Houstonians called it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” It was the world’s first multipurpose domed sports stadium and came fitted with air conditioning, state-of-the-art catering facilities and a four-storey electronic scoreboard. A seating capacity of 45,000 for baseball games could be switched to 52,000 for football at the touch of a button. It paved the way for similar structures in Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle, New Orleans and Indianapolis over the next two decades.
On April 19, 1967, the Astrodome blazed another trail by staging the world’s first indoor soccer game between reigning European champions Real Madrid and England’s West Ham United. Francisco Gento captained the Spaniards to a 3-2 win in front of 33,351 spectators as both sets of players struggled to adapt to the alien artificial surface that came to be known as AstroTurf.
The kick-off to the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament was five weeks away. Twelve foreign teams representing 12 North American cities would soon be touching down at their respective summer bases. League officials had arranged a slate of pre-tournament exhibition games in each host city to whet the public’s appetite for this exciting new era of professional soccer.
Fans in Houston were to become acquainted with Brazilian side Bangu, the reigning Rio state champions that would be representing Roy Hofheinz’s Houston Stars franchise, over the coming weeks. Hofheinz, a former mayor of the city and a member of the consortium that had built the Astrodome to house the expansion Astros baseball team, had been intrigued by soccer’s potential after England’s enthralling World Cup Final victory over West Germany in 1966.
Bobby Moore had captained the Three Lions to their sole major trophy at Wembley Stadium on that afternoon. Geoff Hurst made history as the first and still only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final. Martin Peters weighed in with England’s other goal in a 4-2 extra-time win. All three men played their club soccer for West Ham, though Peters did not participate at the Astrodome. A 20-year-old East Londoner named Harry Redknapp deputized for him.
Hofheinz’s Stars franchise led the USA in attendance with an average crowd of 19,802 over their six home games. Sadly, that enthusiasm was not matched elsewhere. The USA merged with the National Professional Soccer League at the end of the year to form the inaugural North American Soccer League. Eleven of the initial 12 USA franchise owners had pulled out of the sport by the beginning of the NASL’s second season in 1969 with only Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornado remaining.
“Summer Of ’67: Flower Power, Race Riots, Vietnam and the Greatest Soccer Final Played on American Soil” charts the story of the USA tournament while recalling the capers, the gimmicks, the celebrity brushes and the games that provided its participants with the trip of a lifetime. The book is set for release through Amazon.com in July 2013.