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.
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.
There’s the underlying beat of disco and the images are grainy, but you get the picture. And that’s the bottom line. You’re watching America’s soccer heritage unfold in living color.
While it’s definitely not HiDef, videotapes from NASL broadcasts during the Seventies and early Eighties are in many ways more telling than any prose. If pictures are worth a thousand words, actual match footage is the closest anyone will get to a time machine.
Dave Brett Wasser has spent 20-plus years unearthing these forgotten volumes and now has amassed and converted to DVD more than 450 matches from the days when Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers first roamed the turf.
It’s the most comprehensive collection of vintage soccer Americana anywhere. For a nominal fee ($12 per game; $10 each for five or more) Wasser has distributed worldwide copies of games featuring countless combinations, from the original, star-laden Cosmos to the short-lived, enigmatic Las Vegas Quicksilvers.
Quite frankly, they were unaware of what awaited them.
When delivered to San Francisco’s Cow Palace in the late winter of 1975, none of the Seattle Sounders seemed to know what they’d signed-up for.
“We were just a bunch of guys getting together and taking a trip down to California for a couple games,” recalls Ballan Campeau.
“We thought it was a preseason fitness thing,” David Gillett remembers. “We were clueless.”
So began Seattle’s first foray into the soccer/hockey hybrid now known as indoor or arena soccer, a game first concocted in Chicago during the Fifties. A generation later, during a pair of exhibitions at Philadelphia’s Spectrum featuring Moscow’s Red Army club, eyes were opened to commercial opportunities.
Once upon time, these bleak days and long, dark nights of mid-winter were when the American game glowed brightest.
Not only around Puget Sound, but across the continent, the highest form of professional soccer was being played amidst a driving disco beat and within dasher boards and plexiglass.
Now known more commonly as arena soccer, at its height it was identified as indoor, aka six-a-side or speed soccer, at least in Seattle.
Over the coming weeks I will reach back to those nights of yore to share some history and reflections from coaches and management of the Sounders, Stars and Sea Dogs, along with those who literally played wall passes and served their share of minutes in the sin bin.