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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

It has been a golden era of soccer for this state

The author, in his final column for The Times, reflects on the history of soccer in California.

September 03, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer

On Friday night in Warsaw, Euro 2012 co-host Poland and Mexico played to a 1-1 tie. It was not a dramatic soccer match and it produced no significant story, but it did stir dusty memories 5,982 miles away in Los Angeles.

It was 38 years ago last month that the Poles and Mexicans enjoyed another friendly tilt, this one in Los Angeles at the Coliseum. The date was Aug. 5 1973, and the game was intended to help prepare the Polish team for the following year's World Cup in what was then West Germany.

The next day marked the first time that the name at the top of this column appeared on a soccer story for The Times, albeit with my name misspelled.

The late Tony Morejon promoted the Coliseum game. Morejon, who lived in San Pedro, was originally from Spain and spent the better part of his life running the Greater Los Angeles Soccer League. When it comes to soccer pioneers in the U.S., his name ranks right up there.

Toros Kibritjian was the referee that day. Kibritjian, an Armenian American from Monterey Park, also has put decades into helping the sport grow.

Enrique Borja was one of Mexico's stars at the time, a player who later became president of Mexico's soccer federation and, later still, a television analyst for Univision, where onetime San Marino resident Andres Cantor and his "Goooooool" cry rallied neophyte Americans to the sport.

Kazimierz Deyna was Poland's standout, although it was Jerzy Gorgon who scored the lone goal in a 1-0 Polish victory in front of 19,804 at the Coliseum.

Deyna was an out-and-out goal scorer, one of the best in the world in his day. He too became part of American soccer folklore, winning titles with the San Diego Sockers and even appearing with the likes of Pele, Bobby Moore, Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and Sylvester Stallone in John Huston's 1981 film "Victory."

They were not Hollywood's only "soccer stars." Rod Stewart has long graced local soccer fields, and Elton John once owned part of an L.A. team.

It seems so long ago, and the decades continue to fly by, all of which prompts this question: How much longer will it take before someone with vision and a bit of financial clout figures out the potential that exists in founding a soccer museum in California?

No state has the soccer history that this one does. No state has produced the players that this one has. No state has staged the tournaments that this one has hosted.

The treasure-trove of mementos could be staggering.

This was where Hans Stierle founded the American Youth Soccer Organization in 1964. This was the home to the 1984 Olympic tournament won by France at the Rose Bowl. This was where Brazil won the World Cup in 1994, where the U.S. won the Women's World Cup in 1999, and where Germany won the Women's World Cup in 2003.

Think of the clubs whose colors could adorn the rafters of such a museum: The Galaxy, Chivas USA, Los Angeles Aztecs, California Surf, San Diego Sockers, San Jose Earthquakes, California Sunshine, San Jose Clash, Oakland Stompers, FC Gold Pride, Los Angeles Lazers, Sacramento Gold, Los Angeles Wolves, San Diego Toros, Los Angeles Kickers, Los Angeles Skyhawks, Oakland Clippers, San Diego Jaws, San Jose CybeRays, Los Angeles Sol, San Diego Spirit . . .

True, New York has produced more U.S. Open Cup winners, but it has no team to match Maccabi Los Angeles and its five Open Cup triumphs.

Think of the great soccer names who played for or coached California teams: George Best, Johann Cruyff, Carlos Alberto, Rinus Michels, David Beckham, Claudio Coutinho, Ron Newman, Hugo Sanchez, Carin Jennings-Gabarra, Sigi Schmid, Marta, Bora Milutinovic, Leonardo Cuellar, Shannon MacMillan, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Claudio Suarez, Ramon Ramirez, Jorge Campos . . .

Think of the California-born players whose personal collections of memorabilia could fill room after room: Cobi Jones, Landon Donovan, Julie Foudy, Eric Wynalda, Marcelo Balboa, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain, Paul Caligiuri, Shannon Boxx, Mary Harvey . . .

History forgotten is opportunity lost. It is way past time to properly recognize California's soccer heritage.

But now the final whistle nears, and when you come to the end, you go back to the beginning.

It was a sun-dappled British summer and I was in Llandudno, North Wales, staring into a shop window and blissfully unaware that the glass might be reflecting my future 45 years down the line.

On a grainy black and white television screen in the store window a match was nearing its dramatic conclusion.

It was the afternoon of July 30, 1966, the afternoon on which England defeated Germany, 4-2 in extra time, to win the World Cup.

There were players on the field that afternoon who in years to come made their mark on American soccer — among them Franz Beckenbauer and Gordon Banks, the man who taught Stallone how to play goalkeeper in "Victory."

I can't recall hearing the words at the time, but it didn't matter. Match commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme's famously halting phrase on the BBC would become part of English football legend, echoing down through the years.

"Some people are on the pitch," he said. "They think it's all over. . . . It is now."

And so it is.

— This is Grahame L. Jones' final column for The Times. He is retiring.

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