A little more than 50 years ago the Houston Stars introduced a professional soccer league to Houston for the first time. Domestic interest in the 1966 England World Cup, won by the home country, convinced a number of owners of teams in other U.S. professional sports that soccer could make money, or in any event help them fill open dates in the stadiums they owned.
One of these owners was Judge Roy Hofheinz who owned baseball’s Houston Astros and co-owned The Astrodome stadium, the self proclaimed “8th Wonder of the World”. In true American fashion, two groups of individuals had different ideas on how to start a new league. So despite the fact that no successful soccer league had ever been sustained in the United States, separate leagues started play in 1967. Details on the start of the other league founded in 1967, the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), can be found in this story by Michael Lewis in the Guardian:
In May of 1967 the Stars, and the Lamar Hunt owned Dallas Tornado, began play in the other league (the one officially sanctioned by US Soccer) the United Soccer Association (USA). The original intent was for the USA to begin play a year later in 1968. The plans needed adjustment, however, because the NPSL decided to start up (with a national TV contract no less) as soon as possible after the completion of the 1966 World Cup to capitalize on interest generated by the tournament. Assembling teams on short-notice would be a real challenge, especially given the shallow pool of American soccer talent at that time, so the USA decided instead to import complete teams from Europe and South America and position them as franchises in various cities in North America.
The USA Houston Stars were actually Brazilian side Bangu Atletico Clube from the western zone of Rio de Janeiro. It is hard to believe how good Bangu was at that time since they now play in the fourth division of Brazilian soccer-Campeonato Brasileiro-Serie D. At that time they were one of the stronger teams in the highly competitive Rio soccer landscape and had won the State Championship in 1966 when they defeated Brazilian soccer power Flamengo 3-0 in front of 120,000 fans at the Maracana Stadium.
Bangu 1966 State Championship squad
Photo from http://www.nasljerseys.com/default.htm and http://www.diarioweb.com.br/
Prior to the start-up of the league, friendly matches were played by a variety of international clubs throughout North America. On April 19, 1967 the world’s first “indoor” outdoor soccer match was played at the Astrodome. Real Madrid of Spain beat West Ham United of England 3-2 that evening in front of 33,351 fans.
The first official game of the Stars’ USA season (actually a tournament where each team would play 16 games and then a Championship game) was played in the Astrodome on Saturday May 27, 1967 in front of 34,965 spectators….a remarkable number given the challenges the current Houston Dynamo have in getting people to show up for games. The opponent for the opener was the Los Angeles Wolves (represented by England’s Wolverhampton Wolves) whose US franchise was owned by then LA Lakers and Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke.
According to the match accounts in the excellent book Summer of ’67 by U.S. based British journalist Ian Thomson (@i_thomson), the final score was 1-1. The Stars goal was scored by Paulo Borges, a young forward who ended up scoring 6 goals in 8 games in 1967 for the Stars and 105 total goals for Bangu. Unfortunately, the Stars goalkeeper, Ubirajara Goncalves Motta suffered an 88th minute injury and needed to leave the match. His replacement was also injured on the game-tying goal by the Wolves David Woodfield just before time and never played again in the league.
One amusing anecdote from the game, taken from the Summer of ’67 book, involved the Wolves David Burnside. Instead of returning to the locker room at halftime, Burnside stayed on the field and put on a juggling exhibition at the center circle for the spectators. Who said that David Beckham was the first soccer ambassador from the UK in the United States! The teams returned to the field to sounds of the standing ovation received by Burnside at the completion of this individual display.
Photo from http://www.nasljerseys.com/default.htm and kigol.com.br
1967 Houston Stars team photo (Wikipedia)
Houston Stars Logo on top of page (Wikipedia)
So how did the ASA 1967 tournament end? I will continue to follow the progress of the Stars (and Tornado) 1967 seasons on this blog over the next couple of months.
If you can’t wait (haha) or are interested in learning more about the United Soccer Association and it’s single season read Summer of ’67 by Ian Thomson: