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North American Soccer League (1967-1984)
American Soccer League (1934-1983)
Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-1982)
Thoughts on Trevor Hockey (the Man on the Cover), and Men Like Him.
There’s a Trevor Hockey goal on YouTube that, from everything I have read, is representative of him as a player. It’s from a World Cup qualifier in 1973 between Wales and Poland. Hockey wins a tackle in the midfield, executes a quick one-two with a teammate, outworks an opponent for the loose ball in the box, and fires home. He raises his arms and beams out a massive smile before being swallowed by a mob by players and fans. It’s a moment of football magic, the kind you live for, whether you’re a player or a fan.
Hockey, and players like him, are the reason the United States has a thriving soccer culture, and they are the reason this book exists. I have his family to thank for allowing me to use his picture for this book, and I have his like to thank for converting me to the greatest game on the planet.
The player I had in mind when I wrote this book was Graham Day, a big and strong player from Bristol with a serious beard who came to play for the Portland Timbers in 1975 and became something of a local folk hero. Until not so long ago, I had never heard of Trevor Hockey. But then I came across the picture of him that graces the cover of this book, and thought “That’s an impressive beard.” But then I did a little research and found out that he had an impressive career too.
On April 23, 1976, Hockey, of Keighley, in West Riding of Yorkshire, England, who had played for Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Birmingham City and others, made his North American Soccer League debut for the San Diego Jaws against the Rochester Lancers in front of 3,400 people at a stadium called the Aztec Bowl. A few weeks later, he played for the Jaws in Portland, against the Timbers. Over 18,000 showed up for the game, and I may have been one of them. I was seven years old, not at all aware that the Jaws or the Timbers were any different from the basketball and baseball teams I loved. The Jaws beat the Timbers that 1976 summer day, 2-1. Hockey played in Portland the next year too, for the Las Vegas Quicksilvers, as a teammate of Eusebio. That season, Hockey and the Quicksilvers beat Pele and the New York Cosmos 1-0 in Las Vegas.
Over a career that lasted from 1960 to 1978, he played in 587 senior matches, including nine for Wales. It’s possible that I may have used his smiling face on this cover had he not come to America to play—so remarkable is that beard—but it’s the 42 games he played in the NASL that told me he was the right man to stand in for Danny Hooper. Trevor Hockey and all of those men who were thousands of miles from home, came to help us understand what was so great about their sporting religion, and they succeeded.
Those of us who have passed soccer on to our kids didn’t fall for it because of the crazy uniforms, the cheerleaders, the global superstars on their last legs, the mascots with chainsaws and all the other distractions of American professional soccer in those days. We passed it along because we loved watching those players and those teams. They were good. Really good. (Including Trevor Hockey, who was selected as San Diego’s ’76 player of the year.) It’s not just my nostalgia that’s telling me that either. YouTube is loaded with NASL games on slick AstroTurf and in high grass, on football gridirons and baseball diamonds, and it is no wonder the game caught America’s fancy back then: Despite the conditions, those guys could play. The cocktail of nationalities and playing styles yielded a sufficiently entertaining spectacle that when the league ran itself out of gas in 1984, all those seven-year-olds from the mid-’70s were hooked. We lost our league, but we had gained a game, and now we have our own American moments of football magic, our own soccer heroes, beaming out their own massive smile before being swallowed whole.
Trevor Hockey died of a heart attack in 1987 after playing in a 5-a-side tournament in Keighley. He was 43, younger than I am as a write. (Incredibly, the goalscorer from that Quicksilvers-Cosmos game, Victor Arbelaez, also died on the field, collapsing while coaching a high school team’s practice at the age of 54.) After his professional playing days, he remained a servant of the game, passing on his love of football to kids in Keighley through Trevor Hockey Soccer Camps, and he helped revive Keighley Town FC. In my effort to locate his family, I contacted a journalist named Clive White of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. White gave me what help he could, and let me know that Hockey had been “one of the ‘old school,’ hard tackling, give-no-quarter footballers,” which is what Graham Day had been too, and which is what had endeared Day to Portland’s fans. “Don’t see ’em today,” White said.