Wednesday, 25 May 2011

THE NEW YORK COSMOS - A Sleeping Giant: Part 3 of 4

Pele was just the first of many big names to join the Cosmos. The next star was to have an important hand in the club's success - as well as its downfall. Part three tells Giorgio Chinaglia's story, and the final chapter of the original New York Cosmos.



"They probably can't stand me. I don't give a sh**."

That was Giorgio Chinaglia's answer, when asked how he thought his former Cosmos colleagues would remember him (as seen in Once in a Lifetime, the Cosmos movie). He was right. Luckily for him, the one man who did love him was Steve Ross.

Chinaglia signed for the club in 1976, earning the number 9 shirt (right, behind Pele). Unlike Pele, or the other European stars who came to the NASL, he was in his playing prime. And it showed. In his first season, he led the goal tally while Pele led in assists. The Italian became an instant star, worshipped by the Cosmos fans. But not worshipped enough for his liking - his fame didn't match that of Pele.

The two clashed in the dressing room, with Chinaglia once accusing Pele of being a poor playmaker. For all their differences on the field though, they both loved the fame they experienced as Cosmos icons. On the eve of a crucial play-off against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Florida club sent a limousine to the airport to greet the reluctant partners.

As Pele and Chinaglia got into the limo, they were greeted by a pair of attractive girls and a lot of champagne. They couldn't resist. The next morning, according to Rodney Marsh, "They looked very worse for wear on the pitch," and the Rowdies won.


The celebrity lif
estyle was becoming the norm for all the team now. They could often be seen at the infamous Studio 54 nightclub, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. In the changing rooms, people would drop by and say hello to the team, like Mohammed Ali, Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. During a particulatly unhealthy point in his career, a gaunt Mick Jagger turned up, alarming the coaches who had no idea who he was (left, with Ahmet Ertegun on the right).

1977 saw one of the biggest days in the Cosmos history: Pele's farewell game. The friendly against Santos saw a capacity crowd of other 75,000. He played half for his boyhood team, half for the Cosmos. When he scored, even Chinaglia, his old rival, embraced him. The atmosphere was like nothing US football had seen, before or since. During his speech, in which he asked the crowd to join him in saying "LOVE!" three times, he cried, and was clearly overwhelmed at the effect he'd had on the USA's view of football. Watch the video below.

The Cosmos won, 2-1. With Pele's exit, a new footballing legend joined the club - Franz Beckenbauer. "Der Kaiser" was not welcomed by Chinaglia, who thought he'd finally been able to take centre-stage following Pele's departure. The team kept winning though, title after title, breaking attendance and honours records. It wasn't going to last, unfortunately.


As the Cosmos' popularity kept steadily rising, Chinaglia became closer to Steve Ross. The Italian was clearly the owner's favourite player,
and eventually even had some influence over him. Under Giorgio's advice, the coaching staff were all fired, replaced by his favoured personnel. In Clive Toye's words: "He was responsible for the death of the Cosmos."

After the turn of the decade, the decline began. The early 80s saw dwindling attendances and fewer stars being attracted to the division. Steve Ross' other investments went awry, and eventually Warner struggled to pay the high wages under the generous contracts. The true nail in the coffin was ABC's decision to end their TV coverage of the sport.

The Cosmos dissolved in 1984. Ross didn't give up on his dream to bring soccer to the US though, fighting on to try and bring the 1986 World Cup to American shores. He failed to do so though, and tragically died in 1992. Two years later, his dream was realised with World Cup USA 90.

1927 - 1992

Ross had laid down the legacy of American soccer. The professional game had died though, and the Cosmos with it. The giant was to lay sleeping for another 27 years...

Philip Wright-Lewis

Saturday, 21 May 2011

THE NEW YORK COSMOS - A Sleeping Giant: Part 2 of 4

The second part of our New York Cosmos story tells of their most famous signing - Pele. Often cited as the best player the world has seen, his arrival in the States triggered football fever for the first time in American history.



Real Madrid, Juventus, or the New York Cosmos. These were the options Pele faced after retiring from his boyhood club, Santos, in 1974.

By now, Cosmos President Steve Ross had made it his mission to sign the Brazilian superstar, whatever the cost. General Manager, Clive Toye did his best to convince him to go Stateside, telling Pele: "With Real, you could win another championship. With us, you could win a country."

Whether it was Toye's profound message, or the more-than-generous pay packet (I can't imagine which one held more sway!) - it worked. Pele joined the Cosmos and became the world's highest-paid athlete.

Suddenly, the eyes of the football world were on New York. The player everyone had heard of had signed for a club nobody had heard of. But among the hysteria and excitement was a hint of suspicion and bitterness.

Dick Young (left), a long-standing US sports journalist, was the most vocal of the naysayers. He attended Pele's unveilling press conference, and spent the entire time heckling from the back of the room. Young saw soccer as a foreign import that was about to steal the limelight from baseball. In fact, Young was even more furious when Pele received a standing ovation from a sold-out baseball game just a couple of years later.


The Cosmos didn't care. They'd just pulled off the biggest transfer coup in football history, and they immediately set about impressing their new celebrity. At the time, they were still playing at the run-down stadium on Randall's Island. Before his first match, they spray-painted the surface green, to make it look healthier.

After the game had ended, Pele stunned the Cosmos staff: "This is the first and the last game I will play in this country." he announced. "My feet are the most important thing in the world to me. And in my first game, I have contracted this green fungus!" Luckily for the player and the club, it was just the spray paint and it washed off in the showers.

In his second season with the club, the Cosmos moved to the Giants Stadium in New York. The team's popularity soared, and with Pele in the squad, they regularly broke attendance records home and away. He was soon rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrites, and even had a kick-about with President Gerald Ford (left). Pele had himself become one of America's best-known names.

Meanwhile, Pele's success in the States was turning heads in Europe too. Suddenly, the NASL was attracting players like Gordon Banks, Geoff Hurst, Rodney Marsh and even George Best, who joined the Los Angeles Aztecs in 1976. When Marsh first arrived in the US, he gave his famous quote to a journalist who asked "Are you the white Pele?". "No," he responded. "He's the black Rodney Marsh."

My father, an ardent Kopite in the 1970s, told me that England was definitely aware of the Cosmos and US football. "It got a lot of attention and everyone knew about the New York Cosmos in England, due to the big names. But you knew they were going over for a swansong at the end of their career, usually. We never thought a team like the Cosmos would stand a chance against English clubs."


But not all players were in the final chapter of their playing days. In 1976, Italian bad-boy Giorgio Chinaglia signed for the Cosmos from Lazio, at the top of his game. Having fallen out with the entire Italian national team following a bust-up with the coach, he fled Serie 'A' for pastures new.

Steve Ross adored Chinaglia, and he became a Cosmos fan favourite, scoring an obscene amount of goals for the club. But with Chinaglia's ego, playing second fiddle to Pele was not easy. And soon enough, sparks were flying in the Cosmos dressing room...

Philip Wright-Lewis

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

THE NEW YORK COSMOS - A Sleeping Giant: Part 1 of 4

As professional football continues to flourish in the USA, the world is feeling the rumbling of a sleeping giant. The New York Cosmos are back.

In the first of a four-part serial, we tell the story of how the club was born. Through the hard work of the great Steve Ross, the Cosmos soldiered through financial difficulties and semi-pro levels of talent.


Everyone knows that football and America haven't always been a classic match. Even the word 'football' itself means something completely different in the States. American Football, Basketball and Baseball aren't merely popular sports. They are integral elements to the nation's culture.

By the 1960s, two British insitutions had conquered the world: football and The Beatles. But only only
one of them could fill stadiums full of screaming Americans, and it was not the 'beautiful game'. The New York Cosmos wanted to change that.


The Cosmos were the brainchild of Steve Ross - the popular, charismatic owner of Warner Communications. Ross struck up a great relationship with two of his partners, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records - a pair of Turkish footy fans - in the late 1960s.

In 197
1, Nesuhi was about to accept an offer to join another company. Steve Ross was so disappointed to hear his friend was about to jump ship, and said he would do anything to keep him on board. "A professional football team," was Nesuhi's response.

As the gateway to millions of migrants to the United States, New York was the perfect breeding ground for footballing talent. And so after recruiting a number of coaches and managers, Warner established the New York Cosmos.


At the start, the Cosmos weren't anything special. To be fair to them, neither were their competitors. The North American Soccer League (NASL) was "esse
ntially a semi-pro league," according to their first striker, Randy Horton (right). "I was working at Jungle Habitat, a safari up in New Jersey, while I was playing for the Cosmos."

Shep Messing was working as a teacher at a local high-school. At one point, he even posed naked for a glossy magazine, in order to make a bit of extra cash (left)! Not expecting it to be seen by anyone, Messing was stunned when general manager Clive Toye blasted the goalie for compromising the team's professionalism. Still, they battled to their first ever title in 1972.

By 1974, the team was playing at the derelict Downing Stadium (above) on Randall's Island. Messing speaks of "broken glass bottles all over the place" when reflecting on the surface they had to endure. The Cosmos' results were equally poor, finishing their fourth season with 14 losses in 20 games. Investors lost faith and pulled out, but Steve Ross didn't quit. He was convinced soccer could be huge in America and the Cosmos would be the team to lead the way.

Ross again turned to his friend Nesuhi for advice. "Who is the greatest player in the world?" he asked.

"The greatest player in the world is Pele." was the response.

What followed was one of - if not the - greatest transfer coup in the history of the game. Professional football was about to really kick off in the United States.

Philip Wright-Lewis

Friday, 6 May 2011

Bunny-boiler: "Alan Smith wants to go to the MLS."

Premier League footballers aren't having a great year when it comes to their love lives.

With the news last week that a "well-respected family man" had been playing away with some nobody off Big Brother just about settling in, another bitter ex has had a go.

Everyone knows who the "family man" is of course, but nobody expected Alan Smith's former fiancée to launch a Twitter assault after their split.

Giving new meaning to the phrase 'sour grapes', Smith's supposed fiancée revealed info about his controversial move from Leeds to Man United, and told of his desire to move Stateside.

The hacker posted tweets suggesting that a rumoured return to Elland Road was not an option for the Newcastle clogger, and that he was more interested in the MLS:

"Alan Smith17
Don't be surprised if he doesn't join Leeds #MLS

Alan Smith17
Oh he wants to finish his career in the U.S as he can play till the late 30s and still get good money and a good lifestyle"

His management company have quickly denied that the poster had anything to do with Smith, despite her posting voicemails allegedly received from him.

It wouldn't be surprising to see him cross the Atlantic, but I'm not sure who would want him. Starting his career as a striker, he hasn't scored a single league goal since 2005, and has since been relegated to the position of defensive midfield due to his love for jumping into tackles. He currently has the second-worst disciplinary record in Premier League history, behind Bolton's Kevin Davies. He's also extremely injury prone and is currently out of fitness. SO, shall we start the bidding at... 50p?

In other news, Thierry Henry has played down the importance of the Red Bulls' upcoming game against LA Galaxy: "It isn’t a derby. It isn't Henry vs Beckham. It's just LA vs NY." Having played through the hatred and negativity of an el Clasico, I'm going to forgive him for trying to avoid derby connotations.

And former Liverpool forward, Djibril Cisse, could be looking for a move to the States. He is allegedly "examining the chance to play MLS and has interested groups in the US". Cisse is best known for scoring a penalty in the 2005 Champions League Final, and for being a picky customer at his local barber's.

Philip Wright-Lewis

Thursday, 5 May 2011

LA vs NY - Preview

The league has really started to take shape over the past few weeks, and both Eastern and Western Conferences are looking pretty tight.

The New York Red Bulls are sitting at the top of the Eastern Conf. with 14 points from 7 games. Philadelphia are just a point behind though, with 2 games to play.

Over on the East Coast, LA Galaxy are currently occupying top spot with a 2 point lead on second place Colorado, who also have a game in hand on the Galaxy.

Galaxy suffered a 2-1 defeat last Sunday to FC Dallas, in a particularly stormy game: lightning meant that the game had to be delayed for an hour. The unfamiliar weather (probably coupled with their captain's jet-lag!) meant they slumped to just their second loss of the season. That game took place at the deliciously named, Pizza Hut Park (no joke).

Saturday sees the two conference leaders meet eachother for the first time this season at the Home Depot Center. Former Villa striker, Juan Pablo Angel, signed for LA from the Red Bulls this season.

Angel spent four years in New York, and he told the NY Post that he's looking forward to playing against his old team:

"It’s going to be very unique, a lot of emotions playing against the team I played with for a number of years."

He didn't sound too convincing though, when asked whether there was any sour grapes.

"No, no; not for me, that chapter has been closed. I move on. People come and go. Whether I was happy or not happy with way they treated me, or hoping things worked out differently, there is not much I can or could do."

That might well be footballer-speak for: "They couldn't meet my ridiculous wage demands." Take about being an obtuse! As in... obtuse angle... Angel? Sorry.

English fans will remember Juan Pablo tearing up the Prem with Villa in the early noughties. He left for the Red Bulls in 2007. I always thought he looked like a cross between Carlos Tevez and Russell Brand.

Philip Wright-Lewis