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1967 Twenty-five Years Ago

June 2024
2min read

A Word from the Sponsor

After a World Cup soccer final won an impressive Nielsen rating on American television in 1966, three groups of United States Soccer Football Association potential franchise owners applied to start soccer leagues in the United States, but only one group agreed to the terms: 4 percent of the gate and 10 percent of any television rights to be paid in tribute to the U.S.S.F.A., as well as a twenty-five-thousand-dollar franchise fee charged to each league team. The new league’s season began in head-to-head competition when it took the field as the United Soccer Association or U.S.A.

The hopeful owners who had balked at the U.S.S.F.A.’s price got together to form the National Professional Soccer League (N.P.S.L.) and had their first game in April. Since their league had not paid up or been approved by the governing body, the future club owners had to pirate away players from Europe and Latin America to fill their twelve new rosters. Players who agreed risked fines and suspensions in their homelands by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Despite its outlaw status the N.P.S.L. landed a contract with CBS for weekly coverage.

Meanwhile, owners in the legally recognized U.S.A., feeling the pressure of time before their own June opener, did not steal players one at a time but rented whole teams for the summer, the off-season in Europe. The eventual league champions, the Los Angeles Wolves, were in fact the Wolverhampton (England) Wanderers, while the second-place Washington Whips were moonlighters from Aberdeen, Scotland. There were also teams from Rio de Janeiro, Belfast, and Stoke-on-Trent, England, playing to small but intrigued crowds across America.

Soccer and American television proved an imperfect match. In a fluid game of constant movement, there remained the question of where to fit in the commercials. Peter Rhodes, an N.P.S.L. referee, confessed after a month of play to calling eleven unnecessary fouls in a game between Toronto and Pittsburgh to allow CBS to break away to its sponsor. Seeing one player struggle up from the ground before the ad had finished, Rhodes pushed him back down.

The Oakland Clippers took the N.P.S.L. title. The following year both leagues merged into the North American Soccer League, which had a popular re-emergence seven years later with the arrival of Pelé and other foreign masters of the game. But the craze then lasted only about as long as the big money that had attracted star players here in the first place, and American soccer subsided once more.

A Hard Rain

April brought proclamations, draftcard burnings, and mass demonstrations against the United States’s continuing grim entanglement in Vietnam. In New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged conscientious objection to the draft on a nationwide scale, called the U.S. government the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” and offered a five-point plan for a peaceful American withdrawal. It was Dr. King’s strongest statement yet on the war, in which “twice as many Negroes as whites” were serving. “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned,” he warned, “part of the autopsy must read Vietnam.”

Next to its front-page account of the King speech, The New York Times ran a UPI photo of an American GI covering his injured fellow soldier with his own body in jungle fighting near Quanloi, South Vietnam.

On April 15 Dr. King was one of a hundred thousand protesters in New York City. Another fifty thousand marched simultaneously in San Francisco to protest the war. Dr. King joined Dr. Benjamin Spock, Harry Belafonte, and others at the head of the New York parade starting from Central Park—where the country’s first large group torching of draft cards was held—and going to the United Nations Plaza. Demonstrators chanting, “Hell, no, we won’t go,” and “Flower power” passed equally vehement throngs hurling eggs and paint or holding up signs that read BOMB HANOI and DR. SPOCK SMOKES BANANAS .

At the U.N. Dr. King addressed the crowd after the parade’s leaders had submitted a proclamation addressed to the organization’s undersecretary for political affairs. Speaking on behalf of his Spring Mobilization Committee, the Reverend James Bevel issued a vague threat to “close down New York City” if President Johnson failed to “pull those guns out” within a month. By late afternoon the demonstrators had been scattered by a heavy, dispiriting rain.

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