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

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