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July 20, 2013
Phil Woosnam, commissioner of the original NASL, dies at 80

By Michael Lewis Editor

Phil Woosnam served as commissioner of the North American Soccer League from 1968-1982.
Phil Woosnam served as commissioner of the North American Soccer League from 1968-1982.
Phil Woosnam, one of the most influential figures in American soccer as commissioner of the original North American Soccer League during its heyday, has died. He was 80.

Woosnam, who had been ailing for a while, passed away on Friday night, according to his long-time friend and colleague, former Cosmos president Clive Toye.

A native of Wales, Woosnam was commissioner of the league from 1968-1982.

Superstars such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer Johan Cruyff, Carlos Alberto wound up playing in the league, which helped fuel a soccer boom that the United States is still riding today.

"To me, he's the father of professional soccer in this country," said CONCACAF deputy general secretary Ted Howard, who worked under Woosnam for 14 years as NASL executive director and deputy commissioner. "The authentic father, not one of the people who started the leagues in 1967 and 1968. When it [the league] went to five and six teams, he picked it up and made it whatever it came. I don't think anybody would every deny that.

"You can't do it all by yourself. But clearly he was just that dynamic. He led that charge. He wouldn't let up until he saw it was something that had made it."

During an online interview on Saturday morning, Toye remembered how he and Woosnam started the NASL in the late sixties.

"All because I wrote a piece in the Express and Bill Cox starting the league," Toye said about the London newspaper and Bill Cox, who started the International Soccer League in the United States. "I got a call from Phil who was playing for West Ham and we met in his car in Shoe Lane.

"He said he was interested and I put him in touch and next thing, he's hired by Atlanta."

That was the Atlanta Chiefs, one of the original members of the NASL. Toye wound up running the Baltimore Bays.

"Oh we were bitter rivals when he was in Atlanta and I was in Baltimore," Toye said.

But those rivals became good friends when they ran the league office from Atlanta.

"Then we shared the visitor's locker room in Atlanta when we were the league only two employees," Toye said. "And we talked and talked and talked . . . about Pele about the World Cup coming here about American players and so on and so forth.

"We decided that if/when we found the owners for a New York club, one of us would run the league and one of us would run New York."

The rest, as they say is history. Woosnam took over running the league.

The New York franchise got owners -- Warner Communications -- and Toye became club president.

Before journeying to the United States to play for the Chiefs in 1967, Woosnam enjoyed a 16-year career in English soccer, playing for Manchester City, Leyton Orient, West Ham United and Aston Villa.

Woosnam also played 17 times for the Welsh National Team, scoring three goals.

He wound up scoring nine goals in 21 appearances for the Chiefs as a player-coach during the 1967 National Professional Soccer League and 1968 NASL seasons before becoming NASL commissioner. He was named NASL coach of the year in 1968 and also directed the U.S. National Team for a while that year.

He ran the league for 15 seasons, moving the league offices to New York. The NASL expanded to 24 teams in 1978, but many soccer observers feared that it grew too quickly and it started to lose franchises, dropping to 21 teams for 1981 and 14 for 1982. After a vote of club owners, Woosnam was removed as NASL commissioner in 1982. He eventually became the managing director of the then-marketing arm of U.S. Soccer.

A member of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, Woosnam eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

He was a cousin to golfer Ian Woosnam and a nephew of English soccer player Max Woosnam.
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