American Century: The 1960s

The first pro soccer visionary in America

When this decade dawned, America was in an audacious mood. In what would prove to be a turbulent period, ambitious men stepped forth.

A brash young U.S. president, John F. Kennedy Jr., told the world his nation would put a man on the moon by decade's end. An outspoken young American boxer, Cassius Clay, proclaimed his Olympic gold medal was just the start of his dominance.

A quiet yet confident young executive, Pete Rozelle, had been named commissioner of the National Football League in late 1959, and he soon would transform a glorified semi-pro operation into the world's most powerful and profitable sports league.

Soccer, too, had a visionary. Bill Cox, a former owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, believed the world's game could flourish in the United States by importing foreign teams and staging matches in major U.S. cities.

Cox had been booted out of Major League Baseball for betting on his own team. This spurred him to start the International Soccer League, in which he imported foreign teams in late spring and summer for a few weeks of league play, culminating with a championship game.

Foreign teams had been visiting America regularly since the 1930s. In the years after World War II, dozens of European and South American teams had swung through the U.S. on tour.

Cox launched his operation in 1960, grouping 12 foreign teams in two divisions. Most of the games were staged at Randall's Island in New York City.

The 1960 ISL final drew a crowd of 25,440 Aug. 6 to the Polo Grounds in New York. Bangu of Brazil beat Kilmarnock of Scotland, 2-0.

Schedules had to be juggled to accommodate the league seasons of competing teams. Kilmarnock played its group games in late spring, returned to Scotland for more than a month, then returned to play the ISL championship as part of its preseason training.

Cox displayed a knack for bringing at least a few teams on the upswing each year. Burnley came just a few weeks after winning the 1959-60 English First Division title. The 1965 season featured the two teams that had recently met at Wembley in the European Cup Winners' Cup final, West Ham United and TSV 1860 Munich.

In 1961, Czechoslovakian league champion Dukla Prague routed Everton in the two-leg final, 7-2 and 2-0. So powerful was its performance that Dukla won an annual place in the competition, which was revamped to match the playoff winner against Dukla in the American Challenge Cup.

Dukla formed the core of Czechoslovakia's national team, including captain Josep Masopust, which was good enough to reach the 1962 World Cup final.

Fearful of tapping out New York City with excessive games, Cox expanded the competition to Chicago and Chicopee, Mass., in 1961, and headed out west to Los Angeles in later years. Crowds averaged about 10,000 in 1962, but the novelty eventually wore off, and the small payments paid to teams by Cox opened the door for more powerful promoters with deeper pockets.

Cox folded up his ISL after the 1965 edition. But within two years, other ambitious men had formed two American leagues and the soccer revolution truly took hold.

by Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications