Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1978-1988 Cleveland Force

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Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-1988)

Born: 1978 – Major Indoor Soccer League founding franchise
Folded: July 22, 1988 – The Force cease operations.

Arena: The Richfield Coliseum (17,217)

Team Colors: Reflex Blue & Yellow

Owners:

MISL Championships: None

 

The Cleveland Force were a tremendously popular indoor soccer franchise during the 1980’s at the peak of the sport’s popularity.  Formed in 1978 as one of six founding franchises in the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League, the team’s success was slowing in developing.  Attendance was low in the team’s earlier years.  It wasn’t until the 1982-83 season when the team’s popularity boomed and began to far outpace the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, their co-tenants at the suburban Richfield Coliseum.  (It helped that the Cavs were in the death grip of Ted Stepien in this era, widely reviled by Clevelanders as one of the worst pro sports owners who ever walked the Earth.)

There were other MISL clubs that drew great crowds during this era, notably the Kansas City Comets and St. Louis Steamers.  But the Force are frequently cited as the only MISL franchise ever to turn an annual operating profit.  In addition to drawing large crowds, the team also had a strong sponsorship base, a booming camps program and a strong merchandise business.

While the Force were doing well, the same could not be said for the rest of the MISL.  Franchises came and went so quickly that fans and sponsors could barely keep track.  Between 1985 and 1987, the league endured the embarrassment of seeing two New York franchises go out of business at the mid-season All-Star Break.  The league engaged in bruising annual battles with the Players Association.  After long-running franchises in Chicago, Minnesota and St. Louis pulled out of the league in the summer of 1988, Force owner Bert Wolstein shut down the team in July 1988, seeing no viable way forward for the league.

The MISL, loathe to lose one of its few proven markets, quickly expanded back into Cleveland in the fall of 1989.  The Cleveland Crunch brought back a number of Force players and front office execs, most notably the Force’s popular perennial All-Star Kai Haaskivi.  But it wasn’t the same and the big crowds and corporate support of the Wolstein era didn’t return.

Although the Crunch never re-created the buzz of the Force, the new team actually lasted longer, playing 13 seasons from 1989 to 2002.  In 1999 a new group which included former Cleveland Force front office executive Paul Garofolo bought the Crunch from original owner George Hoffman for a reported $1.75 million.  In 2002, the new owners re-branded the team anew as the Cleveland Force.  (The “New” Force also played in a “New” Major Indoor Soccer League, which had no connection to the original league, which had folded in 1992.)   The retro/nostalgia angle didn’t take.  Crowds remained small and the new Force folded in 2005.

 

Cleveland Force Shop


Force Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

Cleveland Force Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Bert Wolstein, Cleveland Force owner.  Passed away May 17, 2004 at age 77

Forward Paul Kitson (1987-88 season) died of a heart attack on August 25, 2005 at age 49.

Ian Anderson, with the Force from 1980-1982, died November 5, 2008 at age 54.

English midfielder Roy Sinclair, who played for the Force from 1978 to 1981, died on January 12, 2013 at age 68.

 

Force Video

Cleveland Force vs. San Diego Sockers in the 1988 MISL Championship Series

 

Downloads

1987-88 Major Indoor Soccer League Rule Book & Schedule 

 

Links

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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Written by AC

January 20th, 2013 at 2:24 am

January 13, 1989 – Canton Invaders vs. Hershey Impact

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Canton (OH) Invaders vs. Hershey (PA) Impact
January 13, 1989
Canton Civic Center
Attendance:

American Indoor Soccer Association Programs
36 pages

 

This one made me laugh.

The Canton Invaders were a dynasty in minor league indoor soccer in the late 1980’s.  The Invaders won the championship of the Midwest-based American Indoor Soccer Association (AISA) five out of six seasons between 1985 and 1990.  The club played out of the tiny Canton Civic Center (capacity: 4,200) and crowds averaged only about half of that amount.

Indoor soccer in the 1980’s was all about the light shows, the music and the pyro, and among the best in the business were the nearby Cleveland Force of the big-budget Major Indoor Soccer League.  The Force played in the 19,000 seat Richfield Coliseum and, for a time in the mid-80’s, they were the hottest ticket in town, often outdrawing the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.   The “Force” nickname owed a direct debt to the “Star Wars” franchise and for several years the Force mascot was a man in a very authentic Darth Vader costume who entered the Richfield Coliseum to John Williams’ Imperial March from the films.  LucasFilm eventually got the Force to cease and desist on Darth, but the Force name remained.

When the AISA started up in 1984, the Force were at their peak and the Canton Invaders copied their playbook, right down to ripping the space/alien theme.  The Invaders logo appeared to be an extra-terrestrial pest control specialist, descending from a soccer ball spaceship.

This program from a January 13th, 1989 game at the Canton Civic Center pictures a rather tubby young man in a charmingly home-made looking “Captain Invader” costume emerging from a spaceship portal made of Christmas Tree tinsel as part of the team’s pre-game “spectacle”.  Scoff if you like at the apparrent shabbiness of the production, but by this point the thrifty Invaders had actually outlived the Force, whose owners shut down the profitable club in 1988 in a state of general disgust about the state of the money-bleeding Major Indoor Soccer League.

The Invaders muddled along in Canton for a dozen years from 1984 to 1996.  The team’s fortunes declined in the 1990’s and the former dynasty was no longer competitive on the carpet.  In 1996, the team moved to Columbus, Ohio for a single season at Batelle Hall as the Columbus Invaders.  I visited a girlfriend at Ohio State that winter and dragged her to an Invaders game against the Cleveland Crunch – another team trying to recapture the glory days of the Force.  There were about 200 people in the building and the Invaders were terrible.  The game quickly got out of hand with the Crunch scoring at will.  Late in the match, one of the teams – I forget which – randomly inserted a lumbering fat man in a poor-fitting uniform who had no business playing professional soccer.  (Perhaps the Invader mascot from 1989 all grown up?).  He actually scored.  I assumed he was a team owner fulfilling a fantasy.  Cleveland went on to win 52-18 that night setting a scoring record that endured for the entire 18-year history of the league.  The Invaders folded quietly in the summer of 1997.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by AC

March 28th, 2012 at 4:19 pm

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