Irish Eyes Smiling As Shamrock Rovers Sparkle In L.A.

Written by Ian Thomson

Shamrock Rovers’ participation in the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament had already highlighted the gulf between part-timers and professionals by the time the League of Ireland side arrived at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday 25 June, 1967 for a meeting with the table-topping Los Angeles Wolves.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Photo: Ian Thomson)
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Photo: Ian Thomson)

The Dublin-based side, playing under the guise of the Boston Shamrock Rovers, was on a six-game losing streak after tying its opening two games. Los Angeles, represented by England’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, remained unbeaten through seven of its 12 games and looked on course for a place in July’s championship decider.

Shamrock was capable of producing shocks. A 1-1 home tie with Bayern Munich in the 1966-67 European Cup Winners’ Cup seemed as close to a major upset as the Irishmen would get when the Bavarians charged into a two-goal lead in the second leg at Munich’s Olympic Stadium. Yet Bobby Gilbert and Liam Tuohy hauled Rovers level on aggregate and ahead on the away goals rule. Gerd Müller’s late winner took Bayern a step closer to ultimately lifting its first European trophy a few months later.

Leading Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara greeted her countrymen when they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport and she posed with the Rovers team for photographs and television news clips. O’Hara arrived at the Coliseum on game day with her father, a former Shamrock director, to cheer their hometown team into a first-half lead when former Arsenal forward Frank O’Neill found the net from 25 yards.

It was a lead that The Hoops still held going into the last 10 minutes of play until Wolves winger Dave Wagstaffe was fouled inside the penalty area. Outside-right Terry Wharton had never missed from the penalty spot in his professional career, and he dispatched his kick to give the league leaders a 1-1 tie.

Results elsewhere left Rovers a further point adrift at the foot of the standings, but the semi-pros were not going to let that spoil their Southern California trip. Some of the players attended a gig later that night by Sky Saxon’s psychedelic rock band The Seeds that had recently broken into the American charts with “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.”

A visit to Disneyland was also arranged prior to the team’s return flight to Boston.

“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 Shamrock Rovers duo Mick Leech and Paddy Mulligan 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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