It was in 1967 that the hastily conceived USA-United Soccer Association invited Stoke City to become The Cleveland Stokers for one summer. They played in their English League uniforms at the Cleveland Stadium against such opponents as The Boston Shamrocks-Shamrock Rovers: LA Wolves-Wolverhampton Wanderers, Dallas Tornado-Dundee United:Washington Whips-Aberdeen....
the next year The Cleveland Stokers were on their own in the new North American Soccer League-and that's as far is it lasted for them.
Last week I went to a fan club forum at The Brittania Stadium on Sir Stanley Matthews Way to meet with the new owner of the www.austinaztex.com Phil Rawlins, Adrian Heath, the new head coach of the pro team that will kick off in 2009 and the President of the USL- Francisco Marcos. It was held in DELILAHS BAR in the stadium of England's second oldest professional team Stoke City, that until 1928 was just plain old Stoke FC, the name change coming when the town became a city. They had played at their old stadium Victoria Ground for a record 119 years from 1878.
The Potters have had a mascot called POTTERMUS ,since they opened the new stadium, the only Hippo with a motor cycle license who sometimes rides around the stadium as an 'Easy Rider' in a leather jacket. Whether or not he will Ride the Range at Dragon Stadium in Round Rock has yet to be decided. The city suburb of Austin still remembers July 19th 1878, when the outlaw Sam Bass lost a shoot out with The Texas Rangers, an event 'celebrated' annually to this day.
This summer The Austin Aztex, coached by well respected Wolfgang Suhnholz, a former Bundesliga and NASL player and long time coaching stand out for The Austin Capitals and USA youth team, will play in the amateur U 23 PDL, one part of the USL pyramid www.uslsoccer.com and in 2009 Adrian Heath a former City star will coach the Premier Divison team.
They will slightly modify their traditional red and white stripes, white shorts and soxs to encorporate blue shorts and red sox-"just like Atletico Madrid" says Phil. Lets hope for his and Adrian Heath's case he doesn't act like former Atletico owner and crook Jesus Gil who fired coaches such as Menotti, Atkinson, Basile, Sacchi and Ranieri and had 14 coaches in a dozen years!!
One of the great soccer entertainers was Alan Hudson, who stared with Chelsea, Stoke City and the Seattle Sounders. He spoke at the forum about his admiration for the legendary Tony Waddington who brought good times to The Potters in the 60's and 70's. He has written a book called The Waddington Years, which will be published soon. Tony brought back the greatest player I have ever known, Stan Matthews from Blackpool, quadrupled the attendances, and achieved promotion to the top tier of English football. Sir Stanley who has a statue in Upper Market Square in Hanley, where he was born, and a gigantic 3 statues on a plinth outside The Britannia, played his last match for Stoke at the age of 50 YEARS OLD!!
Club President is Gordon Banks the former England goalkeeper and they will unveil his statue July 12th before a 'Legends' match between Gordon Banks XI and Pele's XI, 38 years after Pele's 'unstoppable' shot was saved by the Englishman at the Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara during World Cup 1970. The champions were beaten 1-0 and Brazil went on to defeat Italy 4-1 in the final at the Estadio Azteca-and I was lucky enough to be at both matches.
The genius of Francisco Marcos is responsible for this vaste league empire that started with just 5 indoor teams in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. 'The Badlands' he called it, but it turned into 'The Good Lands". Now it is a very international three tiered men's leagues plus womens and youth leagues and teams all over USA plus Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Canada. You could say that Austin has had Four Funerals and a Wedding!!. Austin Thunder, Austin Soccadillos, Austin Capitals, Austin Lone Star have all gone to soccer heaven while The 'wedding' of Stoke and Austin is hopefully going to be a success for owner Phil Rawlins. "I think America is the next Africa of Soccer", he stated. Poor, young Africans have been brought, penniless and often illegal into Europe for years, and very few have 'made it'. Of course American kids and parents are much wealthier and wiser and the Austin-Round Rock area is one of America's youth soccer hot beds. Phil has live and worked in Austin on and off for 15 years so knows the territory as well as being a current Director of Stoke City.
At the moment Stoke City are hoping to reach the Premiership for the very first time. A win or draw at home to Crystal Palace Monday night would have put them on top of The Championship. It was not to be, with a narrow 1-2 loss at The Britannia, and an exciting season finale to come. More about soccer in the Potteries and Sir Stan Matthews in my www.ronsblog.com from 7/27/2007.