Editor's Note: A world that includes teams such as the Rose City Revolution, the Seattle Smithereens, the LA Glitter, the New York Giganticos and more all in the American All-Star Soccer Association. A new professional soccer league? Yes, if only in the mind of Portland-based writer Dennie Wendt.
It all comes together in Wendt's Hooper’s Revolution, a novel of soccer, the ’70s, and America, in which a lower-division Englishman is sent to Portland to save a team from utter mediocrity, his career from a hideous mistake, and the greatest player on the planet from a sinister Soviet plot...all with a decidedly Rose City mystique.
Wendt has written for Portland Monthly and Howler and his Collecting the Splinters: A fan's history of the Portland soccer wilderness, 1983-2001 was part of a special Timbers.com and Howler collaboration in 2015. Below Wendt has provided a special excerpt from his book.
Danny Hooper, Englishman, rode his new American bicycle to Portland’s Multnomah Stadium for training on the Thursday before Saturday’s Frontier Conference championship game against the dreaded Seattle Smithereens.
When he got to the Fourteenth Street entrance, to the ramp that descended behind the south goal, he saw a great queue of Americans waiting patiently, shuffling quietly, moving towards what he did not know. He determined to keep riding, following the line. No one had recognized him, not yet, so he kept going, kept following as the queue turned the corner and stretched up the street. Danny kept riding, and Danny found the end of the line—or, rather, its front—at the stadium’s box office, underneath a banner that read: “SATURDAY NIGHT, SOCCER PLAYOFFS, ROSE CITY REVOLUTION VS. SEATTLE.” Danny stopped his bike next to a policeman and asked what this all was for.
“What’s this all for?” the policeman said.
“Yes,” Danny said, “this queue. What’s it for?”
“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” The policeman didn’t say this in a nice way.
“I am one of what?”
“One of these…soccer people. Commie sport if you ask me. And it’s not a queue. It’s a line. They’re in line.”
“All right then,” Danny said. “What’s this great line about? And please don’t call football a commie sport.”
“It’s not football,” said the policeman.
“I won’t let my son play it.”
“But these people…what are they here for?”
“They’re here for you, limey.”
“You and your Commie sport.”
“You got a game on Saturday night?”
“Well these idiots are standing in line because they want to see it. Beginning of the end, if you ask me.”
You could see the roofs on the rowhouses across Fourteenth Street from the pitch. As the Rose City Revolution warmed up for the 1976 Frontier Conference championship game, the men of Cloppingshire, in England, the men who’d been imported for this purpose, and Danny, and his few American teammates, could see people on those roofs. People who couldn’t get a ticket for a soccer game, sitting on roofs across the street.
And you could see lightposts along Fourteenth Street hugged by young American boys whose parents had allowed them to climb a lightpost in downtown Portland to see a soccer game. Danny had not seen any boys on any lightposts when he’d come for a baseball game. No one had sat on the roofs across the street for the baseball game.
Danny looked at the other end of the field and there they were, Seattle’s Smithereens in their grotesque green warmups, a shade of unripened avocado that disgusted Danny, and Danny knew what that meant: It meant he was a Rose City citizen who could no more stomach Seattle’s green than he could tolerate Bumfleet’s claret, Bloat’s deathly black or Hibble’s sky blue stripes, teams and colors back home that were repulsive to his very constitution. That green, Danny thought. That color.
Everywhere there could be an extra wooden bench or bleacher, there was an extra wooden bench or bleacher. Too close to the touchline, Danny thought—someone was going into the third row, and was probably going to hurt one of the kids sat on the turf, in front of the first row.
Danny thought of the Chairman of his old club, East Southwich Albion AFC, trapped forever in his subterranean office on top of a forever middling football club, dreaming through a cigar-smoke haze of the top half of the Second Division or a fifth-round FA Cup tie, maybe, of things that were never going to happen and if they did wouldn’t matter. Not really. The top half of the Second Division? The fifth round of the FA Cup? All just another gray season destined to slip into the gray past. But this—this American season in this American place…this mattered, even more than these people knew; and to them it mattered as much as it needed to, more than they’d expected it could.
The East Southwich Albion cast-off basked in the love of 32,000 people who had never had a championship, bathed in the affections of 32,000 Americans who just wanted ninety minutes from the Revolution to prove that they could be better than Seattle. Danny never wanted to play for East Southwich Albion Association Football Club again. He wanted to play for these people. He wanted to play for these people for the rest of his life.
At halftime Seattle led 1-0. Good goal too. Seattle had a giant holding center forward, the kind who could keep the ball and if you were behind him you wouldn’t even know he had it he was so big, and he laid it off to Ivan Petrov, Seattle’s great Bulgarian, and Petrov knuckled it home from twenty-five yards. Danny had raised his arms and clapped. “Fair play to you, Commie,” he said as Petrov jogged back to his half, and Petrov winked.
Danny felt the fear in Multnomah Stadium as he departed the pitch at the interval. Seattle had owned the park for the first half. Danny looked up at the lightposts along Fourteenth; a couple were empty now.
The first ten minutes of the second half was more of the same, and Danny started wondering if the crowd was ready for the disappointment that was second nature to supporters of East Southwich Albion and Cloppingshire United, all those clubs in all those towns that exist just to exist, that have no greater grasp of optimism than a prisoner serving a life sentence, that have none of the American-ness that all these Americans whose sense of drama and entitlement and the very theater of life suggests to them that why not, why not us, why should Seattle have something we can’t have, we, us, Portland—why not?
The Smithereens passed the ball back to their Canadian national team goalkeeper, who, despite his Canadian-ness, was easily the best keeper in the league, a trapeze artist, a tightrope walker, a fearless freak of nature—there was nothing like him. Even the great Brazilian and his New York teammates steered clear of the Smithereens goalkeeper, his long hair, bushy sideburns and ambitious eyebrows not to be trifled with, at risk of grave injury, and the Revolution's forwards gave him a wide berth, running all the way past him, their momentum taking them over the end line, as he left his goal to collect a back pass from the Seattle Londoner who had played it to him with supreme confidence.
The Canadian laid the ball upon the turf, rolled it ahead a few steps, picked it up, and set it back down again, rolled it again, and by the Revolution’s strikers were back on the pitch, behind the Canadian, in his blind spot, and one looked at the other, and he nipped in behind the Canadian, just off his shoulder, just off his outside shoulder, and got a toe to the ball, and poked it into the other's path, and there in front of Juanito, the Revolution’s Delta Park discovery, was an open goal. The Canadian reacted, ran back, instinctively, toward his goal, but it was too late, and Juanito rolled in an easy one, and it was 1-1, and the Portlanders screamed as if they were at a Beatles concert, and three ten-year-old boys ran out onto the field and hugged Juanito and then ran back to their seats.
It had been the Revolution’s first shot of the game.
From there it was a struggle. The game had no rhythm. Petrov was easily the best player on the pitch, but he was only one man, and he couldn’t settle his jumpy, now-nervous English teammates. Big Looooooooouuuuuu, the Rose City goalkeeper, made a big save or two and the Smithereens hit the post twice. And then the clock got under five minutes, and Danny thought to himself, Anything can happen now…
Still Seattle pressed, still Looooooooouuuuu came up big, and with just a couple minutes left, a speedy Rose City winger, a Cloppinsghire castoff named Kelvin, had the ball thirty yards up the line and tried to push it past his man. The fullback had defended Kelvin well, Kelvin’s touch had been so heavy, and the threadbare, rubbery turf so slick, that the ball sped over the Smithereen’s foot and all the way over the byline for a Revolution first corner kick, their first of the day.
Danny went into the box by the North Goal. Everyone except Big Lou went into the box by the North Goal— twenty-one men, twenty-two with the referee—and ancient Peter Surley lobbed the ball into the Oregon summer air, into the sound of 32,000 nervous fans, a sound like the crackle of an untuned radio, and a Smithereen met it first, but his header cleared the ball only as far as Juanito at the top of the box, and Juanito took a shot, not a good one, that ricocheted back to Surley, still in the corner. Peter played the ball into Seattle’s six-yard box, just over the outstretched arms of the desperate Canadian, and into the path of one Danny Hooper, who headed the ball home, as if nothing could have been easier.
The sound. That’s what it sounded like, Danny thought. That’s the sound I’ve been waiting to hear.
The sound continued until time had ticked away, and it continued as the good people of Portland rushed onto the field and amongst and around Danny and his teammates. The sound continued when Danny was deep inside the stadium, in the changing room, with only four or five of his teammates, and then with five or six, and then with six or seven, one by one they burst through the door, missing a shirt, or a sleeve, or a shoe or a sock, looking as if they’d been chased for miles by wild beasts. They looked frightened when they came through the door, but then they sat down, on a bench or on the floor, opened a bottle Henry’s, and they just listened, listened to that sound, a sound none of them had ever heard before.