The History of European Soccer Teams Touring North America

With all the excitement surrounding the recent announcement from Manchester United and other top European clubs regarding their summer plans to again tour North America, I decided it would be timely to share an interview with not only an incredibly prolific author, a preeminent historian of soccer in North America, but also a true gentleman of the game and the history surrounding it, Colin Jose.

Jose has researched the history of soccer in both Canada and the United States for over 40 years and currently serves as the historian at the Soccer Hall of Fame in Vaughan, Ontario and as Historian Emeritus at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, New York. Jose has written nine books on the history of the beautiful game in North America including books on the NASL, the World Cup and soccer in Canada.

In the interview, I discuss with Jose the deep history of European clubs touring the States, their success with these early tours, the NASL and even get some thoughts from him regarding today’s soccer landscape.

Chula: In the past five years especially, the soccer landscape in North America seems to have grown tenfold. Leading this revolution has been the advent of technology which has provided soccer fans with HD broadcasts on satellite televisions from Europe’s top leagues. But second in the revolution just could be down to major European clubs touring the States and Canada in the summer. How big of a deal do you think this phenomenon is currently and is likely to become over the course of the next 10 years?

Jose: When I came to Canada over 50 years ago, TV was black and white, there was one Canadian channel (CBC) and if we were close to the border, we could get ABC, CBS and NBC on our antenna.

There might have been one soccer game shown each year, usually the F.A. Cup Final. Then came the NASL, which changed everything, hardly noticeable at first, but as time went by and Pele joined the Cosmos, things began to move. NASL teams held displays in shopping malls, often led by Ron Newman. And people took their families to soccer games because they could afford to while they couldn’t afford to go to baseball or football.

Ask Clay Berling or Lynn Berling of Soccer America. It was the beginning of where we are today. The kids that were attracted to the game back then form today’s fan base. The proliferation of TV channels, especially the sports channels with their hunger for sports to fill the time with, turned to soccer. So suddenly, sports fans that had never seen very much soccer before were able to watch and learn about, and follow the game on a regular basis. They got to know the teams and the players. Teams toured in the 50s, 60s and 70s, just as they do today, but the audience has grown thanks to TV. Suddenly games involving touring teams that used to draw 10,000 or 20,000 ethnic fans are attracting 60,000 and 70,000 fans from all walks of life. Manchester United first toured North America in 1950 and played 11 games. They came again in 1952 and played 12 games and there was nothing like it as many people showed up.

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