Monday, January 24, 2011

Big Europe, but what about the rest the world? Well, after the 1974 World Cup the rest of the world sunk into its usual obscurity. Except for North America – NASL made a big leap forward. The league expanded from 14 to 20 clubs and also acquired the King of Football – Pele. The idea clearly was to capture American audience and sell the sport, but the signing also made known NASL to Europe: American soccer was becoming respectable. Kind of. FIFA liked the news too, for now the lucrative American market was no longer wild west, but relations between FIFA and NASL were tense and difficult: first of all, NASL was not traditional league of one country, but like ice hockey and baseball combined US and Canadian clubs in one league. International league, in the eyes of FIFA, and not proper national championship. Having ‘franchises’ and not traditional clubs was weird too – it meant closed league, without promotions and relegations. It meant that market and not the sport was of prime importance – and if profit was absent, a ‘franchise’ may be moved to another city, or folded, or renamed. Such things were entirely foreign to traditional football structure. Stadiums were problematic as well – not only they were rarely marked properly and entirely covered with grass (NASL used baseball and American football venues, both with permanent markings of the primary sport), but also games were played on artificial surface and indoors. And finally the biggest problem: NASL had a strong tendency to bend and change the rules of the game, hoping to sell it to public which did not recognize ties and low scoring. To FIFA such innovations were not football at all and NASL was constantly threatened with expulsion. At the end, NASL was always permitted to play – and remain a FIFA member – for the temptation to include North America was too great. Thus, the ‘glory’ years of North American football started on expansive and expensive scale. Money can make the sport popular - on this both FIFA and North American enthusiasts seemed to agree.
This is not 1975, but represents very well the general weirdness of NASL football: indoor stadium with artificial turf; goalkeepers with helmets years before Peter Chech; and what the hell Peter Wall is pointing at in the skies? No wonder Clyde Best (10) shows painful confusion… what is exactly played here? Any clue?