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.
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