There's plenty to learn about American soccer in the 1970s from Bill Gazonas' inspirational story

The first team I ever covered for Soccer America I never actually saw play.

I started subscribing to Soccer America in 1973 -- the first issue I ever received was the College Preview -- when I enrolled at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. In those days, Soccer America was still developing its network of correspondents and basically published whoever and whatever.

Colgate had an average soccer program but down the road, about hour away, was Oneonta, home to national powerhouse Hartwick College (and Oneonta State). I didn't have a car -- or any friends who had any interest in encouraging my soccer passion and driving me to Oneonta -- so I'd listen to the Hartwick games from Elmore Field on the radio on Saturday afternoons.

No one was covering Hartwick for Soccer America, so I started typing up four or five paragraphs on the games, rushing to the Hamilton post office, which closed at 4 o'clock on Saturday afternoons, and sending my story off via special delivery -- 60 cents -- to Soccer America in Berkeley, California.

The first time I actually saw Hartwick play it won the 1977 national championship. I was in the Bay Area and watched it beat the University of San Francisco with Andy Atuegbu and Tony Igweat the final four Cal hosted.



The 1977 Hartwick team was one of the greatest college teams ever assembled with players recruited from two main sources: New Jersey (Billy Gazonas and Art Napolitano from Trenton, Joey Ryan from Harrison, Tom Maresca from Bloomfield and Khyen Ivanchukov and Zeren Ombadykow from the Kalmyk-American community in Howell) and the Merseyside area of England (Aly Anderson, Jeff Tipping and Stephen Long from Liverpool and Duncan MacDonald from Southport).

Gazonas, the 1977 Hermann Trophy winner, has published a 330-page biography on his four years at Hartwick. It's an inspirational story of how he went from an unused freshman in 1974 to the captain of the 1977 championship team. He followed his close friend from Trenton, Glenn Myernick, to Hartwick only to be told by head coach Timo Liekoski he should think of changing schools if he wanted to play.

The 5-foot-3 Gazonas was relegated to serving as a ball boy for the first intrasquad scrimmage and being the only Hartwick player not to get into the season opener at Montclair State with his parents in the stands. He pulled himself together after crying on the bus ride back to Oneonta and worked for hours on his own to improve his game and finally win over -- rather quickly -- Liekoski.

But "That Little Son of a B*tch" is also a remarkably detailed story about American soccer at the youth and college levels in the 1970s, unencumbered by the hyper-organized youth soccer industry that took off in the 1980s.

There was no ESPN+, no YouTube highlights, no soccer on television, basically, until Soccer Made in Germany came along in 1976, during Gazonas' junior year at Hartwick. Soccer camp served as the introduction to the beautiful game for a generation of kids. In the evening, campers watched films of great international matches that distributors sold to camps. Gazonas attended soccer camp at nearby Rider College, where his coaches were Manfred Schellscheidt and Charlie "Ping Pong" Farrauto, his mentor.

One of the the films they showed was the 1970 World Cup between Brazil and Italy. In 1976, Gazonas got a media pass from George O'Gorman, the Trentonian's soccer writer, for the Bicentennial Cup game between Brazil and Italy in New Haven and secured a spot 10 feet from the end of the Brazilian bench to follow the movement of the great Roberto Rivelino, converted from a winger to a midfielder, like him. (Gazonas has a photo of Zico and him on the field after the game as proof -- he convinced Falcao to take the photo.)

Youth soccer had none of the structure it has today. Without it, Gazonas thrived. In the summer, Farrauto would come by Gazonas' house early in the morning for breakfast Gazonas' mother cooked for them and then they'd head to a local junior high school, where Farrauto would train Gazonas and whoever else showed up until 3:30 in the afternoon. Gazonas would eat dinner at home and then bike back to the junior high school, where pickup games lasted until it was too dark to see.

At Hartwick, Gazonas and Myernick would play a game in the the backyard of their house next to the railroad tracks. As freight trains chugged by, they'd aim shots off the side of the freight cars. Gazonas tells the story of challenging Mooch. He called out "the first O in Oswego" and hit the letter. Myernick matched him, hitting the "L" in "Lackawanna," and they went down the line, calling out letters in the names on the side of the freight cars and hitting them while their other housemate, Jim "Harry" Harrison, pretended to do match commentary of the contest.

Myernick, who was elected posthumously to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2015, and Gazonas were back-to-back Hermann Trophy winners in 1976 and 1977. Trenton was one of the first American soccer hotbeds. Among the other players who came out of Mercer County in the late 1960s and early 1970s were Bobby Smith, another Hall of Famer, Tony Bellinger, one of the first players to turn pro out of high school, Kevin Welsh and Tim Murphy.

Ethnic clubs mostly dominated the New Jersey amateur scene: Elizabeth Sport Club, the German club where Schellscheidt played and coached, the Woodbridge Hungarians, Kearny Scots and Trenton Italians. Gazonas and Myernick played for a tavern team, Trenton Extension, owned by Frank Rasimowicz, Murphy's grandfather. The NCAA didn't have the restrictions on out-of-season play it has now, and Myernick and Gazonas would drive down from Oneonta to New Jersey each weekend in Myernick's VW Bug for New Jersey State Cup and U.S. Amateur Cup games. In 1976, the 'Ex" reached the U.S. Amateur Cup final before losing to Bavarian Blue Ribbon, 3-1, in Milwaukee.

Before that, Gazonas played for Hamilton Post 313, a local American Legion team. Its big trip of the year was to the Robbie Tournament in Ontario. There was no youth national team program or ODP, but Schellscheidt would take an all-star team of Jersey boys to Germany in the summer. In 1973, he played for the NASL champion Philadelphia Atoms but missed the semifinal win over the Toronto Metros in order to take his kids on their planned trip to Germany.

Gazonas' one shot at a national team came in 1977 when he was invited to a U.S. Olympic team camp, the first gathering of athletes at the new USOC training center opened in Squaw Valley, California, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. He saw it as a chance to get exposure with NASL teams scouting players at the camp.

But there was one hitch: players had to pay their own way to get to Lake Tahoe. Players who made the team would be reimbursed their transportation costs. Gazonas declined the invite, figuring he'd take his chances on impressing pro teams during his senior year at Hartwick.

Hartwick won its first national championship in 1977, and Gazonas was taken with the third pick in the 1978 NASL Draft. He went on to play six seasons in the NASL and MISL.

Gazonas later went into family business with his brother Andrew, operating Michele Lorie Cheesecakes in Trenton. In retirement, he decided to write "That Little Son of a B*tch."

23 comments about "There's plenty to learn about American soccer in the 1970s from Bill Gazonas' inspirational story".
  1. Dan Woog, May 10, 2020 at 7:40 a.m.

    Those were special days. Thanks, Paul, for capturing them so well. Two other memories, from someone who grew up in Connecticut in that era (with its own thriving soccer scene): buying soccer shoes at the only place that sold them retail, Max Doss' Soccer Sport Supply in the Yorkville (German) neighborhood of Manhattan (it was a treasure trove, though dusty and completely disorganized), and hanging a soccer ball from your car's rear view mirror. When you saw someone else with one, you felt part of a small, special fraternity.

  2. frank schoon replied, May 10, 2020 at 10:01 a.m.

    I remember those great shoes of Max Doss, Di Stefano's. They had the best of any soccer shoes one could buy. Those shoes lasted forever and no shoemaker could compete with the bottoms. When I opened up a store called 'Soccer World' in Annandale ,Va. ,I immediately traveled to France to the Hunga company where those bottoms of the 'Di Stefano's' were made. I was told that the manufacture was bought out by Adidas and they threw away the presses (probably in the river), for I assume Adidas didn't want to compete with quality bottom.  
    And ,yes, I remember those days when one felt alone in a desert if you played soccer. But as soon as you noticed someone having a soccer ball dangling on the rear view mirror, you no longer felt alone....


  3. Will Shine replied, May 11, 2020 at 2:28 p.m.

    Don, I made a trip to Soccer Sports Supply in 1974 from NJ.  It was like a pilgrimage.  I got the ball for the rear view mirror too.  I played until the hips gave out and miss it so much.  Of course I remember Billy, Mooch and others.  Can't wait to read the book!

  4. frank schoon, May 10, 2020 at 10:09 a.m.

    I thought Hartwick had a good team in '68 with Timo Liekoski and Alec Papadakis. After Univ. of Maryland had beaten soccer power St.Louis 3-1, we had to play Hartwick to get to the NCAA semi-finals held in Atlanta. We beat Hartwick, but they gave us a game, they had a great team and allowed none us to be on the ball for a second. It was a tough game and ended up winning 2-1.  I think either Alec Papadakis or Timo Liekoski later on opened a business selling soccer socks called 'World Cup Soccer"...They had a great product at the time  for it was difficult to find good soccer socks, other than those stupid 'baseball' type socks so many stores sold as soccer socks in those days....WHAT MEMORIES....





  5. Peter Bechtold replied, May 10, 2020 at 12:56 p.m.

    Hi Frank S., What team were you on ? I came to College Park in '68 and later got involved with their soccer team.....
    In the early '60s I played many a match in Trenton against those ethnic teams, mostly on pretty poor fields with questionable refereeing.....

  6. frank schoon replied, May 10, 2020 at 1:20 p.m.

    Hi Peter, I played on the '68 Maryland team that were co-champs with Michigan St. that year. I was there in '67, red-shirted, for I couldn't play since I was transfer.


    Maryland Soccer to Honor 1968 National Title Team - University of Maryland Athletics. In the picture ,you see me standing in the back, on the right side next to the team manager wearing his jacket

  7. frank schoon replied, May 10, 2020 at 1:25 p.m.

     Peter , I also played for the Bavarians and the Washington Internationals in DC.

  8. Peter Bechtold replied, May 10, 2020 at 1:54 p.m.

    Frank,
    I remember that tie--3-3,no?--against MSU. Doyle Royal was the Coach,no?

  9. frank schoon replied, May 10, 2020 at 2:53 p.m.

    Yes, Doyle Royal was actually a tennis coach. We basically ran the team ourselves. Just about everyone on that team ,the starters that is were foreigners except for one or two...

  10. Derek Liecty, May 10, 2020 at 12:56 p.m.

    As the Co-Referee for Hartwick/USF NCAA Championship game (yes, in those days we had to use the ridiculous Dual Referee System) I am pleased to see one of my soccer refereeing highlights so well described.
    Derek Liecty
    Walnut Creek, California

  11. Thom Meredith, May 10, 2020 at 2 p.m.

    Derek
    ALWAYS wondered who the two game officials were for that USF v Hartwick final.

    Who was the other game official??

    Would love to know since I could never find it. You can send it to ThomMeredith@comcast.net if that's easier...thanks again...should have figured it was someone like you from back in tjose days!!!

    Thom Meredith

  12. Charles Inverso, May 10, 2020 at 2:45 p.m.

    This is a book that every soccer player and coach should read. It's underlying theme is about a time when soccer was dominated by hungry, blue collar kids like Mooch Myernick, Bobby Smith and Billy Gazonas. About a time when coaches like Manfred Schellscheidt and (the greatest coach no one has ever heard of) "Ping Pong " Farrauto spent countless hours coaching for free, unlike the many charlatans who now dominate our sport. I was far from an elite player but I was afforded the opportunity to hang around guys like Mooch, Manny, Harry, Tim Murphy and Billy. I love my Kearny buddies but Trenton has and always will be one of the great soccer towns in America as well. The dedication to improvement that is chronicled in this book is a huge facet of what is missing in American soccer today. Billy wrote this book as a legacy to his grandchildren detailing the value of hard work. He also wrote it to inspire any kid who has been told they are too small or just not good enough. Please give it a shot and Happy Mother's Day to all of the amazing women in our lives.

  13. frank schoon replied, May 10, 2020 at 3:12 p.m.

    Charles, so true. The players who succeed are the players who wanted it and YOU DON'T NEED ORGANIZED SOCCER for that.....Period. Soccer today is so organized that there is no heart, that's what organized sport took away from playing pickup soccer. All the the kids/parents think that to be accomplished you to go to the best camps, wear the best shoes, play for  a coach who has the most wins....NO, instead it's kids like Bill who gets on his bike and can't wait to meet the other guys to play pickup soccer and has to be dragged home for dinner. Those are the guys that is going to make USA great again....

     I compare those today, who think playing organized club soccer makes you become a good  soccer player, as going to Starbucks thinking one's  a real coffee officionado  by ordering a "Quad Shot, Non-Fat, Vanilla Soy, Extra Foam, Light Whip, with a Caramel Drizzle, when instead all it really takes a good shot black coffee to get you going.....

  14. Charles Inverso, May 10, 2020 at 2:46 p.m.

    Thank you, Paul

  15. Dean Casagrande, May 10, 2020 at 3:01 p.m.

    Doss "Daimonds" - one piece white sole and the softest leather for incredible touch - someone told us it was kangaroo skin?? In the 70's in Western Mass those were the shoes "real players" wore. We would carefully remove the diamonds for that authentic Euro look....

  16. frank schoon replied, May 10, 2020 at 3:31 p.m.

    Don't forget, it's not the shoe but what you put into the shoe ,that counts. LOL

    Doss Diamonds might be the Doss Di Stefanos. The  Doss Rios were also a good shoe but the Di Stefanos if sold today would still be the best shoes since I"m not into the twinkle toes soccer shoes players wear today....

  17. Joe Elsmore, May 10, 2020 at 7:32 p.m.

    Playing at Hartwick was a dream lots of us kids from Kearny had back in those days ...

  18. Dukesa Owen, May 11, 2020 at 8:32 a.m.

    You had me hooked at "Hartwick in the 70's".    I first fell in love with soccer in the Alec Papadakis  days like another poster mentioned.   My exposure to soccer at the time was using a volleyball to play during Friday Cross Country practice and an occasional pick up game with a very wet and heavy leather ball at the Community House field.    Attended two Connecticutt at Hartwick NCAA playoffs where about a foot of snow had to be cleared from the field to be able to play.   Can still see ball imprints on the cold legs of the players.

    I am requesting this book for Father's Day.     

  19. Tim Schum, May 11, 2020 at 11 a.m.

    Mentioned in Paul's story is the fact that he listened to the broadcast of Harwick's games. Most likely the person recounting the games was none other than Francisco Marcos. After graduating from 'Wick he hung around town and if a soccer ball was being kicked, he probably had something to do with it, organizing youth soccer, youth soccer tournaments (Like Oneonta '74 that brought teams from alll over the US for a replica of the FIFA model) and a adult senior league (Empire State League) that he and I organized. I am certain he utilized the ESL as a template for all the leagues he started throughout the US.

    Just a note that I am at work on a book celebating the contributions of the US soccer coaching community to the progress soccer has made in the last 70 or so years. I would be interested in learning about Charlie Farrauto or others like him. If anybody wants to share their memories of the Charlie contact me at tschum@binghamton.edu.

    Oh - one last thing that Francisco did while in Oneonta was to lead he city in parking ticket violations!

  20. David Richardson, May 11, 2020 at 11:49 a.m.

    Frank and Dan,

    I was also part of the community that hung a small soccer ball from my rear view mirror, my parents station wagon.

    I remamber getting a catalog in the mail from Doss Soccer Sport Suppy and purchasing a pair with the diamond shaped logo on the sides.

    We also used to wear the baseball style socks because no one sold soccer supplies in the local sporting goods stores.  Then we discovered a small store in the Roland Park neighborhood of Baltimore city.  It was a very non-descript store that simply said James Krauter on the door, no indication that it was a sporting goods store.  Inside was an absolute treasure trove of soccer supplies from all over Europe.   Actual soccer socks, uniforms as well as replica kits.  Most important of all was the soccer shoes, stuff that was available no where else in the area that was imported from Germany.  Adidas Copa Mundials, World Cup II with the gold stripes, Puma Kings.  Mr. Krauter often had special samples that were kept in the back and you would have to ask for.  I was able to get a pair of Adidas NASL astroturf shoes, fold over tounge with NASL logo on the heel patch.  We had found soccer equipment Nirvana!   He was the only place that caried the Adidas warmups with the stirrups.

  21. frank schoon replied, May 11, 2020 at 12:51 p.m.

    Wow, we call them basement warriors,LOL. I had a friend who would order from abroad, especially from England, kits, fobs, warmups. His name was Eddie Fath who did a lot for soccer in those days in the DC area..... What memories,those were the days Dave...Remember those Mitre Multiplex balls, great balls , although someone told me that during a game the Multiplex ball was shot at him and thing split in half as it came at him....I couldn't stop laughing....

    Remember the Adidas LaPlata. The Doss shoe with the white diamond was the DiStefano...great shoe ,great leather...I remember due to some of the conditions of the fields players would break a stud even it's a rubber molding...

  22. humble 1, May 13, 2020 at 12:09 p.m.

    Thank for the artcile and the intersting comments that followed.  I ordered a copy of the book.  I hope to learn from the book, that there is something like what once was, bottled up in the USA, that once released will allow us to make a giant leap forward.  I need to learn more, but I think the latino clubs that are outside the scope of 'organized' soccer have that edgy, earthy soccer.  They are self-segregated from 'organized' soccer out of fear for the time being.  If/When our ship is righted, the latino model will take over.  The cost of parent centric youth soccer for latinos is $300 for a year.  The cost for club-centric 'organized' soccer is $3000.  There are no numbers available for the latino leagues because they are all one-off.  To give you an idea - here in Texas, many of the teams that make it to the 6A soccer playoffs are 100% latino and most of their players come from latino leagues.  Those that play for 'organized' clubs, are the exception.  If you do not speak spanish and/or are afraid to go where you are in the minority, you will not know the size and scope of the latino clubs and leagues.  Players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and many modern players have been shapped by the latino leagues, but today, they are more closed and less accesible and more suspicious of outiders that ever.   Look forward to read more on this topic.  Maybe one day we see if the cat does not get out of the bag.  

  23. Kevin Sims, May 18, 2020 at 4:23 p.m.

    MAX DOSS BOOTS WERE EXCELLENT! ORDERED THEM TO ATLANTA ... BOOTS OF MY YOUTH & COLLEGE YEARS. DISTEFANO MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOT.

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