Many American presidents have held close ties to the world of sport. George W. Bush headed an investment group that owned the Texas Rangers baseball franchise before he became the Governor of Texas. Ronald Reagan worked as a Chicago Cubs radio broadcaster shortly after graduating from college. Gerald Ford was once named the Most Valuable Player for the University of Michigan’s football team.
Soccer’s links to the White House are not so strong, naturally, given the prevalence of football, baseball and basketball in the United States. One team can claim to have counted a sitting U.S. President among its season ticket holders, and it is not Major League Soccer’s D.C. United.
Scottish Premier League side Aberdeen had arrived in Washington, D.C. in May 1967 to represent the American capital during that summer’s inaugural United Soccer Association tournament under the guise of the Washington Whips. Illness had caused Aberdeen’s head coach Eddie Turnbull to miss his side’s Scottish Cup Final loss to Jock Stein’s Celtic the previous month, and doctors had ordered the 44-year-old to fully rest before joining his players later in the USA tournament.
Turnbull’s intended absence did not please the Whips’ general manager Jerry Cooper and president Earl Foreman, an owner of the Baltimore Bullets basketball team, particularly as they had arranged a White House meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson on the eve of the Whips’ home opener. Turnbull relented after a string of frenzied transatlantic telephone calls.
On May 25, 1967, the eve of the USA’s curtain raiser between Washington and the Cleveland Stokers (England’s Stoke City), Johnson was presented with a season ticket for the Whips’ six home games. Turnbull later received a souvenir photograph to take home to Scotland inscribed with the words: “The most powerful man in the world, pictured with the President of the United States of America.”
It is unclear whether Johnson witnessed future Manchester United captain Martin Buchan making his push to break into Aberdeen’s first team. It is unknown if the 36th President gasped in awe at the goalkeeping abilities of future world shutout record-holder Bobby Clark. Whether the Texas Democrat was among the crowd at the District of Columbia Stadium, now known as RFK, as Aberdeen’s defensive iron man Ally Shewan made his 200th consecutive appearance remains shrouded in mystery.
You’d like to think that Johnson made it to Shewan’s big occasion. The Six-Day War in the Middle East possibly scuppered his plans.
“Summer Of ’67: Flower Power, Race Riots, Vietnam and the Greatest Soccer Final Played on American Soil” charts the story of the 1967 USA tournament. Martin Buchan, Bobby Clark and Ally Shewan are among the players from eight clubs that recall the capers, the gimmicks, the celebrity brushes and the games that provided them with the trip of a lifetime.
The book is available in Kindle and paperback formats via Amazon.com.
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