FRISCO - Imagine Real Madrid or Manchester United - or any sports club for that matter - playing 49 matches across 27 countries, spanning five continents in a seven-month period.
It may seem logistically impossible. It may seem brutal for the athletes and staff alike. But the Dallas Tornado did just that in 1967, playing in front of tens of thousands of fans in war-torn Vietnam, missing a flight that would eventually be blown up by Greek-Cypriot terrorists, losing half the team in the Bengali jungle without food or water and getting stoned by anti-American fans in Singapore.
The Dallas Tornado World Tour of 1967 might be the greatest sports globetrotting event ever witnessed, and it was thanks to two men who were passionately invested in soccer with the dream of one day bringing the beautiful game to the United States: club founder and Vice President Lamar Hunt and head coach Bob Kap.
Hunt fell in love with the game of soccer after seeing the broadcast of the 1966 World Cup Final, where England, in a thrilling contest, beat West Germany in overtime, 4-2. It was a historic moment for England, but so too for the hope of the sport in the United States, as one man’s dream began – to bring professional soccer to the country. Just a year later, he helped form the North American Soccer League – the country’s first sustaining professional league – and launched the Dallas Tornado as its first professional team.
The Father of Soccer in North America wanted to show the world that the U.S. could breathe the game just like any other country. He understood that one of the biggest aspects of the sport was its global unification among people and nations. And it was the motivation behind his unthinkable tour around the world 50 years ago.
“Without Lamar, it would have taken a lot longer for soccer to succeed in America,” original Tornado forward Jan Book said. “[I have] only good things to say about Lamar. I love the man. When I go to [Toyota] Stadium and see [Hunt’s] statue here and Toyota Stadium compared to when we were [first starting here], it’s like night and day, and I think we all owe Lamar a big thank you for putting all of this together.”
Aside from serving as a brutal training regimen in preparation for the NASL’s debut season in 1968, Hunt wanted his Tornado to serve as soccer ambassadors for the U.S., while also attempting to repair the stigma the world carried over Dallas - the city where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated just four years prior. The players were recruited from England, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands and had never been to Dallas, or the United States, but they quickly learned to embrace the city they represented, carrying cowboy hats and vests wherever they went.
“In a lot of ways the hat was a symbol and it did create a lot of interest because everywhere we went, people would ask, ‘Hey, where are you guys from?’” Book said. “A lot of us wore it with pride, and kind of like a cowboy style, a little tough John Wayne-type of guys. I felt good about it.”
It was something like out of a video game. The Tornado’s first rendition prior to the World Tour played with Scottish club Dundee United’s players in the United Soccer League, where entire European clubs were brought to North America to represent U.S. cities. The league survived just one season before merging with the NPSL to create the NASL. Hunt, however, wanted to create an authentic team, full of bright young players – not a team of transplants from Scotland. He had to start from scratch, so he hired a coach and a scout. Bob Kap was both, and so much more.
“Bob did everything. Can you imagine these days going in a tour? I mean the players, the coaches complain having to go for a week, and for [Kap] to do it, and not only be the coach, but the manager, the trainer, the equipment guy; he did everything, really by himself.” – Mike Renshaw (#11, Forward)
“[There were a lot] of prerequisites. [You] had to be English-spoken, good-looking like most of us were, carrying yourself and have some kind of talent for soccer,” Book said. “But the key was able to speak English and be able to represent Dallas and America in a professional way.”
The forward was 20 years old in his native Sweden when a fan showed him Kap’s advertisement in a local newspaper to play soccer in the United States for a club he had never heard of – the Dallas Tornado. At the time, like many young men in Europe, Book wanted to play soccer professionally and travel around the world. There were no second thoughts, it was an easy one and one that he and his teammates would never forget.
“I was playing with a team called Chester and there was another chap David Moorcroft, who was basically a very, very good player with an amateur team there called Scem. They got to the final of the amateur cup and he called me and asked ‘Would I be interested?’ I said ‘Very much so,’ and it went on from then,” Tornado defender Brian Harvey said of his recruitment to the historic team. “I came from a football family, my father, my brother, everyone played football and grandfathers and uncles, and so on, it was all about football coming from a very passionate football city of Liverpool.”
Kap and his newly-recruited players met for the first time as a group in August of 1967 in Spain. Almost none had ever stepped foot in Dallas before the start of the tour. The head man started meeting with the team and was simply trying to get build team chemistry to start when, to his surprise, they had their first exhibition match already scheduled – a meeting with Cordoba CF, a first-division team who had recently defeated Spanish giants Real Madrid.
“One funny matchmaker called me this morning,” Bob Kap wrote about the experience in his journal in 1967. “‘Mr. Kap, my name is Professor Fernando Maria Don Pasqualle. I am soccer businessman. Soccer Club Cordoba, leading Spanish soccer team, who beat last week Real Madrid, world champions, accepted your challenge and are waiting for you.’ What? I opened my mouth. Who are you? I asked, ‘Match is confirmed,’ Don Dasquelle said. Telephone became radioactive and I drop it. But I never challenged anybody. I never asked for any match. We are not ready. We are only soccer tourists yet. We are soccer virgins. We don’t even have soccer boots. We have just come to Spain for training.”
Dallas would lose their first match 4-0 and while Kap feared for his coaching career before it had even really started, Hunt was content with the result considering it was a newly-built team around players who barley knew one another. In seven months time, that would all change, and the newly recruited players would become lifelong friends.
The Tornado would lose another 28 matches during the tour by its end in March of 1968, but picked up results along the way to the dismay of many and causing uproars across the world.
In October, during their visit to Turkey, the Tornado pulled their first surprising result against European-giants Fenerbahce, with Harvey scoring in a 2-2 draw. The club would go on to compile wins against the Pakistan National Team and routing the Manila Chinese XI, 7-0, prompting excitement wherever they went as everyone wanted their turn against the American club.
The team was playing almost every three days throughout their tour. In between, they were either traveling, sightseeing or interacting with the locals.
In October 1967, after touring Athens during a pit stop in Greece, the Tornado players missed their scheduled flight to Nicosia, Cyprus. Little did they know, it was a mistake that would save their life. Their original flight was blown up by terrorists in mid-air in an assassination attempt of Greek Cypriot General George Grivas, who also missed the flight. Coincidentally, both the General and the Tornado players were on the next flight to Cyprus together.
Later in November, the Tornado would again cheat death, this time in amidst a civil war in India.
“While leaving Pakistan to enter India, only the British players’ [and coach Kap’s] Visa documentation were accepted. The rest of us (eleven players total) were stuck in a little border town, in the middle of nowhere. We were told, to just to wait a few hours, to get our proper Entry Visa. However, no one showed up with the papers,” Book recalled. “Nighttime came and we had to take shelter in a jungle hut, with dirt floor and grass roof. The hut only had 2 beds and several chairs to sleep in. Two of the players were sick, so they got the beds. It was no electricity or running water and pitch dark at night. We had no candles or any other light. We could feel bugs crawling on us and hear rats and other creatures, running around in the hut. Needless to say, none of us slept much.”
The next day, sent one of the players, Frank Randorf, out to get food. Without any local currency, Randorf traded soccer balls and shin guards for food, something resembling a chicken, but according to Book, couldn’t be confirmed as such. The hungry players ate anyways and survived on orange soda Randorf was able to acquire because the water was undrinkable. Night fell once again without any documentation.
“Around 11PM a local man showed up with a bus and the proper Visa passes,” Book continued. “The bus had no seats. We had to sit on our suitcases, while driving on dirt trails, in the dark to the border control. Once there, we were told the Officer in charge had gone to sleep and left very strict orders about not being disturbed, no matter what.
“The border patrol soldier was afraid to wake him and told us to come back the next day. The problem we had was that our Visas were only good until midnight that night. It was only 10 minutes before midnight when we finally talked one of the guards into helping us. He took us by foot, further into the Bengali Jungle and cut a hole in the fence that we crawled through. We truly expected to get shot, or even worse, get attacked by a Tiger or some other wild dangerous animal. What a sight it must have been. Eleven young, scared to death soccer players wearing their Texas cowboy hats and carrying their suitcases, entering India through a fence hole.”
Once on the other side of the fence, the players were safe and taken to their hotel in Calcutta, where they arrived at 6 AM and played just hours later in a 0-0 draw against the Indian National Team.
The schedule was taking a toll on Book, Renshaw, Harvey and the rest of their teammates and, consequently, it would hurt the club in what they were actually preparing for. By December, Kap had just 16 men, including two goalkeepers, to complete their journey. That didn’t stop the team from getting results.
The Tornado beat Taiwan, 3-2, in December before heading to Australia, where the team edged out the South Australia team, 3-2. February would mark the end of the overseas tour, with the players finally landing in their new home in Dallas – or so they thought.
After just two weeks of settling down in Texas, Kap and Lamar had one final mission before their NASL season debut, a two-week mini-tour of Central America, playing matches in Costa Rica and Honduras.
“Everything was happening around you so fast. We were playing, training or traveling,” Renshaw said. “There was no time to think about being home sick, missing family, missing friends, because my new friends were now traveling with me.”
When the NASL season commenced, the Dallas Tornado and its young world-forged stars were exhausted and playing against seasoned professionals from Europe who had joined the league.
The American club suffered a horrific debut season. During their 32-game campaign, they only won two matches, drew four and lost 26, compiling a goal difference of minus-81. At the end of the 1968 season, the Tornado released almost all of the touring players.
"I think all three of us feel very fortunate to have been a part of that tour and that experience. To say it was life-changing is a total understatement,” Book said. “I think without a question, we would do it again tomorrow if given the opportunity."
Fifty years later, the Dallas Tornado and its incredible tour highlights just how far the sport of soccer has come in the U.S. As the league grew, the NASL’s most prominent team, the New York Cosmos, averaged more than 40,000 fans per match with soccer exploding onto the scene with the arrival of world-renowned Pelé in 1975. But overall, there was a decline. Other teams were not able to keep up and attendance, as well as interest in the league, dropped after the global stars left. In March 1985, Hunt’s ambitious league folded after 17 seasons.
Hunt forged on in his soccer dream though. The pioneer played an instrumental role in bringing the 1994 FIFA World Cup to the U.S., propelling an appetite for the game across the nation. He would go on to play a large role in the founding of the Major League Soccer in 1996, owning two of the original 10 teams: the Kansas City Wizards and the Columbus Crew. In 2003, Hunt expanded his soccer footprint to his hometown of Dallas, acquiring yet another MLS original in the then-Dallas Burn, now FC Dallas. Before his passing in 2005, Hunt opened up his second soccer-specific stadium, just the third across the nation, in a budding suburb called Frisco. In 2018, a half-century after the first NASL season, the National Soccer Hall of Fame will open in the very building Lamar Hunt completed as one of his final contributions to the world of American sports and American soccer.
“A lot of people have asked me ‘How come you are in America?’ And I would say I owe it to Lamar Hunt, one of the classiest guys I met in my life, a true old proper gentleman,” said Book, who makes Dallas his permanent home. “I feel like we all feel the same way about Lamar. We are very grateful and thankful for what he did, not only for us, but also for soccer in America.”