Quite some time ago Paul May, perhaps better known as Reams of Verse
, got in touch with me to tell me the story of his Dad's time in Chicago. Eddie May had spent most of his playing career playing in Wales for Wrexham
. He played 334 times for the Red Dragons, who sadly saw their 87-year league history end recently. May ended up as Wrexham's club captain but it is after that where May becomes of interest to me. For one summer in 1975 Eddie played for NASL side Chicago Sting, one of the more successful teams in the North American Soccer League's short, colourful but eventual sad demise.
Eddie moved to Chicago for the 1975 summer season, taking his family with him, including a young Paul. The then owner, financial legend Lee Stern, put all of the non-local players and their families in what was the Churchill Hotel in the Gold Coast near the lake, opposite the legendary Ambassador
, a famous hangout for film stars. Paul and his family then spent that summer falling in love with Chicago and watching Eddie play in the NASL, at the height of it's popularity.
The NASL actually started in 1968, with the game gathering popularity mainly due to England's 1966 world cup win. Two previous leagues merged to form the NASL but it died an expensive death in 1984, ironically the year FIFA
brought the world cup to America, which still to this day holds the record for the most attended sports event in American sports history.
The problem with the NASL was that the American public did not get it. They 'Americanized' the rules in the attempt to make the game more exciting, and comprehensible, to the average American sports fan. These changes included a clock that counted time down to zero as was typical of other timed American sports, rather than upwards to 45 minutes as was traditional, a 35-yard line for offsides rather than a half-way line, and as no one ever draws in this country, the NASL introduced a shootout to decide matches that ended in a draw. Fans need to go home having seen someone win, and someone lose! Plus there was a very confusing points system, which I have no idea how to decipher.
Initially the league brought people and players flocking to the game, but the NASL spreaded 'the wealth' too thin, the talent too wide and paid out massive salaries to aged 'stars,' who ended up playing in front of huge non-owned stadiums with 5,000 people in them.
Chicago however has always had a 'soccer' history in this country. The Chicago Mustangs were made up predominately of Sardinian players from Serie A's Calgiari Calcio
, who came with others from Europe (Wolves
also took part) and South America to contest a summer league in an effort to bring the beautiful game to this vastly non-interested country. That was in 1967, and the Mustangs faded into a semi-pro team whereas their rivals Chicago Spurs were packed off the Kansas City. However in 1975 the Mustangs become the foundation for the Chicago Sting
, who entered the then thriving NASL.
Eddie May, a little known winger called Gordon Hill, who was at Millwall before he came to the windy city, ex-Man Utd and Forest forward Ian Storey-Moore (now working with Martin O'Neil at Villa) and Southend's Mervyn Cawston were all signed by head coach, and Munich air crash survivor Bill
In 1975 the Sting, apparently named after the 1973 film
of the same name, which was based in Chicago, played their home matches at Soldier Field. Sting lost their first game of that innagrual season to the Vancouver Whitecaps
, who I have mentioned on here
before. The first home game also ended in defeat against Denver Dynamos
in front of 4,536.
The Sting's first win came in the next game when American Rudy Getzinger scored the teams first ever goal in the 3-2 win over Dallas Tornado
at Soldier Field. By mid-season, the Sting had lost more games than they'd won but the 21-year old Gordon Hill was making quite a name for himself.
The game Paul remembers the most was St Louis Stars
at home, when a typical June rainstorm caused the game to be postponed 20 minutes before the game was due to kick-off. Paul sat and ate hotdogs watching the Fire Department pump the water of the astroturf whilst waiting for his Dad to get changed.
In the 2nd half of the season the Sting started to gel. In July five games were won on the trot and 15 goals were scored in that period. Defender May got 5 of them, Hill also scored 5 and suddenly the Sting were challenging St Louis at the top of the Central Division. The NASL was split into four geographical divisions like in other professional sports in this vast country. In other divisions, the Boston Minutemen
(with Portuguese legend Eusébio in their line up), Portland Timbers
(with Peter Withe scoring for fun), the Elton John part-owned Los Angeles Aztecs
and the Tampa Bay Rowdies
were leading the way.
The biggest home crowd of the season saw Sting beat San Antonio Thunder
on penalties, but a defeat away at rivals St. Louis Stars, and then on the final day a penalty shoot-out loss to the Washington Diplomats
meant that Chicago Sting ended it's first NASL season in 2nd place and missed out on the obligatory play-offs. Tampa Bay Rowdies won the 1975 'soccer bowl (yes, it really was called that) beating Portland Timbers 2-0, encouraging Rodney Marsh and Bermudian Clyde Best to join the Rowdies the following season.
Despite match tickets being only $5, Sting's attendances only averaged 4,330 in a 57,000 capacity that first year, they did improve in the following season's though, getting into double digits in 1980 and almost 13,000 the year Chicago brought home the 'soccer bowl' in 1981
when they beat the New York Cosmos 1-0.
Eddie May and his family headed back to Wales, where Dad signed for Swansea. He ended his playing career at the Vetch Field before moving into a four corners coaching and managerial career, starting when Jock Wallace appointed him as coach and then assistant manager of Leicester in 1978. In 1983 he joined Lennie Lawrence at Charlton during a tumultuous, but against all odds successful period of our history. May clearly got the taste for working overseas and went on to work in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Iceland, Norway, Ireland, Finland, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. He is now back living in Wales.
A young Gordon Hill left Chicago to be snapped up by Tommy Dcoherty for a bargain £70,000 but he left after two seasons (and two FA Cup finals) and eventually returned to the USA, playing again for the Chicago Sting in 1982 amongst others. He now lives in Texas.
The Chicago Sting folded in 1988, after playing indoor 'soccer' once the NASL was dissolved. They actually won the final 'soccer bowl' in 1984 and Everton legend Duncan McKenzie, goalkeeper Phil Parkes, Zenit St. Petersburg manager Dick Advocaat, Jim McCalliog, Willie Morgan and a certain Ronnie Moore, before his time at The Valley, all proudly wore the yellow and black of the Chicago Sting during the club's 13-year history.References and Thanks:
Paul May - Reams' Into The Valley message board
History of the NASL
Logos of the NASL