Prolific Chicago Tribune sportswriter Mike Conklin (Goal Fever!; Transfer U.) joins the podcast to help us go deep into the story of the North American Soccer League’s twice-champion Chicago Sting – a club he covered extensively and exclusively from its little-noticed launch in late 1974 all the way through its breakthrough Soccer Bowl ’81 title.
The personal passion project of prominent Chicago commodities trader Lee Stern, the Sting came to life as one of five expansion franchises for the NASL’s ambitious 1975 campaign, and the team’s early seasons were heavily British-flavored under coach (and former Manchester United legend) Bill Foulkes.
Despite winning a division title in 1976, the Sting was largely uncompetitive during its first few seasons – and worse, drew poorly as the team shuffled games between Soldier Field, Comiskey Park, and Wrigley Field each summer. By 1978 – when they went 0-10 to start the season – the Sting had the worst attendance in the entire 24-team NASL, averaging a mere 4,188 fans per match.
Things rebounded later that year, however, when assistant coach (and early NPSL/NASL player) Willy Roy was permanently elevated to head coach, and an influx of standout German players like Karl-Heinz Granitza, Arno Steffenhagen, Horst Blankenburg, and Hertha Berlin’s Jorgen Kristensen soon turned “Der Sting” into one of the league’s most exciting and attractive sides.
By 1980, the club had vaulted into the league’s elite – including and especially an uncanny mastery over the oft-dominant New York Cosmos – which ultimately extended into the 1981 NASL final, securing Chicago’s first professional sports championship since the Bears’ NFL title in 1963.
Conklin was there to chronicle all of it as the Tribune’s Sting beat reporter – and we dig in with to recall some of the club’s most memorable moments.