Category Archives: Washington Soccer

Whitey: The One & Only

The first time the Craggs household received a call asking for Whitey, his mother replied, “There’s nobody here by that name,” and immediately hung up the phone.

George Craggs moved with his family to Seattle in 1947 and resided in Ballard until his death.

What Gladys Craggs didn’t know was that her fair-haired young son had acquired a nickname from his peers, one that would stick for the rest of his 70-some years on this earth, all the while becoming a moniker in Puget Sound soccer that was every bit as recognizable as any player.

From then on, noted George Craggs, “if they asked for Whitey, it was soccer. If they asked for George, it was something else.”

On March 29, George “Whitey” Craggs died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 87.

Whitey Craggs should also be considered a pioneer of soccer in Seattle. His tenure as one of the area’s premier refs is filled with stories of players whom he refereed but also gave guidance to as young men, including myself. Refereeing is not always easy, but he made it seem easy at times and wasn’t afraid to scold you if you misbehaved. A true legend of Washington state soccer.

Brian Schmetzer

Craggs was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1981, when the U.S. Soccer AGM was held in Seattle. “That was one time I can remember saying I know I’m only 5 foot (and 5 inches) tall, but today I’m 10 foot tall.”

He had officiated thousands and thousands of games, mentored hundreds of referees and interacted with countless players, coaches and fans during his lifelong devotion to the game. And yet, if Whitey had one regret, he had a hundred.
“I spent too much time going down to Woodland Park or wherever,” he shared in 2016. “I used to referee games seven days a week. Obviously, you’re away from home a lot, which I shouldn’t have been. I should’ve been home.”

Craggs clearly missed Pearl, his wife of 61 years. She passed away 16 months prior to that interview. He lost a daughter, Patti, in 2008. He is survived by daughter Georgia and sons Ed and Donny.

The Seattle area soccer community is vast in size but remains connected and close. Word soon spread of Whitey’s passing. Yes, he was one of the state’s few National Soccer Hall of Fame inductees, but he was more so known for his humor and humility in officiating all sorts of matches, from youth and adult leagues, to college and professional leagues over an estimated 40 years.

If asked to give a word description of Whitey it would be unique! He was definitely one of a kind. Unique in his humor, unique in how he saw the world, unique in how he refereed. He opened the referee door for so many of us.

Betty Schmeck

Craggs might have lived in the shadow of another hall of famer, but he blazed a trail all his own. Edmund Craggs, his father, was among the builders of the soccer landscape that developed in post-World War II Seattle. Eddie coached and organized youth and senior leagues. When his vaunted Buchan Bakers team was winning state titles, it was with minimal contributions from little (5-foot-5) Whitey. Seeking more playing time, the son separated from the father and joined rivals Germania.

He became a national referee in 1961 and began officiating NASL matches in 1974.

By that juncture, yet another hall of fame personality, Barney Kempton, had convinced Whitey to become a volunteer referee in the growing Catholic Youth Organization league. As Whitey recalls, “I said OK. I think you Catholics need a Protestant to keep you honest.”

That was the mid-Fifties. Craggs had landed in the Fremont neighborhood in spring of 1947, moving from Montreal. Initially the father and son sought out hockey opportunities, but settled on soccer, which was a going concern.

He once stopped a game at Green Lake so both teams could help put out a house fire; 30 guys in their kits throwing water on a house, with Whitey in the middle, directing traffic. The fire department finally showed up, and we all went back to our game. Funny guy!

Don Anderson

By 1961 Whitey became a certified national referee, and a few years later he was assigned an exhibition game between Brazil’s Bonsucesso and the Vancouver Royals and at West Seattle Stadium. The Royals were coached by Hungarian and Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas. Afterward, Craggs was curious how he had done. A friend asked Puskas in Hungarian, What did you think of the referee? “He didn’t say I was any good,” said Craggs, “but he said ‘We’ve had worse.’”

My fondest memories were him refereeing our high school games. It was like going to a comedy show. He made Seattle soccer a better place. Still scratch my head at some of his calls though.

Walt Schmetzer

Partly because he started officiating games played by peers and former teammates and partly by nature, Whitey developed a habit of conversing with players throughout a match. There was some smack spoken, but it was give and take. And while he was often accused of sight impairment by fans, his hearing was just fine.

Gary Shugarts, George Craggs and Neil West.

When he worked Sounders games in a sold-out Memorial Stadium in the mid-Seventies, he would exchange barbs with spectators. On more than a few occasions, fans would yell, “You’re missing a good game, ref!” Whitey’s standard reply was rapid and witty: “I know, but they sent me here instead.”

He was often chided for his positioning as a referee; he only occasionally strayed far from the center circle. When reminded that the players had run past him, he quipped: “They’ll be back in a minute.”

Within the past couple years, the long-retired Whitey answered the phone. A woman from a local Sunday league was desperate to get coverage for matches. “I said I don’t run any more. She said, ‘Just stand in the center circle, like you always did.’”

What a personality he was. So memorable and influential in so many lives, for generations.

Rachel Berg Belfield

Whitey Craggs at his ‘second home,’ Lower Woodland Park.

Rather than focus on the catcalls, Whitey marveled in how many friends he made in the game. He was wistful for the days when there was a greater togetherness between officials and players, when a firm word of caution was favored over the drama of issuing a yellow card.

As word of Whitey’s death circulated in the past few days, tributes and stories were shared online. Players who learned the lesson of not taking it all –the game, as well as life– so seriously. Stick to your calls, no matter what others think. Use humor to diffuse anger. The terms ‘legend’ and ‘unique’ are repeated.

Truly, George “Whitey” Craggs was one of a kind.

A Few of My Favorite Things: 2016

It’s now been two years since I began my blog and returned to writing about soccer, mostly in a Washington-centric, historical context.

Sure, there could be a compendium of such abstract topics published in a book someday. But why not share some of it soon, not later. Here, then, are XV pieces that appeared either on my blog or other digital outlets during 2016. I enjoyed researching and writing them, and hopefully you enjoy them as well.

I. Unexpected Title Run by Sounders? It’s Happened Before

Once you’ve lived through an epic turnaround, your faith becomes stronger. And for reasons illustrated in this Seattle Times feature, I always held out hope the Sounders would overcome all the adversity and play for a championship. As it turned out, they did their predecessors one better by winning the final.

II. There’s Something About Jordy

Puget Sound has produced some top-class strikers in the past, and I Continue reading A Few of My Favorite Things: 2016

Washington’s 2016 Top Team Performances

While broader views of this past year are as mixed as imaginable, there’s no mistaking 2016 as vintage in terms of Washington teams’ feats on the pitch. National championships at the professional and collegiate levels, along with some watershed seasons for certain programs, made this a year to remember for many.

Here are a few teams who will treasure the memories of 2016 because it was a very, very good year.

Western Washington women – If the perfect season is to finish a campaign unbeaten, untied and No. 1 in the nation, then the Vikings were almost perfect. They reeled off 24 consecutive victories after an opening draw to win their first NCAA Division II crown. Western (24-0-1) had been knocking on the door for three seasons before ending Grand Valley State’s three-year reign with three sensational strikes from distance in the title match.

Sounders FC – Left for dead in late July, Seattle made a coaching change and the addition of one very special Uruguayan maestro brought about a reversal of fortune for the ages. Never mind losing their most goal-dangerous player, the Sounders went 12-3-5 down the stretch to reward the land’s largest fan base with the first top-flight championship.

Seattle United B98 Copa – One of the special youth sides in state history, United nearly came all the way back from a national runner-up finish. As it was these U17s easily repeated as state and regional champion before being stopped the semifinals of the US Youth Soccer Association Championships on penalties. It will be interesting to watch how some of these players figure in our state’s soccer future.

More teams of merit: Continue reading Washington’s 2016 Top Team Performances

City’s First Soccer Shop Slips Away

Note: This article was first published in 2008, shortly after the closing of Sports Specialties. Denzil Miskell passed away in October 2016.

All too quietly, a tiny jewel of Seattle’s sporting history has slipped into the past.

Officially it was Sports Specialties, yet for 33 years the cramped, quaint soccer shop in Belltown was simply synonymous with the name of its distinctive owner, Denzil.

Denzil Miskell was interviewed by Washington State Legends of Soccer on Sept. 21 at West Seattle Stadium. (Photo by Leann Johnson)

Know this: Denzil Miskell is alive and doing well, but behind the nondescript storefront on Second Avenue sits an empty vessel. All that remains of this everyman’s gem is the generic player painted on the plate glass front, and a brief note on the door from Denzil explaining the absence.

Continue reading City’s First Soccer Shop Slips Away

Treasures Around Town

At the ripe old age of 90, Mr. Lipton stands up straight, and though he shows signs of obvious wear there is a gleam to his appearance. Women with flowing hair, goddesses perhaps, flank him on either side.

Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, made solid sterling silver, stands nearly three feet and was crafted 90 years ago.
Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, made solid sterling silver, stands nearly three feet and was crafted 90 years ago.

Lipton’s got it pretty good. Folks take care of him, and he’s got a room with a view. Unlike his prime, he no longer gets out much, if at all, and the notion of young people picking him up and jubilantly hoisting him skyward is certainly out of the question. Still, with proper care and attention, there’s no reason to think Lipton won’t outlive us all.

Such is life for the stately Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy, likely among the oldest surviving artifacts of a rich soccer history that reaches back to the days before Washington’s statehood. Lipton and other sterling relics of their kind are hiding around the Seattle area, some of them in plain sight.

While the brightly-lighted Sounders FC trophy case on Occidental displays our biggest, brightest and most recent plunder–a Supporters’ Shield plus four Open Cups–the bulk of Washington’s historical treasures reside in a couple ordinary offices.

Sir Thomas Lipton, second from left, during his 1912 visit to Seattle Courtesy University of Washington Libraries)
Sir Thomas Lipton, second from left, during his 1912 visit to Seattle Courtesy University of Washington Libraries)

Continue reading Treasures Around Town

Washington’s 2015 Top Team Performances

As daylight dwindles on 2015  and we seal this calendar’s time capsule, why not thumb through the best team performances, and determine which will best prevail against the test of time.

Some Washington sides made some remarkable accomplishments in the past year, and here are the best of the best:

SeattleUnitedlogoSeattle United B98 Copa – In April they defeated Crossfire Premier to become the state’s first Dallas Cup champion, and the boys just kept going, winning the state and regional titles before reaching the USYSA U16 final match in July

imgres-6Seattle Reign – First professional club to win back-to-back regular season league championships, going 13-3-4 in NWSL despite losing Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe to national team duty for the better part of three months

imgres-3Puget Sound women – Despite being eliminated in the Division III second round, the Loggers allowed only three (3) goals in 22 matches and became the state’s first unbeaten (17-0-5) women’s collegiate program Continue reading Washington’s 2015 Top Team Performances

The Whole Sixteen-Goal Story (Part 4)

Seeking a Silver Lining

Losses teach more lessons than victories, but it was difficult to know where to begin digesting what happened that day in Balboa Park.

For Mike Jones, it had been the perfect storm of adverse conditions. USF was unquestionably the stronger team and a deserving winner. But Washington had played strong Canadian programs such as Victoria and Simon Fraser and proved competitive. Earlier that season, the University of British Columbia had beaten the Dons, 3-1, prompting Jones to believe that on a given day, the Huskies might have earned a result.

“Looking at the two teams, it was probably a 3- or 4-nothing difference with us playing our best,” argues Jones. “Back then, other than the ethnic teams playing Sunday, it was all so new up here in the Northwest. When you got into games with college programs that had a lot of international players, it was hard to get much of the ball. I couldn’t see us scoring against (USF), but I think we could’ve held our own.”

washington_huskies-logo1959 Continue reading The Whole Sixteen-Goal Story (Part 4)

The Whole Sixteen Goal Story (Part 3)

Behemoth by the Bay

Awaiting Washington in the City by the Bay was a team with a history of pummeling the opposition. San Francisco had earned bids in six of the first nine years of the NCAA tournament, and became the first West Coast program to win the championship two years earlier, in 1966.

Under Stephen Negoesco, the Dons were routing foes with regularity. Their savvy international contingent twice scored 10 goals and was averaging 5.5 through the first 10 games. They had leveled 63 shots at Cal.

Balboa Park’s soccer field.

San Francisco was cultured, experienced, rested and playing at home. Coming off a loss to their arch-rival, San Jose State, a few days earlier, they were also in the mood to deliver a beating.

Continue reading The Whole Sixteen Goal Story (Part 3)

The Whole Sixteen Goal Story (Part 2)

A Battle Between Friends

Twice that 1968 season the Huskies had beaten SU by two goals. John Goldingay had scored in each. Beating the Chieftains a third time would not be easy, especially given the stakes.

Seattle U was playing on four days rest after an easy win over Seattle Pacific. Washington would be taking the field for the fourth time in eight days, all away.

It was a damp Monday night at Lower Woodland, the city’s historical home for soccer. Over-use and weather contributed to a well-worn pitch with little, if any, grass remaining.

Washington soccer action at Husky Stadium, 1968. Courtesy Tyee yearbook, UW Library archives.

While the Huskies featured their fair share of international players, pretty much everyone on both teams was familiar with one another from Sunday games in the state league or past encounters as youth. The coaches were friends as well. Since arriving in the mid-Fifties, Dublin-born Mike Ryan (UW) and Liverpool native Hugh McArdle (SU) were fixtures in the state leagues for years. The soccer community was small and there were few secrets.

Continue reading The Whole Sixteen Goal Story (Part 2)

The Whole Sixteen Goal Story (Part 1)

Soccer’s history is glutted with millions of matches where one, two or three goals are scored. So when perusing a local club’s all-time results, it reads much like binary code, with a few crooked numbers thrown in. But just when the eyelids are feeling very heavy, out of nowhere a whopper of a score line appears.

This is the story behind one such score line which, given contemporary conditions, seems inexplicable. Ah, but context is everything.

For the region, it’s about two intra-city rivals vying for a chance to make history. For Washington state’s most established men’s collegiate program, it’s a story of how a proud program can reach it’s then-zenith and nadir, all in the span of some 20 hours.

washington_huskies-logo1959It’s the tale of a shotgun playoff, bending the rules between friends, a critical yet costly play and the extenuating circumstances surrounding not only the University of Washington’s first excursion outside the Northwest, but also their initial invitation to the NCAA tournament.

Innocence Lost Continue reading The Whole Sixteen Goal Story (Part 1)