The inaugural United Soccer Association tournament of 1967 had struggled for attention on the back pages during its first few weeks of play. A couple of brawls, field invasions and abandonments assured that soccer made some unwanted front-page headlines instead.
Commissioner Dick Walsh did not need another flare-up as four games kicked off on Sunday 18 June. Fists and kicks had flown between the Detroit Cougars and Houston Stars players in Michigan four days earlier, and police had been unable to clear the Yankee Stadium field on the Friday night when about 200 aggravated fans invaded the playing surface as the New York Skyliners and Chicago Mustangs played to a scoreless tie.
Chicago, represented by Cagliari from Italy, traveled north of the border after that game for what proved to be the mother of all USA league riots against Toronto City, represented by Hibernian from Scotland.
A season-high attendance of 15,178 spectators at the University of Toronto Stadium watched Scottish midfielder Peter Cormack put Toronto ahead after 40 seconds. Italian national team forward Roberto Boninsegna equalized for Chicago in the second half. Thousands of boisterous Latin supporters had been pressurizing referee Art King throughout the game and the official seemed increasingly reluctant to upset them by awarding decisions to the Scots irrespective of the unruly challenges being made.
“They were tackling you around the waist,” Cormack recalled. “It was brutal. You were getting assaulted.
“I got hit a couple of times and then I made up my mind that the next one that does that, I’m just going to wallop them.”
Another high, reckless challenge by an Italian defender saw Cormack picked himself up, make a beeline for his assailant and smack him flush in the jaw. Toronto were subsequently reduced to 10 men.
Italian tempers frayed beyond control with nine minutes remaining when Toronto substitute Colin Grant swept a free kick into the net as the Mustangs players were organizing their defensive wall. King’s refusal to order a retake caused one of the Chicago players to grab the ball and wave his teammates from the field in protest.
The gesture provoked thousands of fans to jump the stadium’s fences and swarm onto the playing area. Toronto’s players were ushered underneath the main stand to safety while King was punched and kicked several times. Assistant referees Paul Avis and Bill Smyth were also attacked.
“I recall running for my life into the dressing room,” Grant said. “We locked the door and the Italians were trying to knock it down to get at us.”
“You were literally running for your life. The police over there were powerless to help. I think there were only two or three police at the game. You’d no protection.”
Toronto’s 2-1 lead stood as the final score.
“Soccer Riot in Toronto” screamed the headlines in the following day’s newspapers, doing little to repair the fledgling United Soccer Association’s bruised reputation.
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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 Hibernian trio Peter Cormack, Colin Grant and Pat Stanton 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 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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