Bill Cox and the ISL showed the way

ISL official program 1962

“The Archives Room” features Roger Allaway’s articles from his Big Soccer blog, which ran from 2010 to 2013. Look for “The Archives Room” to appear the first and third Wednesday of each month.

The International Soccer League, which played in New York and a few other American cities in the early 1960s, was an important step that helped to pave the way toward the start of the NASL and thus the American soccer scene of today.

From 1960 to 1965, the ISL brought in European and South American pro teams to play a brief league season during the European off-season, ending in a championship series late in the summer. The idea was to give American fans a chance to view foreign pro teams in meaningful competition rather than friendlies, although just how meaningful the players really considered these summer games to be is open to question.

The league was run by promoter William Cox, a former major-league baseball team owner and a future NASL team president. It played most of its games in New York and Jersey City, N.J., but also occasionally in Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicopee, Mass., particularly in the league’s latter seasons. The league was always split into two divisions, one in early summer and one in mid-summer, whose winners then played each other for the title.

In addition to the imported teams, the league included, for several seasons, a team representing the United States, called the New York Americans or the New Yorkers. This was primarily an all-star team of New York’s German-American Soccer League, one of the best semipro leagues in the country at the time. This team acquitted itself fairly well against the foreign pros, even reaching the championship final in 1965, although it has to have benefited greatly from the fact that many of the visitors didn’t bring all of their first-team players to these off-season games.

Over the league’s six-year run, a total of 60 teams played in it, 50 of them from Europe. Among the names familiar to today’s fans were Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen from West Germany; Everton, West Ham United and Blackburn Rovers from England; Red Star Belgrade and Hajduk Split from Yugoslavia; Sampdoria from Italy; Sporting Lisbon and Belenenses from Portugal, and Panathinaikos and AEK Athens from Greece. The league operated with between 10 and 16 teams per summer. The outstanding individuals included English World Cup star Bobby Moore of West Ham United in 1963 and Brazilian World Cup star Zozimo of Bangu in 1960.

The first championship game drew a crowd of 25,440 to the Polo Grounds in New York on Aug. 6, 1960 to see Bangu beat Kilmarnock of Scotland, 2-0. Champions in subsequent years were Dukla Prague of Czechoslovakia in 1961, America Rio of Brazil in 1962, West Ham United in 1963, Zaglebie Sosnowiec of Poland in 1964 and Polonia Bytom of Poland in 1965.

Definitely the best team to play in the league was Dukla, whose squad included the nucleus of the Czechoslovak team that reached the final of the 1962 World Cup. After Dukla’s victory over Everton in the 1961 final (9-2 in two legs), the league created an event called the American Challenge Cup, in which the holder was challenged by that year’s champion. Dukla defeated the new champions to retain the cup in 1962, ’63 and ’64, but finally lost it to Polonia in 1965.

Cox eventually turned his sights toward a more truly American league, and was one of the leaders of the moves that resulted in the founding of the NASL in 1968. Perhaps that was something he’d had in mind all along.

A version of this article was originally published on Roger’s Big Soccer blog on October 10, 2010.

3 Comments

  1. Hello. I am William Cox’s grandson. I have a goo amount of pictures and other materials. Are you interested?

    Thanks

    Ted Cox

    • Ondrej Jerabek

      Yes, I am very interested. Yes, I am interested in photos of Dukla Praha from the match with Everton and from all matches programs of these matches.International cup 1961,1962,1963 Dukla vs West ham United Thank You Sincerely Ondrej Jerabek

    • Derek Liecty

      Hi Edward,
      I was your grandfather’s personal assistant while serving as Executive Secretary of the New York Soccer Club, organizer of the International Soccer League in 1961 and 1962. Your grandfather played a very important part in my life as it was he would start to fulfill my dream of soccer becoming a major sport in the United States. In 1966 your grandfather recommended me to the new owners of the Oakland Clippers Professional Soccer Team as the General Manager and I was hired. The Clippers brought the first national sports championship to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1967. I am truly dismayed that your grandfather has not been adequately recognized for his vision and work he did to get to where professional soccer is as we know it today. But it was your grandfather in his typical manner of bucking trends and fighting the stupid old-guard soccer establishment who created the “outlaw” National Professional Soccer League. The ISL American Challenge Cup Trophy symbolizes this vision and unfortunately it is sitting in a vault in a museum in Bytom, Poland. Polonia Bytom was supposed to bring it back and play the champion of 1966, but as you know there was no ISL to come back to. I am making an effort to bring this significant historical trophy back to America and, after having been to Bytom, Poland, started negotiations with the club to this end. My problem right now is to find a place where it would be permanently displayed here at home. Having said all this I would be very grateful if I could speak/correspond with you about grandfather. I can be reached at: spoker@sbcglobal.net or telephone 510-435-2345. I live in Walnut Creek, California.
      P.S. I am a Member Emeritus of SASH

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