Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1967-1977 St. Louis Stars

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St. Louis Stars NASLNational Professional Soccer League (1967)
North American Soccer League (1968-1977)

Born: 1967 – NPSL founding franchise
Moved: October 1977 (California Surf)

Stadia:

  • 1967-1968: Busch Memorial Stadium (50,000)
  • 1969-1970: Francis Field
  • 1971-1974: Busch Memorial Stadium
  • 1975-1977: Francis Field

Team Colors: Red & White with Blue Piping (1967)

Owner: Robert Hermann, et al.

NPSL Championships: None
NASL Championships: None

 

The St. Louis Stars were the first professional soccer team to make their home in the Gateway City. Relatively speaking, the Stars were a beacon of stability in the turbulent American pro soccer scene of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Of the 22 American pro clubs that began play during the country’s 1967 pro soccer boom, only the Dallas Tornado (1967-1981) outlived the Stars.

The Stars began play as one of ten original franchises in the National Professional Soccer League. The first Stars club in 1967 consisted largely of European imports, including a large number of Yugoslavian players. The team was competitive, finishing 2nd in the NPSL’s Western Division with a 14-11-7 record. Only the two divisional champions advanced to the NPSL’s two-game championship playoff, so the Stars were left out of the postseason. St. Louis was the most popular of the league’s ten clubs at the turnstiles, attracting average crowds of 7,613 per match to the city’s Major League Baseball stadium.

After the 1967 season, the NPSL merged with its rival, the United Soccer Association, to form the North American Soccer League.  17 clubs took part in the 1968 NASL season. But league investors pulled out en masse at the end of the year, reducing the NASL to just 5 clubs for 1969. The Stars were one of the few survivors who struggled onward into the 1970’s. The team departed Busch Stadium for the cheaper, more appropriately scaled confines of Francis Field on the campus of Washington University. Attendance dipped to around 2,000 per match at the start of the new decade.

Beginning in 1969 the Stars began to focus on recruiting local St. Louis players. This was a departure from the rest of the NASL, which became known as something of a retirement home for aging Englishmen of the era. St. Louis University was a soccer powerhouse throughout the 1960’s and into the early 70’s. The Americanization approach helped the Stars earn a loyal (if still small-ish) core audience. Attendance began to rebound hitting a new high of 7,773 per match in 1972. The Stars also reached the NASL final for the only time in 1972, losing 2-1 to the New York Cosmos.

The team reached peak Americanization in 1974 when the entire roster consisted of U.S. citizens with the exception of English player-coach John Sewell. In 1975, the team would gradually begin to add more foreign players, including Peter Bonetti, the reserve goalkeeper on England’s 1966 World Cup champion team. But the bulk of the Stars roster would always remain American.

The club continued to bounce back and forth from Busch Stadium to Francis Field throughout the 1970’s. Attendance peaked at 9,794 per match in 1977. But this proved to be the team’s last season in St. Louis. The club moved to Anaheim, California in October 1977.

College soccer’s Hermann Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s best male and female players, is named in honor of Stars founder and long-time patron Robert Hermann.

 

St. Louis Stars Shop

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

 

St. Louis Stars Memorabilia

 

Stars Video

 

Links

National Professional Soccer League Media Guides

National Professional Soccer League Programs

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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1978-1981 California Surf

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North American Soccer League (1978-1981)

Born: October 1977 – The St. Louis Stars relocate to Anaheim, CA
Folded: September 16, 1981

Stadium: Anaheim Stadium (43,200)

Arenas:

Team Colors: Light Blue, Dark Blue & Lime Green

Owners:

Soccer Bowl Championships: None

 

The California Surf soccer club was a short-lived and unloved entry in the North American Soccer League (NASL), who played four outdoor and two indoor seasons between 1978 and 1981.  The Surf traced their ancestry back to the St. Louis Stars, one of the founding clubs in the National Professional Soccer League in 1967.  The following year, the NPSL merged with the rival United Soccer Association to form the NASL.

By 1977, St. Louis Stars owner Bob Hermann was one of only two investors still standing from the original group of soccer backers of the late 1960’s.  Lamar Hunt of the Dallas Tornado was the other. But the NASL seemed to be on the rise in 1977.  League-wide attendance topped one million fans for the first time in 1975 and continued to grow.  Six clubs averaged over 15,000 fans per game, paced by the New York Cosmos, who drew 34,142 per match in their first season at the brand new Giants Stadium in New Jersey.  Consequently the Stars’ home ground at Francis Field appeared increasingly inadequate – the stadium held only 10,000  fans.

California Surf NASLIn October 1977 the NASL approved a transfer of the ten-year old Stars to Anaheim, California and the 43,200-seat Anaheim Stadium.  The NASL already had a club in nearby Los Angeles, but Orange County was the epicenter of a youth soccer explosion. League officials salivated over the favorable demographics in Anaheim.  Hermann continued as Chairman of the club, and continued to be very active in NASL affairs as Chairman of the league’s Executive Committee.

(Pause for a bit of trivia here – the Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, is named for the former Stars/Surf owner).

Anaheim never turned into the kind of boom town that the NASL hoped for.  Attendance peaked in 1978 at 11,171 per match. Most nights found a desolate morgue-like atmosphere at Anaheim Stadium.  The Orange County Register frequently jabbed the team, suggesting that even the meager announced attendance figures were inflated.  The team itself was a mediocrity, never finishing above .500 or advancing beyond the first round of the NASL’s overly-inclusive playoff format.  Although primarily remembered as an outdoor club, the Surf also took part in two NASL indoor soccer seasons in the winters of 1979-80 and 1980-81.  Surf indoor matches were played at the Long Beach Arena.

California Surf soccerBy 1980, midway through the Surf’s third season, it was clear that Orange County’s youth soccer  boom had not translated into significant support for professional soccer.  Rumors circulated that the Surf would merge with the NASL’s Los Angeles Aztecs, or return to St. Louis, or be sold and shifted to Calgary or New Orleans.  Instead, the club was rescued by a consortium of ten Orange County businessmen led by Henry Segerstrom, who bought up 100% of the team’s stock to keep the team in Anaheim.

The new owners ran the Surf through one winter indoor season (1980-81) and one final demoralizing outdoor season in the summer of 1981.  The one noteworthy event of the 1981 season was the team’s acquisition of former Brazilian World Cup captain Carlos Alberto, a world superstar who played on the mighty New York Cosmos teams of the late 1970’s.  Despite Alberto’s presence, the Surf posted a franchise-worst 11-21 record and missed the playoffs for the first time.  The new investors lost a couple of million dollars and folded the club on September 16, 1981, a few days before the NASL’s Soccer Bowl championship game.

 

California Surf Soccer Shop

Ian Plenderleith’s definitive chronicle of “The Short Life & Fast Times of the North American Soccer League”

California Surf replica jerseys by Ultras 

California Surf Memorabilia

 

California Surf Video

California Surf visit the New York Cosmos at Giants Stadium. July 2, 1978

 

 

California Surf Downloads

1978 California Surf ownership group

 

Links

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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