Paul Gardner (right) and Cesar Menotti, who directed Argentina to the 1978 World Cup championship. editor Michael Lewis wrote this story for on Paul Gardner’s 80th birthday in 2010. He is sharing it today on the legendary soccer writer’s 89th birthday, May 15.

By Michael Lewis

For a young soccer writer living and making his living in Rochester, N.Y in the mid-1970’s — in the land before time as we know it — BTI (before the internet) — it was difficult to find a soccer book, any good soccer book, that would explain the game to me beyond the usual X’s and O’s.

Then I heard of this book that was supposed to be the holy grail of soccer.

I could not find the book in a Rochester bookstore during a time that finding any volume on the beautiful game in any bookstore or book section would have been considered an accomplishment.

But I wanted to read and learn much more about this beautiful, simple game.

As luck would have had it, I finally found the book at Penn Books in Penn Station in Manhattan in 1976 (editor’s note: Penn Books closed a year or two ago). I couldn’t put The Simplest Game down.

What a revelation and an eye-opener to soccer. It was a refreshing oasis in the desert. If I wasn’t hooked on the sport before I read Paul Gardner’s marvelous book, I certainly would be afterwards.

No, this piece is not a book review of a book that was published way back in 1976, a book that still stands the test of time today. This piece is about Mr. Gardner.

I finally got an opportunity to meet this author. But in the maelstrom of New York/New Jersey sportswriters covering the team at the time and with yourself truly ensconced in upstate New York, I rarely had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Gardner.

Then, as luck would have had it, we sat at adjoining tables at the 1978 Soccer Bowl banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. Paul would say a sarcastic remark about something and then I would about something else.

Surprisingly, and even frighteningly so, I agreed with Paul’s remarks and observations, if my memory serves me correctly.

To many in the U.S. soccer community and internationally, Paul is known as a curmudgeon and a great writer (most of it for Soccer America and World Soccer), asking questions that no one wants to bring up or doesn’t know how to ask — in the most blunt and unapologetic ways.


Paul Gardner (right) and editor Michael Lewis (left) during the Pele Cup in Rio de Janeiro in 1987. ( Photo)

For me, Paul Gardner has been more than that. He has been a friend and even a mentor, even though he might not have realized about the latter.

Regardless where we have been around the world stumbling into each other — it has taken us to diverse places such as the Metropolitan Oval in Queens, the Dallas Cup in Dallas, the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Trinidad & Tobago, Rome, Yokohama, Zurich, Toronto and France, among other places and cities.

The topic of conversations usually would be about soccer, but we have touched on other aspects of life, including baseball, our dogs (my Shannon and Jennie) and cats (his beloved Winnie) among other vital subjects of the universe.

On Sunday, some of Paul’s close friends will gather at a Manhattan restaurant celebrate his 80th birthday. They would have done it today, Saturday, May 15 — his actual birthday — although there were two slight problems: the Red Bulls were playing at home and organizers wanted to wait for someone who was returning from the U.S. World Cup bid submission to FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland (I’ll let you figure who I meant in that not too subtle clue).

Sunday happens to be my birthday as well, but we’ll be honoring Mr. Gardner. No problem.

In fact, I’ll get a head start in honoring my favorite octogenarian soccer curmudgeon: Happy birthday Paul!