Ernst Happel’s arrival at ADO Den Haag in 1962 quickly transformed the mid-ranking mainstays of Holland’s top flight Eredivisie into title challengers. The Austrian head coach led his side to back-to-back third place finishes in 1965 and 1966, and a trio of KNVB Cup Final appearances ended with an unwelcome hat-trick of defeats.
Den Haag’s rise also attracted the interest of North American soccer promoters that were searching for foreign clubs to represent their nascent franchises during the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament of 1967. Happel’s side duly accepted an invitation to compete as the San Francisco Golden Gate Gales.
The Gales’ owner George Fleharty had secured the use of the San Francisco 49ers’ Kezar Stadium for the summer, and the small crowds that gathered for the first four home games nicknamed the touring Dutch players as the “Monster Men,” such was their physical strength and towering height. Six of Den Haag’s regular starting 11 stood taller than six feet, with 6-foot-4-inch defender and captain Jan Villerius dwarfing almost all of his opponents.
Happel’s aggressive, speedy team had dished out 6-1 thrashings to the Vancouver Royal Canadians (Sunderland from England) and the Detroit Cougars (Glentoran from Northern Ireland), but inconsistency had allowed the Los Angeles Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers from England) to take control of the USA’s Western Division through eight of the 12 scheduled games.
Two consecutive ties by Wolves coupled with San Francisco’s improving form presented an opportunity for the Gales to assume the top spot on June 28 when the two teams faced off in Northern California.
San Francisco’s impressive front trio of outside-right Harry Heijnen, center-forward Lambert Maassen and outside-left Kees Aarts were kept in check by the Los Angeles defense during a tense opening period. Gales’ inside-left Piet De Zoete broke the visitors’ resistance two minutes before half-time with a stunning 35-yard rocket that whistled past Wolves goalkeeper Phil Parkes. The 7,123 fans would be watching their adopted team become the new league leaders if the Gales could hold on.
Wolves’ outside-left Dave Wagstaffe had been taken to hospital with a cracked rib after a late challenge and Pat Buckley, his replacement, limped off shortly afterward with an ankle injury before joining Wagstaffe in the emergency ward. The battle intensified after the interval as Los Angeles pressed for an equalizer.
Wolves captain Mike Bailey and Gales full-back Theo van der Burch sparked a ruck in the closing minutes that saw both teams reduced to 10 men with Ernie Hunt and Harry Heijnen dismissed. Los Angeles striker Derek Dougan soon followed for putting his hands on the referee’s shoulder after the official waved off a penalty appeal.
There were no changes to the 1-0 scoreline despite the increased space on the field. San Francisco had handed Los Angeles their first defeat of the tournament to pull level on points with their California rivals with three games remaining.
Los Angeles would have an instant chance to pull away again when the two sides met in a rematch at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum two days later.
“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. Sixteen players from eight of the participating European clubs recall the capers, the gimmicks, the celebrity brushes and the games that provided them with the trip of a lifetime.
The book is available in Kindle and paperback formats via Amazon.com.
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