The USA were one of the surprise packages of the most recent World Cup, winning the hearts of many with their committed, spirited performances. Football would still be seen as a growing sport in that part of the world and one that’s a fair bit away from gaining respect on the big stage. This book tells the story of the attempts in the 1970s to put American football into the big leagues of the world game.
The North American Soccer League saw many of the world’s best players lining up for unknown start-up teams. Big personalities like Pele, George Best and Rodney Marsh were among the many stars involved. Plenderleith looks into the impact these guys had on their teams and tracks how they were handled by their respective bosses.
The book looks into the attempts to develop the game and the ways they tried to make it stand out from the other sports. It attracted young people with cheap tickets and by creating an environment where people would make an event of it, with people turning up very early and having a bit of a party. Summer fixtures and soccer clinics also went some way toward helping the growth of the sport. There were also interesting innovations like the 35-yard line shootout and a points system that rewarded more attacking play. There was a real focus on making the game entertaining rather than having people turn up and see two sides grinding out a draw.
Plenderleith says the NASL was the prototype league for the modern game. It featured marquee signings, modern safe stadiums and big investors. He reckons if TV had got behind it properly it could’ve been huge. The book gives a great account of something that a lot of people would probably see as a bit of an oddity and shows that it could potentially have been so much more than a crash and burn affair.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer will be published by Icon Books on September 4.