The I.S.A. Collection

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Birth of The Cosmos: New York's 40th Anniversary - Part 2

The International Soccer Archives series chronicling the 40th Anniversary of the New York Cosmos features several "firsts"including artifacts and interviews.

Unlike today, where the FIFA World Cup telecasts are only a click away in every American living room, the 1970 Championship was beamed by satellite to selected locations which purchased the broadcast. The tickets were  premium and sold exclusively to large venues that could turn a profit. These 1970 matches, including the Brazil - Italy Final, were projected onto a giant screen at Madison Square Garden in New York City. A 22 year old young man named Werner Roth watched the performances of Germany's Beckenbauer and Brazil's Pele at the Garden with no notion that he would one day be their team Captain.

(Werner Roth appears on the cover of the 1975 Cosmos' media guide - photo ISA)

Although not born in the USA, Werner Roth grew up like many of us in the social culture of American immigrants. This of course included the ethnic soccer clubs of New York City. In the German-American Soccer League "the clubhouse was the center of the off-field activities" says Roth. "We drank there, ate meals after games and played pool there. That's where the old-timers, reserve players and youth teams mingled together. All my friends turned out to be players. That was our social connection".

Roth also played the other American sports like basketball and (grid iron) football but was most influenced by the sport of his father. "I followed soccer through my father's collection of KICKER (German soccer) Magazines. Bayern Munich was my Dad's team".  Bayern - the same team that future Cosmos teammate Franz Beckenbauer was crowned European King.
Werner was a regular for the German-Hungarians from 1966 to 1972. The clubhouse and bar in Queens, NY was decorated with trophies, pennants, photos and soccer memorabilia. The home games drew 3 to 4 thousand at any given time and the club made summer trips to Germany. The majority of the New York Cosmos' early squads came from this German-American Soccer League.

Werner played well over 100 league games from the Cosmos which culminated with the 1977 Championship side which he Captained. Roth insists that it was an important season for one special reason. The club wanted to win the Championship for Pele - the man that would change all the lives of people involved with soccer in America.
The world press coverage of the Cosmos would include the now famous photo of Werner holding the NASL trophy aloft as Captain. That photo was eventually used on a 1979 Topps trading card and puzzle (below). We asked him about another picture of him wearing fashionable clothes of the 1970's on returning from Portland (where Soccer Bowl '77 was played). Roth was dressed in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a vest as he carried the NASL trophy from the airplane. "Yeah, I was a fan (of the band)" he recalls. "We were not savvy to the media back then. We didn't think about photographers or how to dress."
(Werner Roth Topps cards - courtesy of The Topps Archives)

A week after the 1972 NASL Championship, Roth was able to represent the US National Team against Mexico. He went on to earn 15 international caps but was often unavailable as the Cosmos touring schedule became a priority for the club. Those were lean times for American internationals yet exciting as well. The US team visited Poland in 1973 for a match. The Americans were invited to the Warsaw Opera House as special guests of a sold out performance. The 18 young players were caught off guard as they were unexpectedly introduced to the Polish audience. The well wishers found what Roth describes as "18 sleeping, snoring guys with legs all up over each other". 

On another trip to Israel it came down to poor timing as the players were guests of the local Mayor. The visiting Americans were about to receive token gifts of their tour. As a noisy room of conversation came to a sudden order, one particular unnamed player who was unimpressed with previous gifts, was overheard above the silence. "Not another f**king keychain". Imagine the horror when it turned out that that is exactly what the hosts had selected to present !

Werner Roth's star continued to rise as he shared public appearances with Pele and the Cosmos. At a dinner for the Special Olympics, Pele discussed a project with Werner that both had an opportunity to do now that they were retired. 

(Former Cosmos Pele and Werner Roth play hero and enemy in John Huston's VICTORY. )

The former Cosmos colleagues were immortalized as enemies in John Huston's war-time classic film  VICTORY (aka Escape to Victory). Along side Sylvester Stallone's questionable soccer skills, Werner had to portray the German Captain of a soccer team or "the bad guy", as he likes to put it. The ensemble cast was of real legends - Pele, Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles - all World Cup winners, and award winning actors Michael Caine and Max von Sydow.

Roth had already begun an acting career while still playing soccer. He appeared in the 1978 movie MANNY'S ORPHANS filmed in Connecticut.  Werner played himself in helping what he called "a bad news bears" version of a youth soccer team.

Although they called for action soccer scenes in "Victory", the one thing this cast did not need was practice. The original plans to choreograph the game looked stilled in the daily rushes (raw footage), recalls Roth, who with Pele and company already knew how to make it look authentic. After one weekend of instructed "pass to him, then pass to him", 2nd Unit director Robert Riger met with Pele, Roth and Moore. It was decided that they would just play attacking soccer.

There were comical incidents like when Riger wanted a close-up of the villain Roth pummeling hero Pele. Riger mounted a cameraman in a sidecar of a motorbike to shoot the sequence. As Werner chased Pele, spewing smoke from the cycle caused havoc with the soccer players vision and breathing. "We stumbled around like the keystone cops" laughs Roth. 

The 1981 film was shot in Budapest, Hungary. A cultural and language misunderstanding between Huston and the 6,000 extras used as "the stadium crowd" became a comical frustration. The extras were supposed to invade the playing field after a gunshot marked the end of the game. Huston told the German interpreter what he wanted, who in turn relayed it in Hungarian to the 6,000 extras. The orders must have been lost in translation as the fans ran only as far as the edge of the playing grass - and no farther. It came to light that the well-behaved citizens of Eastern Europe found it disrespectful to encroach onto the pitch. A very upset Huston yelled "cut" and ordered the scene to be shot the next weekend. The week would be used to indoctrinate the extras so they could do it again properly, relates Werner.

The dramatic scene of Baumann's penalty kick (below) which Roth recalls so fondly, was directed by the legendary John Huston. 

(Werner Roth as the German Capt. Baumann in the film VICTORY. Courtesy of WARNER BROS.)

Today Werner Roth runs FUTBOL ACADEMIA in Los Angeles. He is married to actress Robin Mattson and is eagerly awaiting the return of the New York Cosmos to professional soccer. He credits current Cosmos CEO Paul Kemsley "for taking a risk in a less than sure climate". Roth states that the MLS, for the most part, is "underperforming and needs something exciting to see". He points to the commitment of Warner Bros. (the Cosmos' NASL ownership) during his playing days. "The media (here) don't put pressure on soccer as they do in other countries. There should be a revolt".

Werner is also a bit disappointed that there was no place for the Cosmos early in the MLS structure. But, looking back he is proud to be one of the original Cosmos. "To some degree, it is who I am today ... my experiences and management" he adds "are the culmination of my time with the New York Cosmos. Through them, I reached an apex I never dreamed of".

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Birth of The Cosmos: New York's 40th Anniversary - Part 1

The International Soccer Archives series chronicling the 40th Anniversary of the New York Cosmos features several "firsts"including artifacts and interviews.


Arguably the most famous club in American soccer history, the New York Cosmos, still carry the prestige of international respect around the world. The team that played its last league game over a quarter century ago remains, to some, a cherished memory. To others, a mere curiosity. 

Recently the club has attempted to resurrect itself from the ruins of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the giant shadow that it cast in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

Last year the I.S.A. was invited to visit the current Cosmos offices located in the heart of New York City. As historians we had the opportunity to assess and identify the collection of memorabilia acquired during the club's 15 seasons of competition. Considering their short existence, the team amassed a wealth of trophies and awards during that brief period of time which included 5 NASL Championships and 2 runners up spots.

In total, the I.S.A. examined over 300 artifacts from player jerseys to match programs. The items from the Cosmos many world tours were by far the most engaging. These included a pair of engraved swords (from Spain), a hand-carved wooden female bust (Africa) and a quartz clock inside a tree trunk (Japan).

However, the most mysterious piece had to be a small silver bowl which seemed to have lost its luster. Made by the TOWLE Silversmith Company (Mass.), best known as the official silverware pattern maker for the U.S. Embassies world-wide, it stands just 5 inches tall and 8 inches in width.

(photo: New York Governor's Cup. International Soccer Archives copyright 2010)

Although it is generally believed that the New York Cosmos won their first trophy in 1972, the legend has them winning another NASL competition in their inaugural season. 

Turning back the clock to the 1971 Cosmos,  the NASL's newest club became the second team in New York State. The first New Yorkers were the Rochester Lancers - the defending NASL Champions.  

In honor of being the only state to have two franchises in professional soccer at the time, New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller decreed an inter-state competition. The Governor,  a former soccer star at Dartmouth College, donated a silver decoration bowl to the annual winner between the Empire State teams. 

The Lancer and the Cosmos met 4 times during the 1971 NASL season. The Cosmos' results of those four meetings were as follows:

May 30 @ Rochester 2:2 tie (goals: Randy Horton - 2)
June 9 @ New York 4:2 win (Horton, Willie Mfum - 3)
July 10 @ Rochester 2:3 loss (Charlie McCully, Jorge Siega)
August 2 @ New York 3:2 win (Barry Mahy, McCully, Mfum)

The significance of the final match in the series was lost until later years. Playing their home games in legendary Yankee Stadium, the usual 4,000 to 6,000 were swelled to 20,000 by the international exhibition match that would follow the Cosmos-Lancers game. Cali of Colombia met Santos of Brazil - led by a future Cosmos star by the name of Pele. He had recently retired from the National Team of Brazil and was now touring the world with the only club team for which he had ever played.

Although the the awarding of the Governor's Cup to the Cosmos was overshadowed by the presence of Pele, it was reported in a small ethnic newspaper called the Ukranian Weekly. This was largely due to the fact that most of the inaugural season Cosmos came from the German-American soccer league. Both Charlie McCully and Willie Mfum played for the Ukranians in that circuit.

The New York Cosmos would retain the Governor's Cup trophy in their Championship year of 1972. They would loose possession of the cup in 1973 and 1974, although it was by toss of the coin the first time.

(photo: 1973 Rochester Lancers. International Soccer Archives copyright 2011)

Rochester would parade the Governor's Cup (above) as the league and the Cosmos grew in prominence and popularity. In 1975 the Cosmos did the impossible and signed the great Pele to a multi-million dollar contract. The NASL divisional schedule and conference alignment made the pairings for this competition  obsolete. The Cosmos took the final series two games to three in 1975. Although there is not official proclamation, the tiny cup is also the first trophy collected by Pele with the New York Cosmos. 

In 1974 Governor Rockefeller would become the 41st Vice-President of the United States. In 1977 the Cosmos would win their 2nd NASL Championship in  Pele's final season. The Rochester Lancers would play their last game in 1980. By then the world famous Cosmos would boast of an international all-star line-up and tour every continent collecting gifts and memories to last a lifetime. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Benavidez: The Invisible, Visable Man

Legendary players have always been, for the most part, high profile in the world of sport. In football, which is now so globalized, thankfully race is less of a factor in the adulation of its heroes. In the modern game, Pele or Eusebio - two stars come to mind  who were nicknamed  "Black Pearl" - predicated on their African heritage. Today's super stars like Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo are known as Brazilian and Portuguese players respectively, rather than the dark skinned or light skinned persons.

This was not always the case. Stardom in football, especially in Latin America, came with provisions and catagories in the early days. The scoring records of legendary Brazilian Arthur Friedenreich (b. 1892) were askewed in obsecurity, by some opinion, because of prejudice.
Friedenreich, of German father and a black slave mother, had physical features that could pass for being European. The slicked-hair style of the era and lighter skin allowed him to go undetected as an Afro-Brazilian - a term seldom used in that country. The ideas, however, permiate as outlined in the 2004 book "Estudos Avancados" by Maria Bortolini. She writes " Due to intensive mixing and assortive mating with white Brazilians, Brazilians with African ancestry may or may not show any trace of African features. " 

 The difference in acceptence of Uruguay's Jose Andrade (b. 1901) as a star footballer could be attributed to the fact that Afro-Uruguayans fought as soldiers for independence from Great Britain and later Brazil. Andrade (below), was a gold medal winner in two Olympics (1924 & 1928) and one World Cup (1930) for his country. Reports of him being abused by the crowds in his team visits to Argentina may be tributed more to his background, than his race. You see, Andrade's mother was Argentinian and loyalty may have served him better by playing for Uruguay.
Although Brazil was the last Western nation to abolish slavery (1888), it was one of the quickest to accept the mixing of races in its sports. Leonidas de Silva (b. 1913), became the top scorer at the 1938 World Cup. His physical features were clearly of African decent (below) and was duely crowned the "Black Diamond".
The early history of  Argentinian football is quite different than Uruguay and Brazil. Class and race were more segregated in the very European / British fashion in Colonial times. The River Plate, an estuary between Argentina and Uruguay, was the entry point for many slaves to South America. Many of those were shipped to the Cordoba region in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Survival rate was very low, with theories that genocide was practiced on the Afro-Argentinian population. Records show a low population of males and even fewer football players of non-European lineage.
However, the discovery of one player - Julio Luis Benavidez (b. 1906) - is a revealation. 
Benavidez (center, above) was an Argentinian player born in Cordoba with distinct African features. He began playing organized football during the amateur era in Argentina's Liga Cordobesa with Instituto. Instituto de Cordoba won the title in four successive seasons from 1925 to 1928. Benavidez is believed to be attributed to that success.

When Argentina professionalized the leagues in 1931, Benavidez was snapped up by Club Atletico Tigre - debuting in the top division. It is hard to know how the step up to financed football effected the young Julio, but needless to say it could not have been easy. Players of color were often targeted harshly on the playing field and even harder on forwards intent on scoring.

Benavidez had what appears to be reasonable statistics in the professional era. In 1933 he even scored 6 goals in 5 matches, but often blew hot and cold for reasons not on record. Yet, there must have been something tangible as Boca Juniors, a rising power in South American football, soon acquired him. Although used sparingly, he scored 11 goals on Boca's 1st professional Championship team (above) in 1934.

While his statistics nor reputation ever reached legendary status, Julio Benavidez made landmark imprints in the Argentinian game. He unexpectantly left Boca Juniors after 4 matched into the 1935 Championship season. Playing time may have been reason for this as history shows that the 1930's Boca squad he played on featured the # 2 (Cherro), # 3 (Varrallo), # 4 (Tarasconi) and # 7 (Caceres) all time goal scorers for Boca Juniors.

He did pave the way for the arrival of "Domingos", the great black Brazilian fullback. As an established star in Brazil, he easily became a fan favorite - and did not have the pressure of being the first black player at Boca Juniors.

Benavidez did return to Boca Juniors as Coach in 1948. It was, however, not the best of times at Boca where the club drifted through 8 coaches between 1946 and 1951.

As it were, it seems this discovery of a youthful Benavidez (above) on a tobacco card from the 1925-1927 issue of DOLAR Los Cigarillos is amazing. He is the only African-Argentinian in the 5 series set of over 2000 cards. The set also features players from Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Finally, visible for all to see.