Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SOCCER GRAHAME L. JONES

History Is Not Reserved Solely for the Champions

May 19, 2003|GRAHAME L. JONES

Somewhere in a box in a garage in a city in Southern California, they lie in wait.

Media guides. Dozens of them. In pristine condition. The guides, assembled with such care so many years ago, long outlasted the teams and players they described, and even the league itself. The names are no more than memories now. Faded hopes from days gone by.

The Memphis Rogues. The Rochester Lancers. The California Surf. The Edmonton Drillers. The San Antonio Thunder. The Philadelphia Atoms. The San Diego Sockers. The New England Tea Men. The St. Louis Stars. The Minnesota Kicks. The Tampa Bay Rowdies. The Los Angeles Aztecs. The Detroit Express. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

There were more, many more than there is room for here.

The Chicago Sting. The Vancouver Whitecaps. The Atlanta Chiefs. The Portland Timbers. The Seattle Sounders. The Toronto Metros-Croatia. The Miami Toros. The San Jose Earthquakes. The Montreal Manic. The Tulsa Roughnecks. The Washington Diplomats. The Dallas Tornado. The Oakland Stompers. The New York Cosmos.

Ah, yes, the Cosmos. The flagship franchise of the North American Soccer League. The team that brought Pele and Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Neeskens to the United States. The team that won championship after championship in the all-too-brief 17-year history of the NASL.

It was also the team that enticed kids named John Harkes and Tony Meola and Tab Ramos to Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands so many summers ago and thereby helped change the course of U.S. soccer history.

History is a funny thing, though. It's a lot like memory; it's selective. Much of the past is forgotten, but some, fortunately, is preserved. The past two weeks have provided three good examples.

In the Ukraine, they chose to remember Valery Lobanovsky.

In Uruguay, they chose to forget Obdulio Varela until it was too late.

In the U.S., they chose to honor 16.

First, Lobanovsky.

Last week was the first anniversary of his death, and Ukraine's president, Leonid Kuchma, and FIFA's president, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, were among those paying tribute to the most successful coach the country has produced.

During more than three decades on the sidelines, Lobanovsky coached the national teams of the Soviet Union, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Ukraine. On the club level, he turned Dynamo Kiev into Ukraine's top team and a creditable European power.

When he died at 63 on May 13, 2002, tens of thousands attended his state funeral at Dynamo Kiev Stadium, which afterward was renamed in his honor. Kuchma posthumously awarded him the title of National Hero.

A year later, he remains revered. On May 11, at what is now Valery Lobanovsky Stadium, fans erected a 12-foot bronze statue in his memory at the stadium, and the first of what will be an annual Lobanovsky tournament between Russian and Ukrainian teams was played.

What John Wooden is to basketball in the U.S., Lobanovsky was to soccer in the Ukraine. He was that big. He was that much admired.

Obdulio Varela was not so lucky.

He died in poverty in his native Uruguay in 1996, at 79, penniless and forgotten.

Yet Varela's achievements were no less than those of Lobanovsky. It could even be argued that they were greater. In 1950, he was captain of the Uruguay team that upset Brazil, 2-1, in front of almost 200,000 at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium to win the World Cup.

In 1954, he helped Uruguay reach the semifinals of the World Cup in Switzerland. And then, as the decades rolled by, Varela gradually slipped from the public eye and, after his death seven years ago, from memory altogether.

Until last week.

That's when an auction of more than 121 items of soccer memorabilia that once belonged to Varela was held in Montevideo. The prices fetched, considering the items' historic nature, were paltry. The boots he wore in the 1950 World Cup final, for instance, garnered only $1,300. They and the jersey that he had worn in the same game were bought and then donated to the Uruguayan soccer federation.

Before the auction, the government got into the act. It declared Varela's boots and jersey to be "historical monuments," meaning that they cannot be taken out of the country.

"The football boots which the 'Black Chief' used on this mythical field for the Uruguayans and the shirt [in] which he sweated as he pulled off the greatest sporting achievement, must remain in Uruguay and be exhibited as an example of its people's highest values," a government statement pompously proclaimed.

The pity is that the government and the soccer federation did not act sooner. Had they valued Varela and his mementos as much in life as in death, they might have made sure that a national hero did not live and die in poverty.

In the U.S., meanwhile, it was 11 days ago that some of this region's soccer past was recalled. The National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y. -- just down the road from Cooperstown -- paid tribute to the NASL by inducting eight more of its players and eight of its most significant "builders."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|