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The Rise and Fall of the NASL


Matt
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The Rise and Fall of the NASL

 

Part one of a series of articles reviewing the fortunes of football across the world

 

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Every established activity seems to gain a golden age. An era that participants of their activities can look back and say, "things were much better then", and crucially, "things will never be that good." The golden age of motoring was back when the roads were nearly empty. The Golden Age of Science Fiction has been officially set in the 1940s, and so on.

 

Football in North America had one too, but it came at a price…

 

The 1966 World Cup final wasn't just great news for the football fans over here; England lifting the Jules Rimet in such emphatic circumstances had a far-reaching impact. The final was broadcast live in the States by NBC, and the favourable response caused American Sports promoters to start a professional league. Two rival leagues were started, but after a year these merged to form a 17 team North American Soccer League. This didn't prove very successful at first, and after all but five teams folded in 1969, the league went semi-pro. In the early 1970s, this league quietly grew again.

 

In 1975 NASL hit the back pages, and probably many front ones too with an announcement that would change the face of professional football in North America forever – Pele had signed for the New York Cosmos on a three-year $4.5M deal. Although they didn’t know it at the time, this would spell the slow beginning to a dull end for the NASL. The general managers and sponsors splashed the cash; the players came looking for the big bucks. The super-star footballer floodgates had been opened. Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff all turned up with their paying-in books ready to receive.

 

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Ron Futcher at Portland Timbers in 1982

 

The crowds grew again - New York Cosmos were playing in front of big crowds of 40,000 and upwards, including a couple of instances stadium lockouts of 70,000. By 1978 the league had expanded to 24 teams and quality players were joining from all over the world trying to get in on a piece of the action. The rules were “Americanised” to tempt the yanks into going to the matches. After all Doubleday had come up with a version of rounders some time before, and it was widely considered to be Americas National Pastime. Not to mention NFL, quite possibly the most lucrative sport in the world. NASL introduced indoor tournaments, bigger stars, three quarter offside lines, bigger stars, clocks that ran down to zero rather than up to ninety minutes, bigger stars, penalty shoot-outs for “tied” games, bigger stars, and a great blue and red star covered football. Roll up, roll up - Eusabio, George Best, Trevor Francis, Muller, Giorgio Chinaglia, Charlie George, Peter Osgood, Gordon Banks…

 

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1983 Budweiser Goal of the Year, scored by R.Cabanas, NY Cosmos.

 

From where the rest of the footballing world was standing, it looked perfect - this was the big time. But in reality, underneath the glossy veneer – it was all about to go castors up.

 

Franchises were given away far too easily, over expansion meant diluting the product. The average attendances were nowhere near the 40,000 gates the Cosmos were seeing, and there was even some speculation of these being over inflated. Outside of New York, teams were playing to as little as 5,000 fans, and at its height NASL could only boast an average of 14,000. Things were not adding up, the cost of it all was now beginning to outstrip the income. By the early 80’s teams were beginning to fold under the financial strain put on it by poor franchise decisions, bloated contracts and players to match.

 

When the 1981 season arrived, the NASL had lost 17 teams through financial difficulties and by 1984, there were only 9 professional teams playing in the league.

 

In Toronto, Ontario on October 3rd 1984, 16,821 watched Chicago Sting beat Toronto Blizzard 3-2 to go two-and-oh up in the best of three series. Paskin and Bettega scored for Toronto, while Simenton bagged one and Marjetic netted a brace for Chicago.

 

This was to be the last game in the NASL.

 

Matt.

OWTB.

 

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NASL Players of Note

 

1977 - Ronnie Moore - Chicago Sting - 22 Games (8) Goals

76 - 81 - Ron Futcher - Minnesota Kicks - 129 (73)

1982 - Ron Futcher - Portland Timbers - 23 (13)

83 - 84 - Ron Futcher - Tulsa Roughnecks - 49 (33)

71 - 72 - Brain Talbot - Toronto Metros - 10 (2)

1978 - Ronnie Blair - Colorado Caribous

80 - 81 - Willie Donachie - Portland Timbers - 60 (2)

1982 - Willie Donachie - Portland Timbers - 31 (0)

 

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