BY STEPHEN BRANDT
It’s 1977, and New York City is a scary, weird place. Son of Sam is on the loose, there are blackouts, the New York Yankees are fighting with each other, and there’s Studio 54. Steve Ross of Warner Communications wants to conquer the world of football with the New York Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League. So, he goes pulls out all the stops to bring Pele to town, with a little help from former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
But that’s not the crazy part of the Cosmos and the old NASL. And this was the league that George Best played in, and he wasn’t even the strangest part of the old league. This was all done without a major television network. Sure, there were games on local television stations and a small regional network called the Eastern Sports Network. Yes, I’m talking about ESPN, but at the time, it was just a regional network.
It was all the side show, this league that had former Watford Chairman, Elton John, as an owner of a club (Los Angeles Aztecs),a club that had a fringe, or tassles on its jersey (Colorado Caribous), and a club which called it’s supporters, ‘Fannies’ (Tampa Bay Rowdies).
The league even tried to enter the US National team as a club team, good ole ‘Team America’. It did fail, because the American National team wasn’t that good, and the stars didn’t want to leave their teams.
. That’s not taking into account the guy with a chainsaw cutting wood after goals for the Portland Timbers. This was Timber Jim (who has since retired), and was replaced by Timber Joey. Jim still shows up at games in the Timbers Army Section. Some of the things that both do:
• Scaling a tall “snag” off the pitch and standing on top high above the crowd, which was later discontinued due to safety concerns.
• Cutting a round from a log with one of his chain saws every time the Timbers score. That is given to the players who score, and if there is a clean sheet kept, the goalkeeper gets one too.
• Hanging above the crowd on a zip-line with his drum
• Singing “We are the Timbers…” to section 107 (Timbers Army), eventually spelling out T-I-M-B-E-R-S (the R extended, imitating the roaring of a chainsaw)
• Pounding on a large drum, yelling out “Port-land (beat, beat) Tim-bers”
• Doing forward handsprings. Which was quite a feat, considering that Jim was in his fifties at the time when he’d do this stuff.
Then there were the sideline attractions, anywhere from Mick Jagger to Harold the Chimp, who was the official mascot of the Cosmos. Imagine the mess you would have to pick up! They did also have Bugs Bunny at their games too. The Cosmos games were a circus because of the Warner Communications link. They have since become Time Warner. They could get a star player, or any celebrity to show up for their matches. Likewise on the other coast the LA Aztecs, before they closed their doors, could get anyone on the sidelines and in the stands too. They had Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, and George Best for a time.
The league didn’t last, it closed its doors in 1984. Too many teams started up with no money, trying to chase the Cosmos. Soccer in the US wasn’t built on sound foundations at the time because there weren’t any people who really knew the game outside of a few, namely Clive Toye. The Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies lasted a while before they melted away.
. That wasn’t the end of the sport in America however, the MLS came around ten years after. It’s based on not being the NASL. There isn’t heavy spending, teams don’t go bankrupt and leave. Most of the stars in the league are either older European stars or younger American players. Most of the stars of the 1994 US World Cup team were ball boys for the old NASL. Tony Meola, John Harkes, to name a few. The growth of soccer in the country also led to the development of world renowned stars such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.
In the MLS there are clubs bearing the names of the old NASL teams; Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle Sounders, and San Jose Earthquakes. To add further to the mystique of the old league, the NASL was brought back a couple years ago, with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and New York Cosmos all coming back. Maybe one day we’ll see all of them back too, but perhaps without all the hoopla from those crazy days.
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