Every week NASL.com will take a look back in time and recall memories of the North American Soccer League in a regular ‘Throwback Thursday’ feature. From players, coaches and fans to landmark games and the occasional humorous event, each Thursday will offer a new memory from years gone by.
This week, we recall the time when more than 77,000 fans packed into Giants Stadium for a NASL game and were rewarded with 11 goals and a one-sided home win.
By DAVID TOSSELL
New York in the summer of 1977 witnessed its share of strange, headline-grabbing events. A 24-hour power outage led to some of the worst rioting and looting in the city’s history; ‘Son of Sam’ serial killer David Berkowitz was terrorising the population; and at Yankee Stadium, manager Billy Martin and superstar Reggie Jackson were engaged in a soap opera that reached its nadir in an expletive-ridden on-field row on national television.
One of the most surprising events of all – at least to anyone who had not been paying attention since a certain gentleman by the name of Pele arrived in the Big Apple two years earlier – was the memorable, crazy night in August when an astonishing record crowd – “Yes, 77,691” as the scoreboard announced it – squeezed into Giants Stadium to watch a soccer match between the New York Cosmos and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
It was that second-round NASL play-off game that came to the minds of soccer fans of a certain age when the Cosmos announced recently that they would return to the playing field after a break of almost three decades with a home game against the Strikers on August 3.
Ever since three-time Brazilian World Cup winner Pele, the one soccer player whose name resonated in a hitherto disinterested nation, had become the NASL’s most ambitious signing this night had been building.
There had as yet been no championships for the Warner Communications-owned Cosmos. But the team’s connections to the world of showbiz and music meant that Cosmos home games had grown to rival Studio 54 as the hip place for the in-crowd to be seen. The green and white had become a must-wear uniform for soccer superstars such as Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto – World Cup-winning captains both – and mercurial Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia.
It was clear that there would be something magical about this particular evening. Players received double the usual number of calls for tickets and lines snaked back from the ticket booths as fans battled to join the likes of Mick Jagger, Robert Redford and Henry Kissinger inside the Meadowlands’ gleaming new stadium.
“I always said I’d bare my rear end in Woolworth’s if we filled that place,” said Cosmos’ former Watford and Sheffield United midfielder Terry Garbett. “I arrived two hours before kick-off and I remember there must be a big event at the race track because all the parking lots were full. They had to delay kick-off half an hour.”
The Strikers were, according to the form book, going to be no pushovers. In goal they boasted England’s Gordon Banks, Pele’s nemesis in the 1970 World Cup, who had returned to the sport to be named the NASL’s best keeper, despite the handicap of losing the sight in his right eye in a 1972 car accident.
But when the game made its belated start event Banks was unable to withstand a deluge of Cosmos goals as torrential as the rain that lashed Giants Stadium. By the time Chinaglia had scored three goals, Englishman Steve Hunt two and Beckenbauer, Tony Field and Gary Etherington one apiece, New York had won 8-3.
They would go on to complete a two-game series sweep and eventually complete the fiarytale storyline by winning Soccer Bowl in Pele’s final competitive game. With the Cosmos’ success vying for back-page space with the World Series-bound Yankees, the NASL had never had it so good.
Yet Strikers coach Ron Newman would later allege a conspiracy that offered New York unfair assistance in coping with the elements at Giants Stadium. “I’d heard that Pony had come up with brand-new shoes that were brilliant for Astroturf in the rain,” he recalled.
“I asked if they could supply us but the shoes they sent were terrible. The players were coming though them. There was no time to do anything about it so we wore old shoes with old cleats. Banksy was slipping and sliding everywhere and Steve Hunt was cutting round us like an ice skater. I asked to see the Cosmos’ shoes and they were the same Pony ones we had tried, but they had been made with kangaroo leather. I believe pressure might have been put on them not to supply us with the most up-to-date shoes.”
Perhaps Cosmos keeper Shep Messing had lost his footwear. During the locker-room melee after the Strikers game he lost his footing and ended up sprawled on top of Secretary of State Kissinger. Strange days indeed.
David Tossell is the author of ‘Playing for Uncle Sam: The Brits’ Story of the North American Soccer League’, published by Mainstream.
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|Tampa Bay Rowdies||12||5||3||4||5||18|
|Minnesota United FC||12||4||2||6||-5||14|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||12||2||2||8||-14||8|