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1979-1982 Edmonton Drillers

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Edmonton DrillersNorth American Soccer League (1979-1982)

Born: February 22, 1979 – The Oakland Stompers relocate to Edmonton.
Folded: October 13, 1982

Stadiums:

Arena: Northlands Coliseum (17,317)

Team Colors: Orange & Blue

Owner: Peter Pocklington

Soccer Bowl Championships: None
NASL Indoor Champions: 1981

 

The Edmonton Drillers were a non-descript entry in the North American Soccer League, lasting four seasons between 1979 and 1982. The franchise originated in Connecticut in 1975 as the Hartford Bicentennials and later made short stops in New Haven (Connecticut Bicentennials, 1977) and Northern California (Oakland Stompers, 1978) before Edmonton Oilers hockey owner Peter Pocklington purchased and relocated the club in February 1979, just five weeks before the start of the NASL season.

The Drillers were mostly a mediocrity, finishing at or near the bottom of their division in 1979, 1981 and 1982.  In 1980, the Drillers actually won the NASL’s Western Division with a 17-15 record and advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs before falling to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.  But the team’s one shining moment actually came playing indoor soccer at the Northlands Coliseum

Edmonton DrillersAt the end of the 1970’s, the NASL began experimenting with indoor soccer during the winter season.  It was a matter of baby steps.  A few teams – such as the league’s flagship New York Cosmos club – declined to participate.  But in the winter of 1980-81, 19 clubs took to the carpet to contest the NASL’s first full-scale indoor soccer season.  The Drillers were just OK during the regular season, finishing 10-8, but that was good enough to get into the playoffs, where the team came alive.  After dispatching the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Drillers swept the Chicago Sting two games to zero to capture the NASL’s 1981 indoor soccer championship.

The Drillers final season was undeniably bizarre.  By 1982 Peter Pocklington soured on his soccer investment.  According to The New York Times, the Drillers owner was $10.5 million in the red after three seasons.  He moved the club out of giant Commonwealth Stadium, where the Drillers averaged around 10,000 fans per game from 1979 to 1981 into modest Clarke Stadium.  Attendance crashed down to 4,922 per match, by far the worst in the 14-team NASL.

In April 1982, Pocklington was taken hostage by a lone gunman in a home invasion.  Police eventually raided Pocklington’s home, shooting and wounding both Pocklington and his attacker in the melee.  The following month, Pocklington declared he was putting no more money into the Drillers. He threatened to fold the club immediately unless his players took a 50% pay cut and the city of Edmonton stopped attempting to collect back rent on Clarke Stadium.

For a time it looked as though the NASL would lose a franchise in mid-season for the first time in its 15-year history.  Eventually, Pocklington relented and allowed the season to continue.  Then he tried and failed to sell the club for $1.25 million to investor groups looking to move the team to Detroit or Milwaukee.  The season mercifully ended in late August with the Drillers sitting in last place with the lowest scoring, least popular team in the NASL. The official end came about six weeks later in mid-October.

In 1996, Pocklington acquired control of the Edmonton Coliseum and bought an indoor soccer team to help fill the dates around Edmonton Oilers games.  He revived the Edmonton Drillers name for his indoor club.  The “new” Drillers played indoor soccer from 1996 to 2000, although Pocklington dumped the team after two seasons.  The team went bankrupt in 2000.  Yet another indoor team revived the Drillers name again in 2007.

 

Edmonton Drillers Shop

Rock n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life & Fast Times of the North American Soccer League by Ian Plenderleith

The Puck Talks Here: The Amazing Life & Turbulent Times of Peter Pocklington by Terry McConnell & J’Lyn Nye
(KINDLE Edition)

 

Edmonton Drillers Memorabilia

 

Links

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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