Wolves, Monkees And The Birth Of American Pro Soccer

Written by Ian Thomson

Wolverhampton Wanderers were not “monkeying around” in 1967 during their stint as the Los Angeles Wolves of the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament.

The West Midlands side, selected to represent Los Angeles Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke’s nascent franchise during the eight-week summer league, became North America’s first professional soccer champions after winning the USA’s Western Division and toppling Aberdeen, moonlighting as the Eastern Division’s Washington Whips, in the greatest soccer final played on American soil.

Yet there was ample time between games for the touring Wolves party to enjoy the delights of Hollywood in the company of an esteemed guide – Davy Jones, the lead singer of the Emmy Award-winning manufactured pop band The Monkees.

wolves_davy jones
Davy Jones, in sunglasses, poses with Wolves players (left to right) Les Wilson, Dave Wagstaffe, Ernie Hunt, Graham Hawkins and Bobby Thomson at the team’s Sheraton-West Hotel during the summer of 1967. Terry Wharton is pictured in the background playing table tennis. (Photo courtesy of Les Wilson).

Jones had grown up in the Manchester suburb of Openshaw alongside Wolves’ Dave Wagstaffe, the tricky left-winger that died yesterday at the age of 70. “I’m A Believer” was on its way to becoming the biggest-selling record of the year and the finishing touches were being made to “Daydream Believer” as Jones dropped by the team’s Sheraton-West Hotel in L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood for a game of table tennis with his countrymen or cheered them on during their games from the stands at the Memorial Coliseum. He took Wagstaffe on sightseeing drives and even let him borrow a yellow GTO Pontiac convertible to ferry some of the Wolves players around town.

Tour commitments in Australia denied Jones the opportunity to witness the historic championship decider when the Wolves defeated the Whips 6-5 in sudden-death overtime at the Coliseum. He said farewell to Wagstaffe after taking his childhood friend and teammates Mike Bailey, Ernie Hunt and Terry Wharton on a visit to the Columbia Pictures studio where the band’s television show was filmed, followed by a trip across the street to a boutique store called Lenny’s Boot Parlor.

The celluloid hero even footed the $600 clothing bill run up by the stylish Wolves quartet.

Sadly, the USA league was to enjoy similar longevity to Jones’ group. It merged with the National Professional Soccer League at the end of its first season to form the North American Soccer League, while “The Monkees” sitcom was scrapped by NBC in 1968.

Summerof67_reduced cover size“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 Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Terry Wharton is 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 available in Kindle and paperback formats via Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and other regional variations.

 

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June 14, 2013 — From Wolverhampton To California