Boozy Brawls As Sunderland’s Baxter Arrives In D.C.

Written by Ian Thomson

Sunderland’s touring soccer players, representing the Vancouver Royal Canadians, arrived at the Washington Hilton hotel two days before their United Soccer Association league clash with the Washington Whips on June 28, 1967, giving midfielder Jim Baxter ample time to explore the city’s drinking dens.

Northern Irish left-back John Parke accompanied the Scot on one excursion that saw the pair wandering into a bar in one of Washington’s predominantly black neighborhoods. They became involved in a disagreement with locals that saw them being attacked and then followed as they left the premises. Police arrived to find Baxter taking a beating and the officers took the two players into custody before Vancouver’s exasperated head coach Ian McColl arrived to secure their release.

Vancouver striker Neil Martin was sitting by the hotel pool the following afternoon when a merrily intoxicated Baxter appeared with his cousin and teammate George Kinnell. Whips’ head coach Eddie Turnbull spotted the former Hibernian striker as he scoured the pool area checking that his touring Aberdeen players were following orders by steering clear of Vancouver’s troublemakers.

“What are you doing playing with this outfit?” Turnbull asked Martin. “Baxter’s just a joke.

“How can you expect to win football matches with people like that?”

The Royal Canadians sat at the foot of the USA’s Western Division after eight of the 12 scheduled USA games. McColl’s side had dug deep to end a three-game losing streak at Toronto City (represented by Hibernian of Scotland) in their previous outing and that same resilience surfaced when Allan Gauden found an equalizer in the second half to cancel out Frank Munro’s opener.

The threat of new faces sitting in the Roker Park dressing room when Vancouver’s players returned to England was providing some motivation to the players, though not to Baxter and Kinnell. Whips defender Ally Shewan had shared lodgings with former Aberdeen midfielder Kinnell when he arrived at Pittodrie Stadium in 1960. Shewan accompanied the rowdy relatives for a quieter tipple after the game.

“Mr. Kinnell and Mr. Baxter were some guys for their drink,” Shewan said. “They had overdone it a couple of times and their manager wanted to send them home but they wouldn’t go. I couldn’t believe it.”

“Jim Baxter just did what he liked and Ian McColl let him do what he liked,” Neil Martin recalled.

“Ian was a nice guy, but he wasn’t strong enough.”

“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. Neil Martin and Ally Shewan are 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 in July 2013. For further information, follow @SoccerObserver on Twitter or ‘The Soccer Observer’ on Facebook.


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