July 10, 1967. Aberdeen manager Eddie Turnbull and his players occupied the home dressing room at the District of Columbia Stadium in Washington, D.C. The Dons were representing the Washington Whips franchise in the inaugural United Soccer Association tournament, a summer league that would crown America’s first truly national champion.
Turnbull’s men should already have qualified for the final against the Los Angeles Wolves, represented by Wolverhampton Wanderers. They lost 2-1 to Boston Shamrock Rovers two days earlier when victory would have clinched the Eastern Division crown. Now they trailed Cleveland Stokers (Stoke City) with one game in hand left on this Monday evening. A win would see them fight for the championship in L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum. Anything else meant a flight home.
Laces were being tied and studs being screwed in when a respected figure appeared in the dressing room wearing a garish, bright yellow sports jacket. It’s Earl Foreman, the D.C.-based real estate lawyer who received the franchise rights to Washington’s newest sports team. Foreman wished the players good luck before throwing out an incentive – anyone scoring two goals in this decisive contest would earn the jacket off his back.
American soccer lost a great pioneer on Jan. 23 when Foreman, 92, died of natural causes. He had owned a stake in the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team and was a minority owner of the Baltimore Bullets basketball franchise when he was tempted to join an unfamiliar sport. The Whips marked his first foray into the world’s game although it was the indoor version that ultimately provided Foreman’s greatest sporting accomplishment.
Foreman was instrumental in creating the Major Indoor Soccer League in the late 1970s. He served as the organization’s commissioner from 1978 through 1985 and again in 1989. Indoor soccer’s heyday came in the mid-1980s after the demise of the North American Soccer League. The MISL became America’s de facto first division with average crowds hovering around 9,000. Attendances in Cleveland outpaced the Cavaliers NBA franchise while the Pittsburgh Spirit was a bigger draw than the Penguins hockey team.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United Soccer Association’s one and only season before it merged into the NASL for the 1968 campaign. Aberdeen’s former players retain fond memories of Foreman and his part in the franchise’s initial success.
“He knew how to handle people,” recalled ex-Dons defender Ally Shewan. Foreman alleviated any worries that the married players had about phoning home in an era when the price of transatlantic calls exceeded the discretionary spending power of professional footballers. Foreman’s influence also allowed the squad to relax on the golf course or by the swimming pool at the exclusive Chevy Chase Club during their free time.
The Whips’ opponents on this decisive night were Wolves. An earlier 1-1 draw between the sides was invalidated due to the referee allowing the Englishmen to make three outfield substitutions when two field changes and a replacement goalkeeper were permitted. Wolves arrived in Washington short on preparation and motivation after finishing their Western Division fixtures in Houston 24 hours earlier.
Dons striker Jim Storrie broke the deadlock 10 minutes into the second half when he collected Franny Munro’s pass before beating goalkeeper Phil Parkes. Storrie then doubled the lead before Martin Buchan completed a 3-0 win to set up a rematch between the teams in Los Angeles with the championship on the line.
Aberdeen’s time in the U.S. capital was over. They saluted their adopted home crowd for the last time before heading back into the bowels of D.C. Stadium to celebrate. Foreman was nowhere to be seen although he stayed true to his word.
That garish, bright yellow sports jacket hung on the peg inside Storrie’s locker.
“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. Ally Shewan and Martin Buchan 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 available in Kindle and paperback formats via Amazon.com.