia (165 goals)

All-Time assist maker: Poli Garcia (117 assists)

Most regular season appearances: Poli Garcia (228 games)

Their total average regular season attendance over the franchise history was 33,082 –leading to a season average of 4,726 fans per game. As the team needed to draw upwards of 7,000 to break even, this shows how much money the Lazers were losing every season.