July usually sees major soccer clubs the world over take flight to embark on their respective summer tours. Generally, these are exercises in connecting with the global fan base, maintaining and raising profiles and of course getting some match practice in preparation for the new season.
It’s safe to say that none of these clubs could even begin to imagine let alone experience the amazing world tour that the Dallas Tornado undertook in 1967. It was a journey that spanned five continents taking the team to 25 countries and saw them play 48-matches.
The Tornado players narrowly avoided an air disaster on their way to Cyprus, had to trek through the Bengali jungle at the dead of night and play in Vietnam in the midst of the war to name but a few notable incidents.
Their extraordinary tour is chronicled in The Amazing World Tour of the Dallas Tornado and tells the tale of 16 young soccer players who just wanted to play the game no matter where the pitch was.
50 years on from that incredible voyage the members of the Dallas Tornado held a reunion in Chester, UK and discussed the highs and lows of their seven-month tour. They recalled their affection for manager Bob Kap, spoke their admiration of the vision of the Dallas Tornado owner, Lamar Hunt and of course reminisced about the soccer tour that changed their lives forever.
Jan Book, the Tornado’s number 14, summed up the feelings of the players as he recounted his and their memories for World Soccer Talk.
World Soccer Talk: 50 years on from such an amazing journey. What’s the first thing you felt when meeting your teammates again?
Jan Book: Hard to believe it’s been 50 years, it just seems it was a few years ago. Some of us have not seen each other in 48 years, but it seems we just picked up where we left off. A wonderful feeling of brothers being united again. Very emotional and many tears of joy. Someone called us the “Band of Brothers”. It was a very special bond that was developed between the players. We only had each other on the tour. We had to stick together, in good and bad. We trusted and relied on each other. The love for each other never left us. Strangely enough our spouses connected in a very similar way, at the reunion, even though most of them had never met before.
WST: What are your memories of Lamar Hunt? In your mind what was his mission for the Dallas Tornado?
JB: A wonderful, caring person and a true gentleman. A world class innovator and visionary, with a goal of: “Anything is possible.” Lamar’s mission was for the Dallas Tornado to become a world famous soccer team. To show the world that soccer was played in America. In addition to show the world, that Dallas and specifically Texas, was famous for more, than the Kennedy assassination.
WST: If Bob Kap were with you today what do you think he’d say to you?
JB: Mr. Kap would say: “I’m extremely proud of the way you boys turned out in life.
I’m pleased to see that you listened to all my advice and teachings. I can tell by the good looking women in the room, that you have been successful and lucky. I knew that when I selected you, this was a group of young men that would make a difference in making the world a better place. I can see you have contributed well. Now go and get a haircut!”
WST: Did Kap really know Ferenc Puskás?
JB: They went to coaching school together in Hungary. They were very good friends. Ferenc was godfather to Mr. Kap’s daughter Sonja. Puskás helped coach us during our training camp in Spain.
WST: The tour started normally enough in Spain, Morocco and Turkey. Then it took an extraordinary twist in Greece when you missed your flight from Athens to Nicosia. The plane you were supposed to take was blown up in a terrorist attack. How did you miss it? What was the team’s feelings taking the following flight?
JB: The team members have different recollections of this event. Of what we remember is the fact that the plane that took off before our flight for Cyprus that day had a bomb on board that was placed there by a terrorist group to assassinate a Greek General, named Grivas. The plane exploded and tragically killed 66 innocent people. We learned later, that General Grivas was actually on our flight, that same day to Cyprus.
WST: In Cyprus given all that happened how could you possibly concentrate on playing soccer?
JB: It was very difficult to focus on a soccer game, knowing how close we had been to death. However, we had to move on and play the scheduled game, the next day. The game against Apollon of Limassol was played on a field which was made up by cinder surface, which made it even more difficult.
WST: The next stop was Iran. What was it like playing there?
JB: At that time in history, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife Farah, ruled Persia (Iran). We played during the preparation for the “Crowning “, to make them “King of Kings”. The entire country was in a festive mood. People were happy and friendly. The team was welcomed and popular wherever we played and visited. Hard to believe that only a decade later, the American Embassy was attacked and 52 American diplomats were held hostage for 444 days. Our only complaints playing in Iran were the local referees being used for all of our games. It was impossible to win. Even if we were ahead after 90 minutes of play, the referee would not blow the final whistle, until Iran had scored to tie the game, or win the game.
WST: There was a player called Graham Stirland on the tour at that point. What happened to him?
JB: Mr. Kap decided that Graham did not live up to the quality of play that was required. Therefore he was sent back to his home country England, when we arrived in Teheran. Since Bob Kap was the only coach and manager during the entire the World Tour, his expectations on the field, as well as off the field, was very high. We were 16 young talented single players, all under 21 years of age, with one adult, Bob Kap. No team doctor, assistant coaches, trainers or anyone else.
WST: Following your game in Iran you had some matches in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. The border crossing from Bangladesh to India was interesting to say the least. What are your recollections?
JB: At the time, Pakistan and India was at war with each other. It was very difficult to cross the borders from one country to the other, without Visas and government documentation.
While trying to cross the border it seemed that 11 of the 16 players, who did not carry a British passport, did not have the correct papers, to enter India. We were detained in a small jungle village close to the border, on the Pakistani side. A local Football Association representative was to leave the team and find us proper documentation to enter India.
As hours passed, we realized we would be stuck in this small village for the night. Luckily we found a small bamboo hut that would accommodate all 11 of us. Dirt floor, with only two beds and six chairs we would take turns resting. Small and some large bugs and creatures occupied the hut on a regular basis.
After eight hours without food and drink, we approached the local population about getting some food. Since we had no money, we were lucky to trade some soccer balls and jerseys, for what we believed to be a chicken, or some other type of bird, with feathers still attached. We also traded for some Fanta orange drinks. We were somewhat satisfied, but still concerned. After spending a sleepless night and another full day in the hut, help finally arrived with new Visas, late the second night. Boarding a small bus without seats, we took off deep into the Bengali jungle, where the famous Bengali tigers ruled, towards the India border.
We arrived 20 minutes before midnight, at a border station, which was closed for the night. Since our Visas would expire at midnight, we were desperate to get across. After bribing a couple of soldiers they cut a hole in the fence away from the border crossing station. We quietly crawled through the fence in total darkness, on our knees, with our luggage, praying that we would not get shot, or attacked by the tigers. Just wondering…what would Maradona have done at that time?
Safely back on the Indian side, we arrived at our Hotel at 6AM, exhausted, but safe. Played a game against India’s national team, the same day at 1PM, in 100 degrees F. and tied 1-1.
WST: All of the events mentioned thus far happened within the space of two to three months which is extraordinary all things considered. At the time did the Tornado players realize how unique this tour was already?
JB: The tour lasted seven months. At the time, we did not realize how difficult and hard this trip actually was. For a long period of time, we would play three games a week. Sometimes in different countries, with only 16 players, two of those players being goalkeepers. However, we were young and loved playing soccer.
WST: Given the nature of the tour nothing was ever going to be straight forward. The Tornado had to delay its trip to Burma because of political riots in India, correct?
JB: When we arrived in Calcutta, rioting had broken out. A civil war had started, people were protesting for not getting enough food. The political coalition that ruled that area could not guarantee safe passage, to the airport for an American team. The team was locked up in a hotel for three days, before we sneaked out and went to the airport for our flight to Burma. We found many buildings, busses and cars on fire in the city.
WST: So in Burma things seemed a little smoother and you played to crowds of over 40,000. What was that like? Overall during the tour what were the crowd sizes like?
JB: The government of Burma was ruled by a military junta. Never before had an American sports team been able to visit and play in Burma. We did not know what to expect, however we were well received, the crowd appreciated the way we played and performed. We played two games in sold out stadiums, with 40,000 spectators for each game, against their strong national team.
Overall, the crowd sizes would vary from 5,000 up to 40,000 depending on country and population.
WST: Your game in Singapore in December 1967 was, to put it mildly, tense. Would it be fair to say that the match was a battle with the odd bout of football?
JB: Beautiful Singapore turned out to be a nightmare for us. Greeted at the stadium with a hostile crowd, of Chinese communists who was screaming “Yankee Go Home “, even before the game started.
During the game we would hear chants of “Down with American Imperialists!”
It did not take long before the game got out of hand. The local referee lost total control of the game. One of their players picked up a corner flag and chased one of our players like a bayonet, sharp side out! Many of the players got into fistfights, the crowd going berserk. The referee was hiding and nowhere to be seen. The anti-American crowd started to throw bottles and small rocks. Many of us got hit in our heads, however no serious injuries.
We finally rushed to the dressing room, as the angry spectators started to invade the field. After holding out in the dressing room for several hours, we finally made it back to the Hotel under heavy police escort. Needless to say the following day’s game was cancelled.
WST: Was that match in Singapore the most hostile it ever got on the pitch?
JB: Yes, it was actually the worst. It could have turned out very bad. We were just lucky we did not get hurt bad. The crowd was totally out of control. We feared for our lives.
WST: The fact that an American team played in Vietnam during the Vietnam War in itself is quite an amazing thing to hear. What was the general experience like there? Was it true that a few of the players went sight-seeing?
JB: We all were a bit worried and concerned about visiting and playing whilst the war raged all around us. It was very clear we had entered a warzone. Soldiers were everywhere. Helicopters buzzing in the sky nonstop. We were escorted to a hotel in Saigon, by the Military Police in a bus with heavy steel plates and bullet proof windows. We were briefed at the American Embassy not to be in groups of more than four people, at the time. Discouraged to do any sightseeing trips, or go out at night by ourselves.
We played two games while in Saigon with heavy armed soldiers at the stadiums. We tied both matches against South Vietnam national youth team and their senior national team. We also took a 10-mile ride up the Saigon River in a fully armed patrol boat, to visit and kick the ball around with American soldiers in an ammunition depot camp.
We could hear bombs and grenades exploding in the not too far distance. We experienced first-hand how these young American heroes lived and fought. All of us had nothing but respect and high regards for these young men. We all considered us lucky that we left Vietnam unharmed. Just a few weeks after our visit to Saigon the Tet Offensive occurred. Again we escaped a life threatening event.
WST: After the Vietnam leg the tour seemed to return to a semblance of normality with games in Taiwan, Australia and Japan. After all the extraordinary experiences what was it like returning to just a run of the mill football tour?
JB: It was never a run of the mill football tour. Nothing was normal, but we loved every day. Every country we played in, wanted to beat us. It would be a disgrace for them to lose against an American soccer team. Long flights, late nights, early mornings, different foods and cultures, games every third day. Biased local referees, PR events, American embassy visits and sightseeing kept the hectic schedule going.
It was never time for rest, or relaxation. But…we truly enjoyed it to the fullest.
We were really living our dreams. Every day was a new adventure and a new experience.
WST: So the tour wrapped up in Honduras in March 1968 ending an adventure that began in August 1967. If you could sum up the tour in three words what would you choose?
JB: It’s very hard to do in three words only. Many of us had different answers; here are some examples of what the guys said:
“Let’s go again!”
“Unbelievable! Amazing! Brilliant!”
“A lifelong lesson”
“Band of Brothers”
“Living the dream”
WST: Throughout this whole tour how did Bob Kap handle everything? It must have been stressful. What did Lamar Hunt say to the Tornado upon the conclusion of this epic journey?
JB: Mr. Kap did an unbelievable job in guiding a group of young single guys, around the world all by himself without any major incidents, even though it must have been stressful at times for him. He did a fantastic job. The responsibility he must have felt, not only to win soccer games, but also to keep us safe.
At times, he was like a father: a strong disciplinarian, a teacher, a general manager, a doctor/ trainer. He was the BOSS!
Lamar Hunt who did not travel with us, but would meet up with us from time to time was extremely pleased with the way we had conducted ourselves. He had received several letters from the various embassies around the world, expressing their gratitude towards the impact of goodwill we had created in many countries.
He was very proud of us.
Even though Lamar (and all of us players) would have liked to win more games, he was still satisfied. His goals had been met. He had shown the world that soccer did indeed exist in the US. That an American team could be compatible and compete in soccer matches, all around the world. And…that guys from Texas were pretty “Good Ol’ Boys, after all.
The Amazing World Tour of the Dallas Tornado is available on Amazon.com in the United States.
The book can also be ordered in the UK, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. Contact [email protected] for more details.