Soccer America begins its 50th year of publishing

Soccer America celebrated its birthday this week.

Wednesday marked Soccer America's 49th birthday, which means we've begun our 50th year of publishing!

Like most birthdays these days, it was a muted affair. We sent out a few messages via social media and were frankly overwhelmed by the response from well wishers who told us how we impacted their love of soccer.

Clay Berling founded Soccer America (originally Soccer West) in 1971 on the basis that the media ignored soccer, and as he wrote in his first Direct Kick, Soccer America "will fill that void of soccer news."

That was the special connection Soccer America had with its readers in its early days, especially those builders in the 1970s and 1980s who did not know there were others like them putting down stakes in other parts of the country until the they read about them in Soccer America and were inspired by them to continue.

Many well wishers recalled how Soccer America introduced them to the beautiful game. Or allowed them to keep up with soccer. Some subscribed to Soccer America in its first years. An old friend, photographer John McDermott, said he must have been one of the earliest subscribers. "I had it sent to me in Vietnam."

Soccer America's greatest feat -- our greatest source of pride -- is that it is as relevant today as it was back then. Many of the themes from Soccer America's early days remain true today.

Clay published the first issue on April 8, 1971, working out of the basement of his church, the Albany Methodist Church in Albany, California. It happens to be across the street from that church where my wife Shirley and I have lived for the last 23 years.

The first Soccer West cost 25 cents. Clay's first Direct Kick included a sales pitch, a special introductory offer: "Slip $2 in an envelope to us for the next 10 issues. Make us prove our value." Better yet, he offered three subs for $5: "Add the names of two friends: a library, your local high school or your local college." (I can't count how many longtime readers have told me they discovered SA at their local library.)

The first issue -- eight pages -- included mentions of many familiar names. Like Clay, Matt Boxer, Don Greer, Herbert Heilbern, Lamar Hunt, Ron Newman, Harry Saunders and Clive Toye are all in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

The first issue happened to coincide with the start of the North American Soccer League's fourth season. It had expanded from six to eight teams. Three teams joined the league -- the New York Cosmos, Montreal Olympique and Toronto Metros -- and one folded -- the Kansas City Spurs.

A few tidbits from the SA preview:

"Dallas, backed by oil billionaire Lamar Hunt, was at the bottom of the original league in the early years, but their management started with youth and a strong building program. Four years later, Dallas is going strong."

Sound familiar?

"In Atlanta, the Chiefs have taken on the Washington Darts in a preseason exhibition game. Notable about this game is that they are playing for the Kiwanis Cup. They have local Kiwanis clubs sponsoring and helping with the promotion. You really get to middle America through the service clubs. Good for Atlanta."

It took decades, but that early push in Atlanta has finally paid off in a big way with Atlanta United.

The original Soccer West offered a combination of local and national news. Some of the headlines:

"CSFA's all stars test America's best" (a preview of a two-game series between Cal North all-stars and the U.S. Olympic team -- which indeed qualified for the 1972 Munich Olympics);

"Letter from San Diego" (a look at the burgeoning soccer scene in San Diego: 600 fans showed up for the first CIF championship and 33 aspiring coaches were signed up for a 19-week coaching course at a local adult school);

"Cosmos hitch to German" (a report on the partnership between the new Cosmos and the local German-American League, the New York area's dominant league, a deal struck by Toye, the Cosmos GM, and Heilbern and Saunders representing the German-American League).

The Cosmos later packed Giants Stadium, averaging 47,856 fans a game in 1978, a record that they held for almost 40 years until Atlanta United came along. Toye was responsible for signing stars like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, but he always said the success the Cosmos had was due the work they had done in their early years selling themselves in the New York soccer community to organizations like the German-American League.

"'A lot of these new owners thought all the Cosmos did was spend a lot of money on players,'' Toye told Lawrie Mifflin of the New York Times in 1983 as the NASL began to unravel. ''And that all they had to do was spend a lot of money on players, too, not realizing the seven years of hard work that went into the Cosmos before 1978.''

The lessons of those early years that Soccer America chronicled remain relevant today as soccer unravels through no fault of its own because of the coronavirus pandemic. Soccer will only be as strong as the roots it has put down in local communities.

Like Soccer America has over its 50 years, pro clubs and youth teams will need the strength of the special connection they have with fans and players and their families to get through this current crisis.

24 comments about "Soccer America begins its 50th year of publishing".
  1. Bob Ashpole, April 10, 2020 at 3:35 a.m.

    Thank you for being there. I wish you 50 more years of success.

  2. Dan Woog, April 10, 2020 at 6:42 a.m.

    Here's to the next 50 years. And left out of Paul Kennedy's story -- but worthy of mentioning -- is his own long and loving editorship, and the equally long and loyal work of great writers and editors like Mike Woitalla. Paul Gardner has been a strong, opinionated, controversial and very important voice throughout. And without the dedication, faith and hard work of the entire Berling family (especially Clay's daughter Lynn) there would be no Soccer America today. Kudos, and thanks, to all.

  3. Kent Pothast, April 10, 2020 at 8:50 a.m.

    When you started, I was working in England and learning about football. Started with Soccer America when Portland Timbers started up in 1974 . I still like hard copy papers. Congratulations.

  4. Peter Acel, April 10, 2020 at 10:04 a.m.

    I was a subscriber during the late 1970's while living in San Francisco.

  5. Kerry Solomon, April 10, 2020 at 10:54 a.m.

    I discovered SA back in the early 70s while in college and I've subscribed ever since.  Great publication.

  6. Keith Tabatznik, April 10, 2020 at 12:21 p.m.

    Been with you for most of those 50 years! The best there is from start to finish. Hers to many many more years of great coverage of our sport! 

  7. Joe Elsmore, April 10, 2020 at 12:25 p.m.

    Happy Birthday and Thank You!

    Joe Elsmore

  8. Alan Meeder, April 10, 2020 at 12:33 p.m.

    Has it been that long?! Soccer West had an impact on me since I remember the day I first saw it at a soccer field in Santa Barbara all those years ago. I was the coach at UCSB and played in the local soccer league when someone gave me an actual soccer magazine in English! All that was available then was Mexican publications in spanish. How times have changed. Congratulations and keep up the good work!

  9. Clive Toye, April 10, 2020 at 12:48 p.m.

    So we were asked : "what's soccer?"   We were called "Commie midgets". We were told to go home. BUT good things happened along the way and one of them, of course, was Soccer America. Hmmm. Soccer America. Full of stuff about soccer, the game Americans would never like, so we were often told. But they do like it; they like Soccer America. And so do I.

  10. Tim Schum, April 10, 2020 at 12:49 p.m.

    Just a note, and I cannot put a year on it, but Clay Berling at various United Soccer Coaches conventions, would give a nod to the late Joe Morrone for keeping SA alive. There was a time when even Clay's resolve would be tested as to whether he should continue to put sweat and treasure into continuance of SA. It was just at that juncture he received a phone call (perhaps a note?) from Joe Morrone informing him of how much he enjoyed SA and to keep up the good work. According to Clay, the timing of Joe's encouragement prompted the Berling family to carry on. 

    Thank goodness. I, like others like to have the feel of a newspaper or other publication, but having SA (and the NYT) on my computer every day is wonderful. Keep up your work of keeping the US soccer community informed. 

  11. E Muschick, April 10, 2020 at 1:06 p.m.

    I've been a subscriber since the first issue! SA is the only publication I always read from front to back. Kudos to Clay B.....and his vision.

  12. Gordon Holt, April 10, 2020 at 1:14 p.m.

    I was an SA stringer out of Seattle back in the NASL era, and am so pleased that you survived the unpleasant years and are still at it. Congrats!!

  13. Dean Mitchell, April 10, 2020 at 1:51 p.m.

    Most of what I learned about soccer I read in Soccer America. I've subscribed since 1975 and always look forward to getting email updates now.

    On my Sports Collectibles site, early issues of SA are popular. I have tried to preserve the excellent editorial content from the past. For example:

  14. Paul Fuchs, April 10, 2020 at 2:57 p.m.

    When did it become Soccer America?

  15. Ric Fonseca, April 10, 2020 at 3:17 p.m.

    Wow, time sure flies, I am sure I have an early copy of Soccer West, somewhere in my archives, as I also became a the magazine during my early graduate years at UCLA I grew up in East Oakland, after coming from Mexico City in February of 1950, then for a short time in North Oakland, finally migrating to East Oakland graduating from Castlemont in February '59, three years in the Army, resume my college at Merritt college, then Cal St. Hayward (now CSUEB).And it was while at CSUH when I resumed my playing time there under the tutelage of David Siefert ineligible 'cause the AD determined that I was (a) too old, and (b) I had exhausted my NCAA eligibility - no, he didn't give me credit for three years in the military!As my familiarity with SA, well, I'd seen this fellow with a camera then at some soccer games, played at local high schools, little knowing that it was none other than Clay Berling This was around the end of the 60's at the time when the Oakland Clippers were around - I remember going to see Pele and his team play the Clippers in the Oakland Coliseum, and I might add that it was there when I also ran into Ted (?) Howard, whom I'd met when CSU Hayward played Chico state; Mr. Howard was "working" with the front office of the Clippers, when I approached them and offered to "hawk" some tickets at the university - a short -lived time!But back to Soccer America, by the time I migrated to SoCal for graduate school at UCLA, of my desire to continue with our sport magnified, and it was about then that I'd remembered the fledgling soccer magazine and thus I volunteered to write an article or two for Clay & Company - in fact I still have my SA "Press Card!"; And so, little did I or anyone else for that matter, ever thought that SA would become the respected sports journal that it has become today, and I so vividly remember the times I attended the old NSCAA conventions and I'd saunter over to the SA Booth and re-established connections with Clay, Mike, Paul, Lynn, and many many others! Needless to say it has been one helluva a ride with SA!; I also remember attending my first NSCAA Convention in Philadelphia, where we stayed at the very same hotel that had housed another viral epidemic, Legionnaire's Disease several years before. But sadly I don't recall if Clay was there, he probably was, by that time I'd become a coach at the community college where I taught (Los Angeles Mission College, in the San Fernando Valley) and I'd continued to send in articles or two specifically focusing on the Los Angeles Soccer scene, collegiate, and amateur. And now here we are! First thank you to Paul K, and Mike W, and many others, but a special thanks to Clay and of course Lynn for allowing me to help out a little bit, and may another 50+ years of soccer news regale us with news of the sport we all enjoy and love. Stay safe everyone!!!

  16. beautiful game, April 10, 2020 at 3:41 p.m.

    Big fan of SA since late 1970s and watching your media platform grow. My congrats to all involved in making SA age like vintage wine.

  17. James Madison, April 10, 2020 at 4:35 p.m.

    Congrats.  I've been there since the beginning---when Clay was hawking copies of SWest like a newsboy at home games of the Peninsula Monarchs at Sequoia High School in Redwood City (and no doubt elsewhere); and I even published a couple of articles in early issues.

  18. Dick King, April 10, 2020 at 4:53 p.m.

    Congratulations for 50 wonderful years of soccer coverage. Returning in 1970 from 3 years as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador, I was dying for soccer news. I had played pick up games in my village every afternoon when my campesino friends would come in from the fields. I was the only one who wore anything on my feet! And the “field” was full of rocks. But I was in love with the game and wanted to play and watch it when I got home. I was thrilled to find SA as no other media was covering soccer, that's for sure. I went on to become a season ticket holder of the Earthquakes and even became a very small owner of the team. (Big mistake, I lost my entire investment!) But, my love for the game continues and I thank Soccer America for being such a solid, comprehensive and consistent source of soccer information. Thank you Berlings and everyone else who has made this possible.

  19. Glenn Korenko, April 10, 2020 at 7:51 p.m.

    SA will always be number 1 as far as soccer info was delivered. I still have all of the issues into the 2000's. The magazine was always bringing info about what was going on in the nation as well as out west. As a midwesterner, we didn't have anything else to read about soccer. 50 years goes by fast but I appreciate SA and the Berlling's for all they have started and done.

  20. Bill Riviere, April 11, 2020 at 11:13 a.m.

    CONGRATULATIONS!! Here's to 50 more years!  I'm a big and loyal fan and have been for longer than I can remember.

  21. Ken Fadner replied, April 11, 2020 at 12:30 p.m.

    Thanks for keeping it going Paul K, Mike, Doug, Paul G. and all your fans too!

  22. Alvaro Bettucchi, April 11, 2020 at 2:43 p.m.

    In the early 70s & 80s, I had an Italian American TV program for the San Francisco Bay Area, which also included Italian Soccer.  Immidiatly following the program, I had a half hour program, in English, called "Soccer Results"! Who was on the progam with me?  Clay Berling! I also remember his daughter Lynn, beginning to get interested in what we were doing. Many things have changed, since those early years, but the hard work of Berling and others layed the ground work, of what we have today. Yes, some of the media has always ignored us, as it continues to do in San Francisco, but the more that the "Beautiful Game" is shown and played, the more it will be supported and become successful. To Clay, Lynn, and all of you that were and are involved, God bless and hope for that star in the sky "SOCCER" will succeed. 

  23. Kevin Sims, April 12, 2020 at 2:32 p.m.

    Congratulations! Thank you. SA is woven into the fabric of the story of American soccer.

  24. Michael Saunders, May 2, 2020 at 4:12 p.m.

    Almost missed this article ...... but thanks to all at Soccer America .... fir an excellent publication and yes I recall vividly the first issue where you mention my Dad ........ 

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