Len and his wife Eleanor at a soccer game. (From Len Oliver’s Facebook page)
By Michael Lewis
If there is one thing that I have learned as a reporter/writer, it’s to shut up once in a while.
Be a good listener and let the person tell his or her story and answer the question.
Actually, I learned that at an early age, listening to my maternal grandfather, Grandpa Sam, as we called him, tell stories of how and when he came to this country from Eastern Europe a good century ago. He talked about the stories of how America had cities that were paved with gold and how “disappointed” he was to notice that New York City’s streets were quite ordinary.
Wish I had a voice recorder or a notebook to write down his tales.
Which brings us to Len Oliver, a National Soccer Hall of Fame player who passed away on Sunday. He was 88.
I met Len at a National Soccer Hall of Fame induction and symposium in Oneonta, N.Y. June 1992.
I was part of an American soccer history symposium that included then Soccer America founder and owner Clay Berling as moderator, the Boston Globe’s Frank Dell’Apa, USA Today’s Roscoe Nance and U.S. Soccer director of events Thom Meredith. It was enlightening and educational time for yours truly.
Len was on a panel entitled, “Two views of Philadelphia: An American Soccer City.”
I wound up talking to Len Oliver afterwards as I learned about his interest in soccer history.
Needless to say, we hit it off and wound-up exchanging emails and spoke on and off through the years, on and off the record.
Len had a ton of great stories to tell, whether it was from games that he participated in, watched or heard about. As the years went by, he had a pretty damn good memory as well.
Len was a class act and a great ambassador for the game. I know he will be missed by many in the U.S. soccer community, especially those living in and around the nation’s capital.
The one thing I took from my experience with my grandfather was to listen to Len or whomever was speaking from way back in the day. I knew I was going to learn something.
And who knows? Maybe I would get a story out of it, although that wasn’t always necessarily the reason why I listened.
As for everyone else, you just might want to listen to those old-timers. They just might have something to say especially about soccer back in the day.
I realize a member of the younger generation might be reading this piece and all you have known for your life is Major League Soccer, which has grown by leaps and bounds since it entered the soccer universe in 1996.
But soccer in the U.S. did not start with MLS.
It has been around for more than a century. There are tons of stories out there – hopefully, not too exaggerated, about how the game was played back in the day, and how it has grown over the years.
Yes, I am a history geek. I love reading about it and I love writing about it. But you can learn and be entertained by it as well and hopefully not make the same mistakes that were made in the past.
Who knows? Someday soccer historians just might look back at the 2020’s as the ancient days of American pro soccer. Wouldn’t you want your story to be told?
So, the next time see an “old-timer,” you might want to strike up a conversation and perhaps learn something or be entertaining.
I’m just glad we had the likes of Len Oliver around to share their stories.