From Wolverhampton To California

Written by Ian Thomson

Derek Dougan could not have picked a better time to join Wolverhampton Wanderers than March 1967.

Towering Northern Irish striker Dougan helped the Molineux club seal promotion back to England’s top division within two months of his arrival from Leicester City. Two weeks later, Wolves departed for a two-month summer tour of North America that saw head coach Ronnie Allen’s side representing the Los Angeles Wolves franchise in the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament.

The Sheraton-West Hotel in L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood served as the team’s home base throughout their stay in Southern California. Morning training sessions were held across the street in Lafayette Park before the players were free to spend their afternoons relaxing by the pool or seeing the city’s attractions.

Hollywood Park racecourse was a favored destination, particularly as franchise owner Jack Kent Cooke allowed the players to use his private box situated next door to one belonging to leading actor Cary Grant. Dougan also found himself in demand for photoshoots alongside Irish screen legend Maureen O’Hara to build publicity for the nascent American soccer league.

1967_doog-with-maureen-ohara_crop
Dougan with Irish actress Maureen O’Hara at the L.A. Coliseum

Hollywood glamour was never far away. Wolves’ left-winger Dave Wagstaffe had grown up alongside The Monkees’ lead singer Davy Jones in Manchester, and Jones invited the players to tour the Columbia Pictures studio where he was filming an episode of the Emmy Award-winning television show featuring his band. Jones frequently dropped by the Sheraton-West for a game of table tennis with his countrymen.

Wolves’ summer campaign got off to a solid start with two wins and two ties leading into the clash with fellow English side Sunderland, playing under the guise of the Vancouver Royal Canadians. Two “home” wins for the Wearsiders had seen them climb into second place in the USA’s Western Division, one point behind the Wolves, as the teams met at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on June 14.

Scottish midfielder Pat Buckley put Los Angeles ahead, though Brian Heslop pulled the visitors level before the interval. The Wolves moved up a gear after the break to destroy Ian McColl’s ailing team 5-1 with a second goal from Buckley and strikes from Peter Knowles, Dougan and Ernie Hunt.

News of Vancouver’s second heavy defeat following a 6-1 thrashing in San Francisco on the opening weekend left Sunderland fans back in the northeast of England dismayed and angry.

“I can’t understand it,” the club’s director Jack Parker told the local English media.

“You don’t mind being beaten but this was a bad result.”

Wolves had opened a two-point gap over the Chicago Mustangs (Cagliari from Italy) and the Houston Stars (Bangu from Brazil) in the race to clinch the Western Division and a place in July’s championship decider.

Los Angeles Wolves -- Standing (left to right): John Holsgrove, head coach Ronnie Allen, Terry Wharton, Phil Parkes, Derek Dougan, Dave Woodfield, Dave Wagstaffe, Bobby Thomson, Les Wilson, Alun Evans -- Kneeling (left to right): Ernie Hunt, Gerry Taylor, Peter Knowles, franchise owner Jack Kent Cooke, David Burnside, Fred Davies.
Los Angeles Wolves — Standing (left to right): John Holsgrove, head coach Ronnie Allen, Terry Wharton, Phil Parkes, Derek Dougan, Dave Woodfield, Dave Wagstaffe, Bobby Thomson, Les Wilson, Alun Evans — Kneeling (left to right): Ernie Hunt, Gerry Taylor, Peter Knowles, franchise owner Jack Kent Cooke, David Burnside, Fred Davies.

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“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 Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Terry Wharton is 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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