Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughTWICE IN A LIFETIME - Can The 2010 New York Cosmos Recapture The Magic Of 1977? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough TWICE IN A LIFETIME - Can The 2010 New York Cosmos Recapture The Magic Of 1977? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

TWICE IN A LIFETIME – Can The 2010 New York Cosmos Recapture The Magic Of 1977?

New York 1977 – A town and country where everything was possible – there was one club where everybody wanted to get into, not the infamous Studio 54, but The New York Cosmos. With the club being reborn in August 2010, can Pele, Chinaglia and Cantona resurrect the Steve Ross legacy? Ross Fisher takes a look back at the glory days and whether or not the Cosmos brand will take American Soccer by storm once again.

The big bang and the birth of the Cosmos began when joint owners of Atlantic Records, Neshui and Ahmet Ertegun, introduced the game of football (Soccer) to the President of Warner Brothers – Steve Ross – in the late 1960s. With football being the world’s most popular sport, it had never fully taken off in America, with 95% of nationals admitting to not even knowing the rules of the game and had never seen a ball kicked in their life. The mega-moneyed trio fell in love with the game and saw a loop in the market for a franchise, but wondered whether three shrewd business men could convince a nation to embrace, and more importantly, part with their money towards a sport which was largely played by US immigrants.

 Television viewers in the US got their first taste of world footballs potential in 1966 when nearly 100,000 fans packed Wembley Stadium to watch one of the most famous games in football history when England played West Germany. It was broadcasted worldwide by the BBC to an audience of 32million in the UK alone – still the biggest audience in BBC history – something that helped the Cosmos cause, after all, you need investors to start a business and that tense and famous final began to convince Steve Ross that the game had a place over the pond. Two Professional Soccer Leagues were formed in 1967 after getting an influx of investment, but unfortunately, in 1969 the interest of the American people was nearly non-existent and the two leagues collapsed into one – creating The North American Soccer League.

With the 1970 World Cup being held in Mexico the following year – a tournament blessed with talents such as Muller, Beckenbauer, Moore and featuring what many critics describe as the greatest national side to play, the 1970s Brazil squad, fever pitch was beginning to catch on. Brazil ran out as the eventual winners, the focal point being that it was going to be the last World Cup that Pele was to play in. “Neshui and I threw a big party after the finals and invited all the great players to attend” said Ahmet Ertegun. “Myself and my brother bumped into the Commissioner of the North American Soccer League at this party and set up a meeting with myself, my brother and Steve Ross in New York. We met, along with a number of other executives who all agreed to put in $35,000 each into the idea of setting up a Soccer team. They thought we were crazy, but what was $1,000,000 between friends? We were all major business men; Steve Ross was a major player – he owned Warner Brothers and Cable TV for Christ sake.”

Clive Toye was hired to become ‘General Manager’ for the Cosmos, and would be a key figurehead in luring Pele to the NASL, but he was a long way off of that. “I came up with the name New York Cosmos – you had the baseball team, the New York Mets, but our name had to capture the bigger picture of what we wanted to achieve. I thought New York was a Metropolitan and thought Cosmopolitan, I didn’t like ‘The Mets’ so the obvious other shortening was ‘The Cosmos’.”

Toye took the shareholders to St. Louis, the hotbed of soccer during that time, to get the members more engaged in the sport. One shareholder said “We arrived there and there were 340 people in the stands. I counted them. I loved the game, I had no idea what a header was – I thought that a great head was something completely different! All the shareholders loved the game but we looked around at this stadium falling apart, with a handful of fans in it and said that this was going to be a disaster. The league was made up of semi-professionals at best.” Toye entered the first ever New York Cosmos team in 1971. “We looked at the stands and they were empty. The only people who came and watched were the player’s families, so how could we get people to come in and watch this game?” They tried everything, giving away key rings, t-shirts, you name it – but by the time they won their first league in 1972, The Cosmos had hooked the one fan that mattered – Steve Ross. He would hand out towels to players when it was raining and really got stuck in. With a makeshift team gaining no interest however, it was obvious that shareholders were going to lose money, each selling their share to Steve Ross’ Warner Bros. for $1. Steve Ross was seen as a risk taker at the time, but boasted huge success. Colleagues would say that they had no idea how he managed to be 2 steps ahead of everyone else – Ross’ answer was “If you’re not a risk taker, then you should get the hell out of business”. He decided to put Warner Bros. behind the team 100% and ‘bought’ the team.

In 1974, in a bid to win over more fans, he moved the team closer to New York – Randall’s Island. The place was a wreck, not all of the pitch was covered in grass, it had broken glass all over, and it was a total nightmare. The football itself wasn’t much better – in the Cosmos 4th season they lost 14 in 20 games. Steve Ross went to his team and got thinking. Sporting icons. Babe Ruth. Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio. What they needed was a big name player, so asked Clive Toye who the greatest player in the world was and he uttered the word “Pele”. Toye always thought that the only way to make such a breakthrough would be to sign a superstar such as the 3 time World Cup Winner, and started to wonder about the possibility in 1970 when the club was formed, even insisting that the clubs colours would be identical to Brazil, but nobody around the table had any idea who Pele was.

Pele at the time was beginning to call time on his career. He had played in and won his last world cup in 1970, and retired from his beloved club Santos. Steve Ross put his faith in the Englishman Toye and flew him out to try and strike a deal, but with Real Madrid and Juventus both sniffing around for the same signature, Toye only had one shot. He said “At Juve and Real, you can win another title, but if you come with us, you can win a country.” Steve Ross couldn’t believe it when Pele put pen to paper on a deal worth $5million over 3years, owning him lock stock and barrel – with rights all going towards Warner Bros. Pele shirts, Boots and even a cologne – every bit of the Pele brand owned by Steve Ross. The New York Cosmos had done the impossible, in todays terms it was like a Saturday team being owned by billionaires and signing Ronaldinho. Soccer had REALLY landed in the USA, touching down with a bang in a cloud of money.

Pele’s first game was at the patchy, glass ridden stadium and a media frenzy with staff members painting the mud green to make it look presentable. Pele played the whole game in front of a sell-out crowd, broadcasted by CBS. He didn’t disappoint – one assist and a powerful headed goal to send the crowd wild. “[Pele] after the game I said to the coach it was the only time I would play for them. My greatest assets were my feet and looked after them religiously. I looked down at them in the showers and saw what I thought was fungus all over them. Thank God it was paint!”

The rest, as they say, is history. Pele took the league by storm and the USA fell in love with him and the game. By the time that Pele played his last game – this small town outfit playing to 300 people on a good day in 1971, to playing in front of 70,000 people in the Giants Stadium – fielding players like West Germany’s Beckenbauer, Brazil’s Carlos Alberto and the firey, greatest goal scorer in NASL history –  Chinaglia of Lazio and Italy, the club surrounded by political figures and celebrity. Winning titles, partying every night in Studio 54 and earning fantastic money, it’s something that dreams are made of. Other clubs began to follow suit – Cryuff, George Best, Gordon Banks, Rodney Marsh – all players who graced the lifestyle and pitches of USA. The NASL had gone from nothing to becoming one of the world’s most interesting leagues in under 6 years. So, when the last party popper was let off in 1985, the money had run out, clubs were beginning to fold and lead to the collapse of the NASL.

In 2010 The Cosmos have been reformed with Pele at the helm once more, playing the role of Club President. They have a chairman in the form of Englishman Paul Kemsley, looking to use the brand name of The Cosmos in a stable and fast becoming recognisable league which is the MLS. They have the ingredients to warrant the hype – A chairman with money at the top, club/world legends such as Pele and Chinaglia spreading the world, a fiery character in the name of Eric Cantona at the head of Soccer Structure and a rich history of a time where there was nothing but success.

You may think that it was a “once in a lifetime” experience – and you may be right – but with players such as Beckham and Henry going over, you can’t help but think that this could be an exciting project about to explode once more. I for one certainly hope so – I’m currently drafting a transfer target list for them which consists of David Ginola, Fabien Barthez and Zidane.

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