The Infamous 1967 Detroit Riot… On The Soccer Field

Written by Ian Thomson

Brazilian team Bangu no longer carries the clout of their larger rivals like Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense or Vasco da Gama, yet in 1967 the humble neighborhood team from the west of Rio de Janeiro arrived in North America as the Rio state champions.

It was a title earned amid controversial scenes. The red-and-whites needed to tie Flamengo in the deciding game of the Campeonato Carioca. About 60,000 Bangu fans, a quarter of the neighborhood’s population, flocked to the Maracana Stadium to level the support among the 144,000 crowd.

Ocimar and Aladim Luciano gave Bangu a two-goal advantage at half-time before star striker Paulo Borges stylishly added a third after the interval. Brazil’s most popular team did not take kindly to being comprehensively dismantled. Notorious troublemaker Almir Pernambuquinho unleashed a right hand that caught Bangu’s Adailton Ladeira flush on the jaw and a mass brawl ensued that produced nine dismissals. Referee Airton Vieira de Morais abandoned the game with 20 minutes to play as substitutes, officials and fans stormed onto the field. Bangu’s 3-0 lead was upheld.

Poor Glentoran, the Northern Irish part-timers representing the Detroit Cougars during the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament in 1967, were about to discover that Bangu could also be the aggressors.

Bangu had been selected to represent the USA’s Houston Stars franchise. They traveled to Michigan on June 14, 1967 to face the unbeaten Cougars at the University of Detroit Stadium in a game that would not last the full 90 minutes.

Fernando Puglia and Aladim Luciano had put the Stars two goals ahead with less than 20 minutes remaining as a mutual resentment brewed between the teams. The tough working-class lads from East Belfast took umbrage to the crafty fouls and play-acting of their opponents that went unpunished by the officials.

“Some of their tackles were really bad,” recalled former Glentoran winger Eric Ross. “They went over the ball a lot.

“They went down like a ton of bricks whenever one of our defenders tackled them, and their petulance was incredible.”

Danny Trainor, a guest player from Crusaders, sparked a repeat of Bangu’s Maracana visit when he reacted to taking a boot to the skull by headbutting center-half Pedrinho in the chest. Tommy Jackson’s attempts to separate the feuding pair were unceremoniously curtailed by a blindsided flying kick from Houston midfielder Jaime that left a studmark wound trailing Jackson’s spine. Suddenly it was kicking off everywhere.

Detroit's Danny Trainor feels the sharp end of a sneak attack.
Detroit’s Danny Trainor feels the sharp end of a sneak attack.

Glentoran president Johnston Nelson, a former soldier with the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army, led the charge of staff and substitutes from the sidelines as a mass of bodies joined the ruck from all angles, and Houston’s players uprooted corner flags to use as weapons as they came under attack from furious Detroiters invading the field.

Nelson lost his gold watch as he unleashed combinations of lefts and rights at the retreating Brazilians while The Glens vice-chairman Jack Dornan indiscriminately swung a large camera bag at anyone within his vicinity.

Jackson was still receiving treatment around his kidney area as the brawl continued for 10 minutes before the police restored order and referee Eddie Clements abandoned the game. Houston’s 2-0 lead was confirmed as the final result despite Detroit’s protests.

detroit_houston_riot_IMG_6544
Detroit’s Tommy Jackson lies injured after being felled by a blindsided Houston assailant.

The USA league, without a television deal, had finally made it into America’s living rooms as highlights of the battle were broadcast on national news bulletins, not that commissioner Dick Walsh was celebrating the exposure.

“This is a black mark on American soccer,” Walsh said the following morning.

“We are trying to launch the game here and incidents like those of last night are not doing it any good.”

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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. It recalls the capers, the gimmicks, the celebrity brushes and the games that provided its participants, including former Glens winger Eric Ross, with the trip of a lifetime.

The book is set for release through Amazon.com in July 2013.

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