Apr 22, 2019
Professional union labor lawyer and Society for American Soccer History sports historian Steve Holroyd returns to the podcast to go deep into one of the more curious rabbit holes in North American Soccer League history.
In early 1977, Ed Garvey, a labor lawyer and head of the newly-formed National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), recruited Washington Diplomats midfielder John Kerr to help gauge interest among his teammates and those of other clubs in forming a similar organization for the suddenly ascendant ten-year-old NASL.
By the end of that summer, player representatives from all 18 league clubs agreed in principle to create the North American Soccer League Players Association (NASLPA), and on August 29th, 1977 – the day after the New York Cosmos’ dramatic Soccer Bowl victory over the Seattle Sounders in Pele’s US swan song – officially sought recognition by NASL owners to become the players’ collective bargaining entity.
Commissioner Phil Woosnam and league ownership quickly refused, fearing a threat to the still-fragile circuit’s integrity by a group run by a union of the NFL, with whom NASL owners already had a tenuous (and in the cases of Ft. Lauderdale’s Robbie and Dallas’ Hunt families, common ownership) relationship.
With no progress towards recognition of the union either during the subsequent off-season or the next year, members of the NASLPA finally voted 252-113 to strike against ownership – announcing its intention to do so on April 13, 1979, one day before the league’s second weekend slate of regular season games.
What transpired next was five unprecedented days of confusion (would foreign imports risk deportation by playing during an American player work stoppage?); desperation (coaches Eddie McCreadie [Memphis] and Ron Newman [Ft. Lauderdale] donning uniforms to help their strike-depleted teams); naiveté (unwitting fans seeking Rochester Lancer “player” autographs during last-minute replacement tryouts); and ultimately, miscalculated futility – as player resolve waned almost immediately, especially among the association’s non-US residents, who actually made up the majority of the membership.
The players’ point had been made, however, and by mid-1984 – through a long series of subsequent court rulings – the NASLPA finally prevailed in its mission to collectively represent players at the bargaining table with league ownership.
Ironically, by then, it didn’t matter – the NASL folded in March of 1985.