The story of the third team in NASL history

Football is always full of supporters who are nostalgic for the old days when there wasn’t massive contracts, big television money, and as many bandwagon fans. The explosion of blogs and Youtube has given the common supporter a look into the past. Many people overseas with the invention of Ebay have gotten into failed clubs from around the world, namingly the old North American Soccer League here in America. Most of it’s the old New York Cosmos, or the Portland Timbers. Back in the old league there were three really good clubs throughout the majority of its life span. Tampa Bay Rowdies, New York Cosmos, and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Toronto club and the Chicago Sting were great towards the end of the life of the league. This is the brief story of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and their run in the 1980 playoffs.

Like the rest of the league the Strikers were always looking to bring in fans. And what brings in fans? Big names like Ray Hudson, Jan van Beveren, George Best, Gerd Muller, and Gordon Banks finished his career here after the car accident. Of course, you can’t forget about Nene Cubillas the Peruvian legend. Cubillas, Best, Jan van Beveren and Muller would all join the club after 1977 and would make a large impact on the sport. Some ended up staying in Fort Lauderdale, like Ray Hudson, who never left, and still talks about the Strikers on his various platforms.

Going into the 1980s they had fired their only manager in Strikers history in Ron Newman. We’ll never know the real reason behind it, even though Ron took the club to court for some money. The Strikers went with ex-European player, Cor van der Hart, formerly of Lille, a Dutch coach who used his contacts to bring in top players. A key player was top Dutch goalkeeper Jan van Beveren from PSV Eindhoven. Ray Hudson has said that van Beveren would have won the Dutch the World Cup in 1974 had Jan gotten on with Johan Cruyff. Jan would be backed up by USA soccer legend Arnie Mausser in goal, as Gordon Banks had finally retired. Van der Hart was known as a stubborn, but brilliant man.

To go with Van der Hart, they had the equally difficult new general manager Bob Lemiuex, whose relationship with Van der Hart was nothing short of toxic. The Strikers booster club (Striker Likers) demanded that Lemiuex be fired during the middle part of the season. This was during a three match losing streak where they were outscored 7-2. Others blamed the overbearing tension on Van der Hart, with one flashing the sign “Rotten To The Core” at Lockhart. This mix made the Strikers’ locker-room one of the most dysfunctional in the league, and that’s bearing in mind that the Cosmos were also in the same league. The Cosmos lockerrooms were always toxic, between Chingalla being President Steve Ross’ favourite player, and Pele showing up late, coaches being fired, it all happened there. At the start of the season there were no fewer than eight players talking to the media, with midfielder Ray Hudson writing for a local newspaper.

Tibor Gemeri threw a glass of wine at Van der Hart during a pre-season trip to Peru, probably to give Cuballis a chance to play in front of his home country. Donvallett kicked a ball at the manager, unlike the shoe that Beckham, and Ferguson had between them. Then at the end of the season, Bonvallet and Nico Bodonczy were dropped from the team because Van der Hart didn’t like them speaking Spanish. Years later Chivas USA tried to only have Spanish speakers and only hire Mexicans. Lawsuits galore for that one stunt. Eventually, it was one of the reasons the MLS took over the club, and shut it down a year later.

The strikers weren’t a club that took anything easily, including matches. Fort Lauderdale ended the season 18 and 14. They had a rough time going through the American Conference playoffs. The playoffs were different than they are in any other sport, they were a two match, home and away legged mini-tournament. That’s until they got to the final match, which was against the powerful New York Cosmos. The Strikers followed a pattern throughout the whole of the playoffs, losing the first match, struggling in the second match, and going all the way to the mini game. They’d end the playoffs going 6-4.

Up first was the aply named California Surf. The league had a number of teams in California throughout the history of the league. The most well known was the LA Aztecs who were owned by future Watford Chairman Elton John, and had Johan Cruyff. The Strikers would win the first match on the road 2-1, and then fly back across the country back to Lockhart Stadium, to play their second match. Of course they’d end up losing 2-0. It would take them, count it 11 rounds of pk’s, for the mini game. The minigame was one of the many changes the league would put in, to Americanise the sport. It would backfire, and end up with many fights with FIFA..

The next round the team had to travel into Canada to play against the Edmonton Drillers. The second round scenario was the same for the Strikers with a random exception.  The first match was a 1-0 win on the road and 3-2 loss at home forced another mini-game at Lockhart Stadium. They’d get a brace from Cubillas on route to a 3-0 win, and a series win. Who stood in their way before the Soccer Bowl?

A very familiar face in ex-manager Ron Newman. After his firing, he moved outwest where he’d spend most of the 80’s and 90’s becoming a legend. At this point in his life he was the coach of the outdoor San Diego Sockers. He would beome a legend in the States in the indoor game. Again a rare 2-1 win, followed by a cross country treck for a 4-2 loss, but in the mini-game goals by Ray Hudson and Nene Cubillas gave the Strikers a berth in Soccer Bowl 80 versus the mighty New York Cosmos.

Although the Cosmos rolled 3-1, at legendary RFK Stadium in front of 77k fans. As a sidenote, RFK is still being used for soccer these days as MLS’ DC United are still playing there, but will move to Buzzard Point in 2017, at the latest.

The Strikers would stay in Fort Lauderdale for another four seasons before moving to Minnesota for a lone season as the NASL folded. By the end of the NASL’s time only four clubs were around. The Cosmos were still around, but couldn’t pay the league fee for the year, and tried to become an exhibition club, which failed. The club closed up shop in 1985. Fort Lauderdale would restart the Strikers a couple more times in smaller leagues. Nowadays, the Strikers, as well as the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and the New York Cosmos are all back in the new NASL. There’s some talk that the Washington Diplomats, Chicago Sting, and the Los Angeles Aztecs are on their way back too. Other clubs from the old NASL have come back, the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Vancouver Whitecaps are all playing in the MLS, while the Tulsa Roughnecks have resurfaced in the USL (our second division).

There were many fun times in the world of soccer (football for you guys) at this time, and we were on the edge of the sport blowing up in one part of the world, and in another part of the world getting bigger than it ever would. Some would argue the 90s is what set the European game up for the money, but it was the glamour of the old NASL that did it.

By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @yellowcardSCB

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *