Flicking through some of my old football magazines recently I was reminded of the original North American Soccer League over in the states, not only that though it seems West Ham were very well represented across the league during the 70s. Some I knew had been out there like “Arry” and Clyde Best but then I discovered others and the list just grew including a couple of surprises.
Geoff made his West Ham debut in March of 1976, he was 20 and had come through the ranks with the likes of Alvin Martin, Mervyn Day and Alan Curbishley.
In the Summer of 76, he joined the Hartford Bicentennial’s, so named as in 76 America was celebrating its 200th year of drinking coffee instead of Tea.
The Bi’s as they were known, (stop sniggering people I’m serious) was a new franchise, started in 75 and recruited quite a few English players into their roster.
They changed their name in 77 to Connecticut Bicentennials, where their coach was to be a certain Malcolm Musgrave, one of the original Cassetari boys and an Ex Man United manager. as per their previous season in 76, they were not successful and one story from a coach I have found regards a game against San Jose Earthquakes who included George Best in their side.
“We used to cut the grass so high in the Yale Bowl that the other teams had trouble playing. It was like two or three inches high.
One time we were playing the Los Angeles Aztecs in New Haven and they had a bunch of foreign stars including Georgie Best. They came into town early in the week and were staying in a motel about ten miles away. Our Head Coach Malcolm Musgrove says ‘Rudi, go over there and see what they’re doing.’ I went over and sat next to the pool for most of the week and they were just drinking themselves to death and sneaking out every night, you know?
I came back and told Musgrove ‘Coach, we’ll kill these guys! They won’t be able to make the second half. They’re all drunk.’ They beat us 5-3. Musgrove said ‘You should have found out what kind of whiskey they were drinking.”
In 1977 Milan Mandaric bought the club and moved it, as is the way with franchise sports in the U.S over to the West Coast and Oakland. Just one year later he sold them and they became the Alberta Drillers in Canada until folding in 1982.
Geoff played 39 games scoring 8 goals and assisting in 10, and can claim to have played against the likes of Best and Pele as well. An experience that would stand him good stead for the rest of his career.
In 1976 Hurst was finishing his time as a professional in England, his time at West Brom brought his career here to a close and so for possibly one last hurrah, or for a nice bit of wedge, he joined the NASL circus at Seattle Sounders.
The Sounders were packed with Brits and Hurst would team up with an old friend from his West Ham days, old Arry.
They though only had an average season with Hurst scoring 8 goals from 20 games with 4 assists, not bad considering his age at the time (37).
The next season though the sounders would fair better,
Under a new manager, Ex Everton, Southampton and Bournemouth player Jimmy Gabrial and though Hurst never returned, Harry was back and this time joined by Bobby Howe. Sounders would finish 3rd in the league but through the playoff system, they qualified for Soccer Bowl 77 where they faced the New York Cosmos.
Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Italian legend Chingalia. Cosmos would win 2-1.
But Seattle would sign their own world superstar in 1978, the one and only Bobby Moore.
In 1976 while still at Fulham, Bob joined the San Antonio Thunder for a summer of football.
Thunder was a new franchise and 76 was only their 2nd season in existence. playing in the heat of Texas in the aptly named, Alamo stadium they struggled and finished off the pace and out of the playoff picture. Bob would play in more games than any other player for the Thunder that season.
It seems San Antonio wasn’t ready for Soccer and didn’t realise the value they had in Moore, as their average attendance was a [poultry four and a half thousand, and with that in mind the franchise moved to pastures new.
Bobby went to Seattle to join Harry while Thunder went to Hawaii and became Team Hawaii.
In a strange quirk of fate, in 1976 to help them celebrate the Bicentennial, The yanks invited over their old landlords to play in a soccer tournament, England along with Brazil & Italy would play with TEAM USA, in a four-team tournament. As the USA didn’t have anywhere near the quality of players they possess these days, they drafted in the best of the foreign legion in the NASL.
Pele, Chingalia from NY Cosmos, Ex-Spurs and Wales but aptly named Mike England, and Bobby Moore.
This led to Moore playing against England in their final group game, with Moore on the losing side as England ran out 3-1 winners thanks to 2 goals from Keegan and 1 from Gerry Francis. It seems this is not classed as a full international game by England as Keegan’s goals or appearance does not appear in his record.
I will finish off with a team mentioned above in regards San Jose Thunder moving and being renamed.
Now we know Bobby Moore didn’t move with Thunder so why would I mention Team Hawaii.
Well, it turns out if there is one team in the NASL forever linked with the hammers it turns out its Hawaii.
Five of their 20 players were from West Ham, Tommy Taylor, Keith Coleman, Keith Robson, Yilmaz Orhan and Pat Holland all played for Hawaii in 1977.
They lost 15 of their 26 games, losing 11 (draws not allowed in the US) and again only averaged around four thousand fans. Orhan played the most games, 24, and Pat Holland along with Keith Robson scored 4 goals each, Robson’s goals came in only 11 games though so a good ratio for him.
One season only in Hawaii before they were shipped off to Tulsa to become the Roughnecks but not one West Ham player followed them.
Alan Taylor (Vancouver Whitecaps 1980-1984)