The use of numbers to convey soccer formations is generally believed to have originated in the 1950s when Brazil’s national team coach Flavio Costa revealed the thinking behind his “4-2-4” system in a Brazilian newspaper.
A 1967 clipping recently sent to The Soccer Observer suggests that it took some time for this convention to reach the shores of Scotland.
Dundee United were among the participants in that summer’s United Soccer Association tournament, a 12-team league launched by multimillionaire sports promoters after the ratings success of the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final on American television.
United represented Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornado franchise during the eight-week league. Head coach Jerry Kerr was one member of the traveling party tasked with delivering regular dispatches back home to Scottish newspapers.
“The Americans really want to know all about football and it is very amusing to hear how they describe the game,” said Kerr after Dallas opened the USA season with a 1-0 win at the Chicago Mustangs (Cagliari of Italy).
“For instance, one fellow said: ‘The Scots play in a 5-3-2 formation!’ “
Statistical quantification baffled the visitors throughout the summer. The term “assist” being used to describe a pass leading to a goal brought the United players great amusement.
Reserve goalkeeper Donald Mackay even noted the bizarre American trait of breaking down games to the extent of counting saves in his Sunday Post reports.
“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 United trio Mogens Berg, Jackie Graham and Donald Mackay 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.
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