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".

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