Professional soccer’s first “Texas Derby” took place at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on June 3, 1967 when the Dallas Tornado and the Houston Stars played to a scoreless tie. One week later, the teams reconvened in front of 20,375 fans at the Houston Astrodome.
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Dundee United’s introduction to life as the Dallas Tornado during the 1967 United Soccer Association tournament had been fraught with discomfort.
Head coach Jerry Kerr and his players found themselves marooned on the campus of Southern Methodist University, five miles north of downtown Dallas, as they were housed at the school’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity building with training being conducted on a field across the street.
“It was a typical university dormitory with bunk beds, communal showers and communal toilets,” recalled former United goalkeeper Donald Mackay. “We couldn’t have any food there, so we had to walk half a mile down the road to a café for our breakfast.”
Nor was there an open-air swimming pool for the players to relax at, unlike in most of the nearby motels. There was little entertainment available to them other than a television in the communal sitting room that had one color – an unpleasant pale green. Color programming was extremely rare in Britain at the time and United’s Norwegian winger Finn Seemann was captivated by the departure from black-and-white, even if it was for a garish lime.
“You’d get up in the morning and go down for breakfast and Finn would be sitting watching the telly,” Mackay said. “We’d go training and come back and Finn would go and watch the telly again.”
The players’ discontent rose further when Lamar Hunt’s Dallas organization arranged to bus the team 240 miles down the I-45 freeway for the USA rematch with the Houston Stars on Saturday 10 June, 1967. Original plans to travel on the morning of the game were changed so that the Tornado would arrive on Friday evening for an overnight stay Houston’s Shamrock Hilton Hotel, but the team was still scheduled to drive back late on Saturday night after the game. Houston, by comparison, had flown into Love Field Airport in Dallas for the teams’ scoreless tie one week earlier.
“They’re not here for a holiday,” countered the Tornado’s general manager Ed Fries.
Houston’s Astrodome posed a whole new set of problems for a Scottish side used to battling against howling winds on muddy surfaces. A soil diamond and baseball foul lines had been laid on the artificial AstroTurf field in preparation for an Astros game two days later, and holes remained in the dirt where the bases had been removed.
“The joke was we were going to play against the air conditioning in the first half,” said Mogens Berg, United’s former winger from Denmark.
Rio de Janeiro state champions Bangu, representing the Houston Stars, proved to be too strong for Kerr’s mix of Scots and Scandinavians. They were lighter, faster and smarter in their movements on the unruly indoor field. Goals from Peixinho and Brazilian national team forward Paulo Borges gave the hosts a 2-0 win.
Dallas had sunk to the foot of the Western Division with one-third of their 12-game USA season complete. They trudged back onto their bus afterward for the grim journey home to their substandard accommodation, hoping for better things to come.
“Summer Of ’67: Flower Power, Race Riots, Vietnam and the Greatest Soccer Final Played on American Soil” by Ian Thomson charts the story of the 1967 USA tournament. Former Dundee United trio Mogens Berg, Jackie Graham and Donald Mackay are among the participants 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 set for release through Amazon.com in July 2013. For further information, follow @SoccerObserver on Twitter or ‘The Soccer Observer’ on Facebook.
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