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

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