Above is the start of the original 1969 press release written by Clive Toye, then the North American Soccer League’s director of communications, quoting commissioner Phil Woosman and his hopes of finding the Joe Namath of soccer.
By Michael Lewis
I realize American soccer fans aren’t into soccer history. In fact, history to many fans seems to be what happened five minutes ago, let alone, five, 25 or half a century ago.
Saying that, if we don’t learn from history, we will be forced to repeat it.
Sometimes, it’s just intriguing to look back at what transpired and what was said on a particular date.
Well, today is the 51st anniversary of a Phil Woosnam statement in which he made his famous statement about the Joe Namath of soccer while the NASL was holding for dear life.
I have to admit I was fortunate to find the press release from the old files of one of my predecessors at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the late Alex Loj. For some reason, I kept all the files (much to the chagrin of my wife) and during a search for information for my Rochester Lancers book during the COVID-19 pandemic, I stumbled into this interesting bit of information.
The press release emanated out of Atlanta, Ga. and was date June 19, 1969
Here is part of it:
A ‘JOE NAMATH’ IN SOCCER SHOES:
WOOSNAM SEEKS TEN YEAR GROWTH OF THE GAME
Phil Woosnam, Executive Director of the North American Soccer League, said today that he can see “the Joe Namath of 10 years’ time emerging as the giant sports figure of the year not in the Super Bowl in Miami but in the World Cup in Dallas or Kansas City or Atlanta.”
Woosnam said that he expected the United States to be strong enough in soccer to hold the 1978 or 1982 World Cup championships.
“Somewhere in America,” he asserted, “is the 10, 11, 12-year-old who is going to be the Joe Namath of American Soccer at the end of the next dramatic decade.
“We are going to find him … that boy and hundreds more like him as this game grows.
“Six months ago we were dead, pro soccer was dead,” said Woosnam. “Now in these short months we are close to a planned program of growth which can take us right through the coming year.”
Namath, if you are not up on the history of another type of football — the American gridiron kind — spearheaded the New York Jets’ 16-7 historic upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in January 1969.
Woosnam was a visionary and a dreamer. He was ahead of his time, when you look at the American professional soccer landscape in the 21st century. I wish Woosnam would be around to see it; he passed away in 2013.
While the U.S. eventually did host the men’s World Cup in 1994 and is slated to welcome the world again along with Mexico and Canada in 2026, and that the USA also hosted the Women’s World Cup in 1999 and 2003, it did take a while for that dream and desire to come to fruition.
Now, did the men’s game or USMNT ever find that Joe Namath?
In all due respect, it hasn’t.
Yet, the USA has produced some damn good players, players such as Tab Ramos, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic immediately come to mind.
Combining a player with superior skills and a personality that captures the spotlight again and again is rare.
Perhaps someday we will get our Joe Namath of soccer.
P.S. – During my search of information, I stumbled into a few other gems that I feared had been lost to history, but I even have the original press releases for that. When time permits, I hope to share them with you in the coming weeks.