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Sign Up for Football!

NOTE: This is a recollection of my first soccer experiences before the NASL fell apart and my journey along the way within the Soccer world. I will be adding content as time permits as it fits in to a typical background of a soccer fan in the conflicted world of US soccer.

I was so excited! When I was eight, my mom took me and my older brother to a local park to sign up for youth football. Being a typical American, I couldn’t wait to tackle, throw and catch some long bombs and score touchdowns.

However, when we arrived at the park, I saw no sign of a brown oval football, but instead saw a couple of kids kicking around a white round ball with black octagons on it. Never seen one before in my life and had no idea what it was. We walked over to a small table to sign up for something called…soccer. My mom was thrilled to meet the two men sitting behind the table as they spoke a common language, but I had no idea what they were saying. To me, they were speaking a foreign language and had some harsh accents. Don’t get me wrong, they were speaking English, but nothing I could understand. I found out later from my mom that one was from Lancashire, England and the other was from Scotland. Didn’t matter because all of a sudden, I was signed up for this sport that I had no interest in playing. I asked my mom what happened to football. She laughed and said football is what they call soccer in England…and everywhere else in the world. As if I cared. But I gave it a shot and went out to “boot” the ball about.

Hated it.

For the first few practices and games, I had no idea what to do, and didn’t like getting kicked in the shins all the time.

My first coach, Charlie Horwood, was a super nice guy, but had a harsh Cockney accent, and it was very difficult understanding what they heck he was saying. Mostly, we either stood in lines, or ran around after a ball to kick it past 2 cones he called a goal. The kid who didn’t like to play at all usually ended up standing between the cones, and was called the keeper, although I am not sure what he was keeping. My coach used the word “rubbish” a lot… never at us, but I guess at how we played. Having nothing to compare to, we didn’t know if we were playing badly or not. Our team was called the Whistlers…no idea why.

When we finally had a real game, I saw the actual goal nets and it all sort of clicked. Hockey with no ice. All I remember about that first year was when we lost one of our last games 10-0. I was so upset on the last goal, where I was nailed in the stomach, and I cried. Not because I hurt, but because I was so demoralized and hated losing so badly.

“Mind the plants”

The season came and went, and by the last few games, I started to like this soccer thing.  My brother and I would spend hours in the backyard shooting between the palm tree and the clothesline. Sometimes we would invite some friends over to kick around.  They never seemed to be born in this country. My friend was named Andrew from Ireland, Fernie from Brazil, and my brother’s friend was Alex from Uruguay. By the end of the year, not a slat of wood on the fence behind our goal was left unbroken.  What I remember the most was my mom yelling from the kitchen window, “Mind the plants“, as we trampled every tulip in our path.

We signed up the next year and I was now on the Hornets. There was one little kid named Alex McGrory whose parents were Scottish, and another kid named Julio Gonzalez, who was born in Mexico, but for some reason, loved Argentina.  Both boys had much more passion about this sport than I had seen before. On our team, they were the scorers…surprise…and I became the playmaker. Back then, there was no 3v3 or 7v7. It was 11v11 and you just figured it out. I had a lot of assists but had not scored until the final game. All I knew was my game-winning goal got the Hornets into the playoffs against Pasadena. Our team was one of two teams representing Glendale and we played our game at Pasadena City College’s stadium, which back then seemed like the size of the Rose Bowl. I remember us all staring up high at the stands, which has been rebuilt since then, so in reality was probably the size of a big high school stadium. Did we win? I have no idea.

“Goooooooooooooooallll and the LA Aztecs!!!

I had now caught the soccer bug. I was watching the only soccer on TV, a German soccer show hosted by Mario Machado, and we subscribed to a monthly magazine Soccer Corner.  Being close to Pasadena, we also started going to watch a real professional team called the L.A. Aztecs, in some league called the NASL. I had heard of this league because of Pele, who was the only soccer person anybody in America had heard of. Everyone knew he was the best. His claim to fame…for Americans at least, was his trick shot called a bicycle-kick, which we all tried to perform with little success. Pele had left Brazil, the heart of the beautiful game, to come to play for the NY Cosmos, and hopefully build soccer in America. 

Around the same time, one of my mom’s English friends, Ken Lavy, was trying to develop a semi-pro team called the L.A Skyhawks. We went to a few games at Pierce College out in the San Fernando Valley.

This was first of many soccer teams I eventually saw struggle and die in Los Angeles.