August 8, 2012
YANKEE STADIUM MEMORIES
Messing, Toye, Ramirez, Trecker, Bahr look back at when soccer was played there
By Michael Lewis
With Real Madrid taking on A.C. Milan in the second soccer game at Yankee Stadium this summer, BigAppleSoccer.ocm asked several local soccer celebrities to talk about what it was like to watch the beautiful game at the original stadium.
Soccer is being played at the stadium for the first time in 36 years.
A number of former players, coaches and front office people talked about their experiences at Yankee Stadium.
Arnie Ramirez, former LIU men's soccer coach
A Costa Rican immigrant who lived in Washington Heights, Ramirez was only a few subway stops away from his favorite baseball team and stadium. When he got to see soccer there in 1967, it was over the top.
"It was awesome," Ramirez said. "Here I was watching baseball and all of a sudden, my sport, the sport I was crazy about; soccer had arrived then. Soccer was at Yankee Stadium."
Ramirez, who attended the wedding of Real Madrid coach Miguel Munoz, wound up sitting in special field bleachers for a friendly between Real and the New York Generals (National Professional Soccer League) on Aug. 21, 1968.
"He got us tickets to the game," Ramirez said. "He got up from the bench, jumped over the fence and gave us a big hug. We talked for a while."
Then Real Madrid went out and defeated the Generals, 4-1.
"It was a great atmosphere," Ramirez said. ""It was mostly foreign people, but it was a great atmosphere."
Shep Messing, Cosmos goalkeeper
"For me, Yankee Stadium will be one of the most special moments in my career," he said. "I grew up in the Bronx on Metropolitan Avenue. My birthday is Oct. 9 and from the time I was eight, nine, 10-years-old, my birthday present every year was World Series tickets. That was my dream birthday from seven to 13-years-old. Mickey Mantle. Tom Tresh. Tony Kubek. I grew up wanting to be a New York Yankee."
After he was traded by the Boston Minutemen to the Cosmos in 1976, Messing, now a TV analyst for the New York Red Bulls, got his opportunity to play in front of the home crowd.
"The first game being traded back to the Cosmos, I'll never forget,” he said. “Pele was the last one introduced and I was the first. 'Playing goal for the New York Cosmos, No. 1. Shep Messing.' Coming out of the dugout, that was the highlight of my career."
On Aug. 10, 1976, the Cosmos rolled over Miami, 8-2, in what was soccer's finale at the old stadium.
Giorgio Chinaglia, who passed away on April 1, led the onslaught with a North American Soccer League-regular-season record five goals and set up two others. He also set up a spectacular goal by Pele -- the 1,254th of his career -- a bicycle kick.
Realizing the Cosmos were going to play at Giants Stadium in 1977, Messing showed some unique vision.
"When that game ended, I took a bag of dirt and a patch of grass and put it in a plastic bag and I still have it," he said. "I never got it framed. We knew that was our last game there."
Walter Bahr, U.S. National Team midfielder and National Soccer Hall of Famer
"It was a big name back then," said Bahr, who played at the stadium 10 times. "Any time we got to play on a big grass field, it was a big deal."
In a rematch of the U.S.'s 1-0 win over England in the 1950 World Cup, England recorded a 6-3 win before a crowd of 7,271. The game, originally scheduled for June 7, was not without its problems. The Yankees were forced to postpone the game from Sunday afternoon to Monday night because of wet field conditions.
Bahr, who had driven up from Philadelphia with two teammates, drove back down that Sunday. After he finished his responsibities as a physical education teacher at a Philadelphia public school on Monday, Bahr drove back to the Bronx later that afternoon
"It may have been the last game National Team played at Yankee Stadium," Bahr said.
Bahr remembered getting $25 for participating in the game and $10 in expenses, which paid for gas, tolls and a meal.
Jim Trecker, Cosmos public relations director
Inter Milan recorded a 1-0 win over Santos and Pele before 37,063 fans on Aug. 26, 1967. Pele went scoreless as Sergio Santarini closed him down before a knee injury forced him out of the game in the second half.
How great an impact did Pele make? Even though he did not score a goal, he still mesmerized and entertained the fans. Jim Trecker, just out of college and who later worked with Pele as the Cosmos public relations director, was among the crowd who watched the match.
"It was an electrifying match," he said. "I do know that Pele lived up to everything everybody said that he was. And so was Santos. I remember as clear as day. I do remember seeing Pele take the ball in his half of the field and seeing him go all the way down to the other end, beating everybody but not scoring. It was one of the first things I had ever seen in person, live, of a true, true, superhuman magic with the ball.”
The Yankees and Cosmos agreed that the baseball club or city had the right to postpone a game no less than four hours before the kickoff in case of adverse weather conditions.
"I remember we were always pins and needles when the weather was a little dicey because the Yankees held a veto over games on whether they can be staged or not," Trecker said. "There was a day or two in the summer of '76 when we weren't sure if we were able to play the game or not, whether it was drizzling or this or that."
Clive Toye, Cosmos president
Toye saw Aug. 22, 1971 as a red-letter day in Cosmos history. Willie Mfum recorded scored 21 seconds into the game, the fastest goal in club history, in a 3-2 victory over the Rochester Lancers. But it was only the appetizer as Santos and Deportivo Cali played to a 2-2 tie in the second game of a doubleheader.
In his endless pursuit of Pele, Cosmos general manager Clive Toye tried another ploy to lure the Black Pearl to the Cosmos.
"I was constantly niggling him, you might say, to remind him that we were serious about it," he said. "That was an ideal opportunity. We had retired the No. 10 until he wore it. Before the kickoff, I went on the field and got on the microphone and made the announcement that was the Cosmos shirt for him to wear one day and we hoped it would happen one day. So, I gave him the No. 10 Cosmos shirt, having already taken the Cosmos colors, which was Brazil's colors. I told him we had picked the colors to make him comfortable when he wore the shirt."
The Cosmos enjoyed many more memorable moments at the stadium, but few could have surpassed what transpired on July 14, 1976. Trailing 3-1 at halftime to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Cosmos stormed back with four second-half goals to pull out a rousing 5-4 triumph to start one of the North American Soccer League's great rivalries.
What transpired behind the scenes was just as enticing.
At halftime, Toye was informed that Cosmos owner Steve Ross was going to go to the locker room to tell the team not to come out in the second half.
"We had two goals [that] were disallowed correctly," he said. "But he didn't make mistakes. He was right. Those two goals should have been disallowed. He said it was no good, no good. It was panic, panic, absolute panic."
Toye said he agreed to go on the public address system and announce that the Cosmos were going to play the rest of the season under protest because of the officiating.
"I said, 'OK, fine, let's get on with the game and I'll make this statement,' " Toye said. "I went up to the PA and announced that the Cosmos were going to play the rest of the season under protest because of the refereeing, etc. The only problem was that I didn't press the button."