Former Lancers midfielder-forward Ibraim Silva left this writer with many memories. (Photo courtesy of the Lancers)
By Michael Lewis
A long time ago in a soccer galaxy far, far away, professional sports athletes, especially soccer players, were so much more accessible than today.
I should know. I covered the original North American Soccer League with the Rochester Lancers being my first beat covering the beautiful game.
Yours truly got to know players fairly well on a one–on-one. That includes Ibraim Silva, whom I learned on Monday that he has passed away on Saturday. He was 65.
While Silva looked like if he turned sideways that he would disappear — he was 6-foot and 160 lbs. — he could hold his own on the field and got his share of yellow cards and even a red once in a while.
Because he spoke English Silva could talk to many of his other teammates and the media and be a translator for his Portuguese teammates, John Pedro and Vitor Moia. It made everyone’s lives easier.
One time it got Silva into trouble. A few days after he incurred a red card in a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 6, 1976, the Portuguese midfielder-forward still seething over that and the subsequent one-game suspension. Silva said that “something like this would never have happened in Portugal. The referee would have gotten home that night, but he would have visited the hospital first. The fans wouldn’t kill him, they would only beat him up.”
In the pre-internet age, Silva might have been spared a fine or a longer suspension from the league, but that didn’t mean he evaded the wrath of Rochester fans. In a letter to the sports department in the June 21 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, fan Jim Wescott of Rochester wrote of Silva: “His statement is utter garbage. All you have to do is watch him, with his bag of dirty flags at Holleder Stadium, and you will realize whey he no longer plays in Portugal. Teams or fans were probably glad to get rid of him. … Officials are respected by players and fans throughout Europe. They may get upset, even angered at calls or ejections made by officials, but seldom, if ever, do they end up visiting the hospital for the cause of an ejected player of Silva’s caliber, who in my opinion should be ejected every time he plays. [Co-owner and general manager John] Petrossi and [coach Don] Popovic, you have the potential to be winners, if you can only rid yourselves of losers.”
Prior to a Lancers-Cosmos game at Giants Stadium in 1978, I took a van from the team hotel with American players and Silva. I wore a sports jacket, shirt and tie, trying to look dapper for the Cosmos game. The players decided to have some “fun” with me on the way to the stadium. With two Americans holding my arms, Silva started to rip my tie (nah, it wasn’t silk, I think it was a cheap rayon), with every level he ripped it, he said it would bring me good luck. I was laughing and jokingly crying “Mommy!” during the scenario. We all got a good laugh about it. Didn’t need that cheap tie, anyway.
Sometime in 1978, there was the time we were stranded on a street in Toronto trying to hail a cab quite unsuccessfully. For some reason we were cracking jokes; perhaps it was gallow’s humor. I think he needed to get back to the hotel in time for a pregame meal (so Popovic wouldn’t blow his stack if his midfielder wasn’t at the pregame meal) while I was going to find my hotel.
In 1979, Silva invited me over to his apartment in suburban Rochester for a pregame meal, Portuguese style. He had his wife there. I have to admit I don’t remember what I ate. I did have a couple of glasses of wine. So did Silva, who was in a “battle” with Popovic. The head coach didn’t like his players drinking. Silva said he had done it all his life and he wasn’t going to change his lifestyle for the coach).
Now, why do I remember drinking wine? Because I went to the game a bit buzzed from it for the first time in my life (never drank beer when it was offered at a game).
Of course, it is difficult to forget some of Silva’s greatest feats with his feet on the pitch.
On Aug. 12, 1977 he converted not one, but two shootout attempts (the old 35-yard NASL-style ones) that decided the first game of a wild and crazy playoff series with the Toronto Metros-Croatia. In my story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, I called it in my lede:
It was a soccer game to end all soccer games. And the Rochester Lancers somehow actually won it.
Lancers striker Mike Stojanovic missed two penalty kicks. Rochester used an illegal player (Francisco Escos, who was assessed two yellow cards, but never got a red or was asked to leave by referee Henry Landauer, and his substitute, Craig Reynolds) for 38:15. The game officials incredibly never noticed. Landauer red carded four players and handed out nine yellows as the teams battled through a scoreless regulation and extratime.
Silva and the Lancers outdid themselves in the second leg at Varsity Stadium in Toronto four days later (the day that Elvis died, BTW). In enemy territory – Toronto’s Croatian fans hated the Lancers’ Serbians, which included Stojanovic and Popovic which brought an intimidating atmosphere at a soccer gamer I have not experienced since — Rochester found itself down two players at halftime because of red cards. Popovic used an ultra-conservative formation as he played for the shootout. Silva “spoiled” his coach’s plans by striking for a goal in the 79th minute in what turned into a 1-0 victory.
The headline in the D&C the next morning?
Hi-Ho Silva, Lancers ride again
(BTW, my colleague and friend Lary Bump wrote that fabulous headline).
Now I wonder if any writer today would be invited to player’s house for a pregame dinner.
When I learned of Silva’s passing, I was sad. I never loved writing about obituaries, especially of people I have known over the years.
As I thought about Silva and his life, career and personal moments with me, I smiled. Glad I got to know him on a personal basis as well.
A good life well lived, Ibraim Silva.
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