$2 million for a Summer of Soccer in 1960: several decades before Soccer United Marketing and others figured out the value of bringing Europe’s best teams to play in North America during their summer breaks, New Yorker Bill Cox had already given it quite a shot with the International Soccer League.
The 102nd Mayor of New York City, Robert F. Wagner, was at the announcement at City Hall on October 28th 1959 that a new professional soccer league would begin play exclusively in his city the next summer, with all the games to take place at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island. $75,000 would be spent to upgrade the floodlights at the 25,000 capacity venue. Tickets would be priced at $2 for general admission and $3 for reserved seating, while 1,200 box seats would also be installed. One American team would play alongside star teams from Britain, continental Europe, and possibly South America. All expenses would be paid for the visiting teams, with cash prizes for the winners. The total cost of the venture was estimated at around $2 million in today’s money.
At the same time, in London, Cox – to be president of the league’s only American team, a New York entry – made the same announcement. The Times of London reported that “The Football League, the Scottish League, and the Northern Ireland and Eire leagues have approved the proposals subject to the agreement of their clubs.”
The competition was planned to take place between May 25th with its first section (comprising six teams), ending June 26th, with the second section (also comprising six teams) beginning June 29th and ending August 3rd. The winners of each section would then play each other for the championship title.
Mayor Wagner was enthusiastic: “Many of our citizens in the city are foreign born. They all are fond of soccer and they have instilled that fondness in their children. This new league will give us a chance to see the greatest players in the game competing against a New York team. The city will cooperate in every possible way to help this league succeed.”
Cox, the league’s impresario who had made his money in the lumber business, had a mixed track record as a sports promoter. His involvement in American football in the 1940s with football teams the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers had not been a success, and nor had his involvement with the Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball: though the team improved under his tenure in 1943 and attendance rose, Cox was forced to depart when it was found he had bet on his own team (“sentimentally”, he claimed).
Cox announced that the ISL would begin play with section one featuring Scotland’s Kilmarnock, England’s Burnley, France’s Nice, West Germany’s Bayern Munich and Northern Ireland’s Glenavon.
While those names outside of Bayern Munich may not sound all that glamorous, that was not the case. Burnley, in fact, were the reigning champions of England. The timing of Burnley’s triumph, mere weeks before their opening game in the ISL, showed either great serendipity or remarkable foresight on the part of Cox. As Brian Glanville wrote, “Burnley, whose colors are claret and blue, is thus a most happy and long-sighted selection for the tournament in New York.”
Burnley featured the flair of Irishman Jimmy McIlroy, and the stoutness of Jimmy Adamson.
Glenavon, meanwhile, were the champions of Northern Ireland. Nice had finished ninth in Ligue 1 in 1960, but had been champions in 1959 when they’d been recruited for the league. Kilmarnock had just finished as runners-up in the Scottish Cup.
Each brought strong teams. Nice, for example, regularly fielded almost the entire XI who had recently taken on Real Madrid at the quarter-final stage of the European Cup, including Georges Lamia, Alphonse Martínez, César Gonzales, François Milazzo, Jacques Foix, Héctor de Bourgoing, Omar Keita Barrou and Victor Nurenberg.
Glenavon, Bayern Munich, Kilmarnock and Nice arrived in New York by chartered plane, while Burnley took a leisurely steam ship journey across the Atlantic.
New York’s entry was coached by Al Stubbins, a former Newcastle United and Liverpool forward. Stubbins is best known for being the only footballer to feature on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The forty year-old hoped he could help show the beauty of soccer to a new American audience.
“The new fan should observe both the individual play and the team play,” Stubbins told the media ahead of the ISL’s inaugural game. “When a player has the ball to himself, he can employ great dexterity with his feet, deception, and tricky ball-maneuvering. No player except the goalie may touch the ball with his hands. While the individual is showing his own style, he is at the same time advancing the fortunes of his team. In team play, the thing to watch for is the pass patterns. These are short and executed with a minimum of delay.”Al Stubbins, New York Americans’ Coach