EPISODE 128: NASL Soccer’s Chicago Sting – With Mike Conklin

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.

Manscaped is the pioneer in men’s grooming essentials; get 20% off your first purchase (plus free shipping) when you use promo code GOODSEATS!

     

Goal Fever! - buy here

Transfer U. - buy here

1975 Chicago Sting Tee from Streaker Sports - buy here

1981 NASL Soccer Bowl Tee from Streaker Sports - buy here

EPISODE #74: NASL Soccer's Chief Architect Clive Toye

Soccer America columnist (and Episode #6 interviewee) Paul Gardner summed up this week's Hall of Fame guest in his May 2015 commentary:

“The debt owed by American soccer to Clive Toye is a vast one. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say, flatly, that without Toye’s blind faith in the sport in the 1970s, pro soccer in the USA would have withered and died. Yes, Phil Woosnam and Lamar Hunt and Bob Hermann were there too. But in those unpromising years it was Toye’s voice -- it came in a steady flow of ridiculously optimistic press releases and grandiose plans for a future that few others even dared to ponder -- that called loudest.

“The New York Cosmos general manager credited with turning that league’s fortunes around when he signed Pele to a contract in 1975. Toye, who was born in England and came to the United States in 1967 at the age of 33, was president of three North American Soccer League teams – the Cosmos, Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard – and general manager of the [original National Professional Soccer League and subsequent NASL] Baltimore Bays.  [He] was an official of the NASL in helping it through its crisis year of 1969 and in its final months in 1985 – and helped to found the third American Soccer League in 1988.

“There has always been the spirit of a showman in Toye, and surely it was that spirit that enabled Toye to overlook the virtual collapse of the old North American Soccer League and to see instead a glittering future for the sport in the USA, even to declare to anyone who was listening -- and not many were in those days -- the preposterous notion that the USA should begin preparing to stage the World Cup.

“And when the NASL, by the skin of its teeth and by the mad devotion of Toye et al., did survive, it was Toye who gave the reborn league its glittering image with his invention of the Cosmos, with his canny maneuvering and dealing, who brought Pele and Beckenbauer to New York.  Showmanship indeed.”

Toye (A Kick in the Grass: The Slow Rise and Quick Demise of the NASL; Anywhere in the World) joins host Tim Hanlon for a lyrical and anecdote-filled journey through the pro league that he helped create, later put to rest, and which ultimately shored up the long-term foundation of the “beautiful game” in America.

We appreciate our sponsors OldSchoolShirts.com, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Podfly, and Audible for their support of this week’s episode!

          

A Kick in the Grass: The Slow Rise and Quick Demise of the NASL - buy book here

Anywhere in the World - buy book here

Toby and the Greatest Game - buy book here

EPISODE #61: Sports Promoter Doug Verb

If someone ever decides to build an American sports promotion Hall of Fame, the inaugural class will undoubtedly be led by this week’s special guest, Doug Verb.  In a career spanning more than 40 years in professional sports management, Verb’s remarkable career has included spearheading marketing, promotion, publicity, and television for some of the most innovative and memorable leagues and franchises of the modern era. 

One of the founding executives of both the pioneering Major Indoor Soccer League (along with sports entrepreneurs Earl Foreman, Ed Tepper, and previous podcast guest Dr. Joe Machnik), and the frenetic Arena Football League (with the sport’s inventor [and past two-part guest] Jim Foster), Verb additionally  served as president of pro soccer’s legendary Chicago Sting from 1982-86 – which, incredibly, drifted between playing in two separate leagues during his tenure (for one year, simultaneously) – the outdoor North American Soccer League and the indoor MISL. 

In our longest and more anecdote-filled episode to date, Verb vividly recounts the highs and lows of launching new teams, leagues and even sports themselves from whole cloth – with nary an operational blueprint or career roadmap to be found.  Buckle up for a wild ride through the woeful 1976 NASL Philadelphia Atoms, the “Rocket Red” pinball-like MISL, soccer for all seasons in the Windy City, and birthing indoor football. 

PLUS:  Kiddie City to the rescue; Earl Foreman’s “Brother-in-Law Effect;” getting paid in soybeans; and the curious one-game history of the Liberty Basketball Association! 

AND:  Verb reveals plans for a first-ever Major Indoor Soccer League reunion later this year in Las Vegas!

Thanks Podfly, Audible and SportsHistoryCollectibles.com for supporting the podcast!

Philadelphia Atoms apparel from Ultras - buy here

MISL apparel from Throwback Max - buy here

Chicago Sting apparel from Ultras - buy here