Even by standards 50 years ago it was a modest match day program. Yet it matched the surroundings and, some might say, the fare that was on display that afternoon.
Still, it was a start. Turning the page, maybe spectators took pause from watching the stocky, commanding figure standing astride of the benches, to let the significance of the day soak in.
In a simple font, probably prepared on someone’s personal typewriter, flow the words: “We are sure that this game will be a milestone in the history of soccer in our state.” It goes on: “It is with pleasure and a feeling of satisfaction we are able to act as hosts to the first all-professional soccer game held in our state.”
It’s actually easy to picture the setting today. West Seattle Stadium sits virtually untouched, not only in the 50 years since but the 80 since being erected. The main stand, wooden and covered, could serve as a stunt double for a mid-20th Century British ground. The weather on that February 11, 1968 was practically spring-like: Bright sunshine and mild temperatures after a cold, soggy start to the new year. The grass is a bit long and ungroomed while the ground itself is soft from repeated rains.
What do a Playboy Playmate, basketball All-American and Cristian Roldan have in common? They’ve all been selected in American soccer’s most anachronistic and superfluous offseason exercise.
Just completed was SuperDraft week across MLS. And that woosh you feel is the collective sigh of purists who only wish to be awakened from their offseason slumber for news of a DP signing.
The merits of a draft must be examined on two levels: competitive and fan interest. Does it help: a) identify and, b) distribute top talent to create parity? And does it satiate diehard fans’ appetite and/or attract new fans to the game?
The Draft as Hype
Of course, the SuperDraft piggybacks on the United Soccer Coaches (formerly NSCAA) Annual Convention and the vibe that comes from 11,000 soccer types gathering together under one roof. Before it joined the coaches’ festivities, the draft was conducted via conference call, and some might say that was just as well. That’s no slam; neither baseball nor hockey drafts are must-see events, either.
So many pieces fell precisely into place, it’s not surprising that the Sounders’ very first season came to be known as Camelot. A huge opening night turnout, the immediate and steadfast bonding between enthusiastic new fans and deeply appreciative and earnest players.
It was beyond what anyone had hoped for, in terms of both wins and bottom line, but also in laying a firm foundation for everything that has been built in the 44 years since. Today, comes the story of a somewhat forgotten figure who, in retrospect, casts a much larger shadow than his diminutive frame or equally slight statistics might suggest.
As is too often the case, we duly recognize people too late, after they have passed. Unfortunately, that is the context of sharing these memories of an original Sounder who died thousands of miles away from Seattle on the Friday before Christmas.
Willie Penman is a name with which you should become familiar. When you next thrice bellow the name of a goal scorer, know that Wee Willie was the first to send a Sounders crowd to its feet, the first to feel the rush of sound and energy follow the ball into the back of the net. It’s as simple as this: Penman scored barely two minutes into the first Sounders home match. And the rest is history.
He commenced his career in Toronto, played for Canada’s Olympic and national teams, and has made the Great White North’s largest city his home. And yet on Saturday, despite never setting foot in CenturyLink Field, Jack Brand will bleed Rave Green.
“Some of my friends will curse me for that,” says Brand, “(but) my heart is with Seattle.”
It’s not so much the quantity of time Brand spent in Seattle in his earlier years. Rather, it is the quality of that tenure. He was part of something truly special, both in Sounders lore and the rebirth of the game with a semipro club comprised of local lads.
Brand, now 64, presides over his family’s business, based in nearby Mississauga. The Brand Felt Ltd. manufactures industrial felt for a multitude of industries, exporting worldwide. The German-born Brand, at 17, was sent abroad by his father, company founder Klaus Brand, to study in New York state. Although he had played for then-West Germany’s youth national team, his father forbade him from turning pro at the time.
Midway through Bull Durham, pitching protégé Nuke LaLoosh scrambles up the bus aisle, bellowing his newfound appreciation for learning. He’s in the midst of a winning streak and finds it addictive.
“I love winning,” he exclaims in the ear of mentor Crash Davis. “You know what I’m saying? It’s like better than losing.”
Moments later Crash begins a crash course lesson on baseball clichés, among them, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes it rains.”
If ever they flip the premise to futbol (the reverse of Jimmy Fallon’s Fever Pitch), that particular cliché will require reworking. When it comes to the Simplest Game it’s a little more complicated. More like: “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes you draw.”
The latter fact is all too topical at the moment in Sounderland. By match day in Utah versus RSL it will have been more than a month since the Sounders lost. Or won.
Forty years on, it remains a remarkable match. Not only did it captivate American soccer’s growing audience of the day and provide a fairytale finish for a global legend, Soccer Bowl ’77 also cast the pathway, for better or worse, for a club and a country seeking to development a professional presence.
For those who witnessed the NASL final between the glamorous New York Cosmos and unfashionable (outside Cascadia) yet fearless Seattle Sounders, it left an indelible mark on the memory. Just a glimpse of the video or photos awakens the senses.
Of course, there was the epic backdrop: a gray, late summer Sunday afternoon, Portland’s Civic Stadium crammed full of 35,548 spectators, some sitting cross-legged on the artificial turf, just a few feet from the field’s boundaries.
There is the ‘Oh, no!’ moment of a partially deaf Sounders keeper being fleeced of the ball for the game’s opening goal. There is the rapid reply of Seattle to equalize, the relentless pressure and the sheer openness–rarely found in a final–that leads to dozens of chances (22 shots on target, two others by Seattle off the frame itself). And there is the chaotic scene at the final whistle, the crowd streaming onto the pitch and the shirtless Pelé running and hugging his teammates.
To understand one fan’s fixation on the 1977 Sounders, chat-up a Mariners diehard born in the playoff drive of ’95. Or the Sonics reversal of ’78 or Seahawks’ ascension of ’83.
There have always been fans, vociferous fans, surrounding the Sound. Especially early on, they became enamored with any team courageous enough to stitch ‘Seattle’ on their chest. They go to games, they make a lot of noise and develop their favorite performers.
Yet when the stakes are raised and a potential title comes into sight, suddenly the relationship elevates to an emotional level bordering on kinship. Fervor takes hold. And at that point, it’s no longer casual; it’s a lifetime commitment. And so it was in the summer of ’77, for me and the Sounders.
Forty Years in the Making
This coming Sunday evening, some fellow Boomers will wax nostalgic as a few choice idols from our youth stride between the lines once more on Occidental. Ten in all, among them Davey Butler, Dave Gillett, Adrian Webster and their coaches, Jimmy Gabriel and Bobby Howe. It’s now been 40 years to the month since they took the city by storm.
Much like the ’95 midseason M’s, by June of 1977 Gabriel’s lads looked mediocre. A 3-nil defeat at Portland sank them to 4-7.
At just about the time everyone was writing off that team’s postseason prospects, Gabriel pulled the trigger on a deadline trade, acquiring a nondescript journeyman while effectively sending a longtime fan favorite (Butler) to the bench. Often times, however, it’s the subtleties that can produce pure magic.
No Ord-inary Tommy
Soon enough, their new everyman striker, Tommy Ord, became a local lord, sensationally achieving the club’s first hat trick to open his account. And Butler, who’d been mired in a two-month scoring drought, would spring to life as a supersub, scoring four times.
Contemporary Sounders fans recognize the formula. Remember late in 2016, the signing of Nico Lodeiro, the reemergence of Nelson Valdez and going from doormat to destroyer? Well, kids, that was the ’77 Sounders.
In winning seven straight to open August, the Sounders were transformed from unwatchable to irresistible, from also-ran to giant killer. In running the table over three weeks, Seattle first rose above .500, then clinched a playoff berth before proceeding to knock-out three higher seeds, all due to improbable road victories.
I listened to the radio call of the last of those away wins, 3-1 over Georgie Best and LA, while winding my way up the 101 to Port Townsend and a soccer camp run by ex-Sounder Roy Sinclair and Geoff Wall. Three days later, stricken by Sounders fever, I did something very un-Frank-like.
Along with three friends (and a willing ballerina from the dance camp next door) I went AWOL from camp. The reason: Seattle was hosting the Aztecs for a place in the NASL final that evening, and I felt compelled to be there. Heck, we all did. Even the ballerina.
It was worth it. We each converged on the Kingdome box office to buy singles for that night’s semifinal. Already 56,000 seats had been sold. Fortunately, I found space in the north end, where Jocky Scott headed home the only goal.
When Jocky scored, when that primal roar of the crowd was trapped within a concrete tomb, it was literally deafening, at least for the moment.
It’s a vivid memory: Scott hugging Ord in the corner. Strangers hugging strangers in the stands. Later, a lap of honor before the enraptured fans, Webster wearing a huge floral horse collar, a la Seattle Slew, that spring’s Triple Crown winner. It’s an experience that’s seared into your being.
This Sunday, I’m that 17-year-old all-in fan all over again. Although I’m now on a first-name basis with those protagonists of my teens, my admiration has only grown. I get to shadow them as they make the rounds from Fuel to the NINETY to the Golden Scarf ceremony, all the while renewing acquaintances with other fans of a certain age.
It wasn’t just a seminal summer for me, but for them as well. In the wake of that season, Doug Thiel published the first Sounders book, All the Best. Webster’s now written a book about that side. He and Butler have returned to the city after decades away to see firsthand what they hath wrought, those many years ago, a soccer community like none other in North America.
August of ’77 was a time to behold, no matter what the eventual outcome against the Cosmos. It was a tale of unfinished business, a task finally completed by the Rave 39 years later.
Times such as the ’77 Soccer Bowl run should be preserved, shared and, yes, celebrated with coming generations. Nine, 19 and 29 years from now, let’s make a pact to meet here again, to share a story or two from one special late summer and fall of 2016, stories of resilience and reawakening, to once again applaud the likes of Schmetz and Frei, Nico and Nelson, and to celebrate when you truly became a Sounder for life.
I became a Sounder ’til I die in August of ’77. How about you?
NOTE: 1977 Sounders will make a series of pregame appearances August 20. It begins at 3pm at Fuel Sports. From 5-5:40pm you can catch them at The NINETY and from 6-6:30pm at Soccer Celebration in the Northwest Marshaling Area of CenturyLink Field. Finally, they will participate in the Golden Scarf ceremony at approximately 6:50pm.
When F.X. McRory’s Steak, Chop and Oyster House dropped anchor in Pioneer Square back in the autumn of 1977, a half-dozen oysters went for less than two bucks and the highest-paid Sounder’s salary was $30,000.
Obviously much has changed in the near 40 years since. Soon Mick McHugh will open a new F.X. McRory’s at a nearby but still undisclosed location. Yet, for many sports fans from both Seattle and traveling from afar to our fair city, McHugh’s June 11 last call will unquestionably mark the end of an era.
With its closing come a rush of memories from four decades, of drinks ordered, sipped and spilled. Of lunchtime or happy hour gatherings and a crush of people before and after events at the neighboring stadia.
At one time, the McRory’s brass doors swung open to the Kingdome when that concrete mausoleum came to life about 170 nights per year as home to the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Sonics. Beyond being a 350-seat, 12,000-square-foot cash register, it became a landmark. Countless other bars and restaurants came and closed during the F.X. run, and it’s fair to say more gameday pints were slurped there than any other joint in town.
For Sounders Nation, McRory’s and the entire McKesson and Robbins Building that houses it holds a special place in history. The NASL era Sounders were the first team to take residency in the Kingdome, and in 1979 their offices moved from the nearby Metropole Building into the fourth floor, above F.X. Before long, the Sonics took occupancy on the second floor.
When Sounders Hit the Bar
Alan Hudson, the legendary Sounders captain and midfield maestro, shared his own F.X. story.
“It was the first bar downtown I frequented with Jimmy Gabriel, Harry Redknapp, Bobby Howe and John Anderson (the trainer),” writes Hudson. “We were in the old office above and on leaving, waiting for the elevator, Harry was complaining about (Anderson) never buying a drink.”
Sure enough, on this occasion Anderson arrived after the others had ordered. “So Harry turned to John and said… ‘John, why haven’t you ever bought a bloody drink?’ John coolly said, ’Harry, you never asked me.’
“Me, Jimmy, Bobby howled. Harry was gobsmacked. Great answer, because we all know that those in the USA are not as quick to the bar as us English.
Hudson admits he’s seen a fair share of bars around the world, but McRory’s stands out. “I went many a time after a match,” he shared. “It was obviously the first time I’d seen a ladder behind the bar.” It was also where Hudson discovered–amongst all the hundreds of bourbons and special Scotches–his taste for that Canadian blended whisky, Crown Royal.
On to the Next Round
Soon after, Don Greiert succeeded Anderson as the Sounders trainer. Greiert has his own F.X. stories for he once supervised the oyster bar.
“The first St. Patrick’s Day I remember (owners) Mick (McHugh) and Tim (Firnstahl) having us start the day before by moving out all the tables from the bar for more room,” said Greiert. “After the last partygoer was cleared (on St. Paddy’s Day), Mick and Tim let us stay for a closed-door, private celebration until 5 in the morning.”
Dave Schumacher, once the club’s community relations director, recalls Bobby Howe conducting his Captain Bluff drinking game to wide-eyed new staff. Inevitably, the naïve newcomers would be left staggering.
“It was where everybody went, because we were right there, up on the fourth floor” said Schumacher. “You could come down the back elevator and in through the back door. Bobby and Alan (Hinton) were always there.”
McHugh asked Hinton to serve as a guest panelist (along with Bill the Beerman and Ivar Haglund) at an ale and beer tasting event.
Such regulars were Sounders staff that two are depicted in LeRoy Neiman’s painting of the iconic whisky bar. After Kingdome matches, usually the first stop for players was the small and rather Spartan stadium lounge. Subsequent rounds, however, came down the street at McRory’s.
F.X. McRory’s is such an institution that it often becomes a rallying point for out-of-towners. Among the first traveling fans to lay siege to the place were Vancouver Whitecaps supporters in the Eighties. They didn’t seem to mind the lesser buzz factor of American brews as they chanted Ooogie, Oogie, Oogie into the night.
Memories of Latter Days
After Sigi Schmid was named coach in December 2008, he joined fans, friends and family to celebrate that first night in Seattle at McRory’s. One not-so-pleasant memory comes from a pre-dawn December 2010 assembly of those associated with the 2022 World Cup bid, which promised matches in Seattle should the U.S. prevail with FIFA. Alas, the news was deflating. But who knows, maybe the ultimate ending will have a twist.
In 2014, Sounders FC located its offices virtually across Occidental Avenue from F.X. Also that year, alumni from the original Sounders converged on McRory’s to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Seattle’s first pro soccer club. They found that the place had aged gracefully.
Three iterations of Sounders fans and players, coaches and staff have leaned on the 96-foot marble bar. And it’s reasonable to assume that wherever Mick moves that bar, they will follow.