The Cleveland Stokers’ march to the 1967 United Soccer Association’s summit after four rounds of games was particularly impressive given that Stoke City, the English side representing frozen foods entrepreneur Vernon Stouffer’s franchise, had traveled to North America without a handful of key players.
Top of Stoke’s absentees’ list came World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who had been selected to represent England at the Expo 67 World Fair in Montreal. Inside-right Peter Dobing had been excused from the first two weeks of the summer tournament to attend to personal matters and midfielder Calvin Palmer was excluded altogether after a training ground feud with Potters captain Maurice Setters.
Stoke’s participation in the inaugural USA competition allowed head coach Tony Waddington to give playing time to younger players including redheaded winger Terry Conroy, a recent signing from Northern Ireland’s Glentoran. Conroy was quickly learning that the life of a professional soccer player was a world apart from how he had envisioned it.
The 20-year-old Dubliner was perusing the amenities at Cleveland’s Pick-Carter Hotel one morning when he happened across a Wild West themed bar named after sharpshooter Annie Oakley. He stuck his head inside the entrance for a quick look and was surprised to see two familiar faces perched on stools in the far corner – Setters and chain-smoking forward Roy Vernon.
“Two beers, Jerry,” requested Setters, settling in for the first of many refreshments that day.
Conroy gaped in awe as the bartender poured a couple of frothy drinks into chunky, glazed pint jars before casually slinging them down the lengthy saloon bar to his thirsty patrons. The duo barely moved from their stools, according to Conroy, staying put for lunch and dinner.
“This wasn’t my vision of what footballers do and how they behave,” Conroy said. “But the manager never spoke about it as long as the players trained and played to a reasonable level.”
Dobing had arrived in the United States on the eve of Cleveland’s meeting with the Western Division leading San Francisco Golden Gate Gales on June 11, 1967. His 19 league goals during the 1966-67 English season had helped Stoke to finish comfortably in mid-table, and Dobing’s first-half double spurred his team to subdue Ernst Happel’s touring players from ADO Den Haag.
Setters and Vernon’s drinking escapades did not curb the two players’ performances on this occasion. They rounded out a statement win with a goal apiece in front of 4,516 fans at the 78,000-capacity Municipal Stadium before Dutch national team winger Kees Aarts netted a consolation.
Unbeaten Cleveland had increased their lead in the USA’s Eastern Division to two points over the Washington Whips ahead of the two teams’ midweek clash in Ohio.
“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 United Soccer Association tournament. Stoke City legend Terry Conroy is 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 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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