Clay Berling (right) talks with fellow Hall of Famer Ron Newman at the 2009 NSCAA convention in St. Louis (Joy Rubenstein/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
We are so spoiled on how quickly we need to get our soccer fix and news these days.
A few taps on our cellphone and boom!, there’s the latest update on a UEFA Champions League game. Major League Soccer breaking news or a feature about your favorite player in the world.
Way, way, way back in the day, trying to find soccer news anywhere in the United States was like trying to get blood from a rock — unless you subscribed to Soccer America.
It was one of the few places in the U.S. wt get the latest news, updates, features and opinions about the beautiful game, even if you had to wait a week.
But it was worth it.
In 1967, Clay Berling, who was in the insurance business at the time, took his wife and family of six to an Oakland Clippers game in the National Professional Soccer League at the Oakland Coliseum (the NPSL eventually merged with the United Soccer Association to become the North American Soccer League). Berling became entranced with the game, helped start boys and girls soccer in Northern California, among other things.
Frustrated on how difficult it was to find soccer news, Berling decided to do something about it. He started a newsletter, Soccer West, which eventually morphed into Soccer America, a weekly publication.
If it happened in American soccer, Soccer America covered it.
Back then, the publication’s coverage included the North American Soccer League, American Soccer League, Major Indoor Soccer League, the college game, the advent of women’s soccer, the various national teams and of course, the international game and the World Cup.
(I had the privilege of writing for SA for several years, covering the Rochester Lancers and Rochester Flash, the ASL, NASL, MISL, and eventually kicking off my column, Offside Remarks, there in 1981).
Keeping up with the quickly changing media terrain over the years, SA changed with the times. It started as a small publication in which its covers were in black and white before expanding to a larger size with color photos on the cover and a glossy inside. Except for several special print issues, Soccer America went online several years ago.
I had the privilege to know Clay. Through the years, I struck up a friendship with him, usually meeting at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (now United Soccer Coaches) convention.
We talked about a varied number of subjects — of course, our favorite, soccer, the politics of the game, life in general and the challenges of running a soccer publication (way, way back in the day, I was the editor and publisher of Soccer Week, a weekly newspaper that covered the local leagues in New York and New Jersey and when appropriate the national teams and the international end).
I found him to be a knowledgeable, humble man who offered solutions to the sport’s problems. I didn’t necessarily always agree with Clay, but he had an open mind.
For the first time in decades, Clay was unable to attend the NSCAA convention in Los Angeles earlier this year. If my memory is correct, I believe his daughter, Lynn Berling-Manuel, said he wasn’t feeling well.
On Thursday, Clay passed away. He was 86.
To the Berlings, including Berling-Manuel, who I have known as long as I have had Clay, my deepest sympathies and condolences.
Clay Berling was a man with a vision at a time when few people had those ideas and acted on it. He put his money where his passions were and helped inform a public about the beautiful game.
Today, the soccer media landscape has changed and grown dramatically. There are countless methods to get your soccer news.
I still get SA’s daily newsletter to kick off my mornings, to inform me about what is transpiring and give yours truly some food for thought.
Needless to say, there has been an outpouring of affection for Clay, of which some have been expressed on my Facebook page.
If you’re interested, here is a link to that page:
If it wasn’t for Clay Berling, I just wonder how we would have been able to stay informed during the early days of the modern soccer age in America and continue our passion about the sport.
American soccer fans have much to be grateful for today.
Thank you, Clay.