LA Wolves players celebrating with the USA Cup

The Story

Before Messi, before Beckham, even before Pele, George Best, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer turned their hand to igniting soccer in the USA – there was the LA Wolves.

During the summer of 1966, England hosted – and then lifted – the FIFA World Cup. It was one of the first international soccer competitions to be beamed directly into the homes of millions of Americans via satellite.

A country which was dominated by the big four American sports – football (as in the NFL), baseball, basketball and ice hockey – was there going to be room for soccer?

“No one had ever really thought about the idea of professional soccer in the United States, not at that level,” said Kevin Baxter of the LA Times. “The US didn’t qualify for the World Cup between 1950 and 1990, so soccer was dead.”

The LA Wolves squad practice their keepy uppys at the airport

To turn this pipe dream into a reality, the league opted to import whole teams into the US from across the UK, Europe and South America.

The owners believed already established teams would represent their respective franchises during the inaugural season, giving them time to build their own squads by the time the 1968 campaign came around.

The next big decision to be made was to determine which teams were to be chosen.

By this time, over in England, the 1966/67 Football League was just reaching its conclusion.

In the West Midlands, Wolves were in a promotion battle with Coventry City, as well as Carlisle United, Blackburn Rovers and Ipswich Town, to see which teams would make it into the top flight.

LA Wolves players pose at the Trans World Airlines HQ

Plus, it helped that other teams who were approached ahead of Wolves had turned down the opportunity to spend two months out in the States during the height of summer.

“Ronnie Allen was manager at the time and he called a team meeting,” explained goalkeeper Phil Parkes. “We were in the dressing room and he said, ‘We’ve been offered this tour to Los Angeles for nine weeks, who wants to go?’

“We were all like, ‘Yeah. Thank you.’ I’d never been out of England at the time, I hadn’t even been to Wales.”

Fortunately for Wolves, they hit the jackpot. It wasn’t going to be the industrial setting of Detroit or Cleveland, or even Vancouver or Toronto in Canada, but Los Angeles as Kent Cooke selected them as the team who would form his new west coast franchise.

LA Wolves player pose on a Universal film set

“To understand the Wolves and understand the climate of that time, you have to go back and look at the sporting landscape in Southern California then, as opposed to now,” Baxter said.

“Now, the metropolitan Los Angeles area is probably the most crowded sports landscapes in the world. But if you go back to 1967, it’s totally different.

“The Dodgers – the primary baseball team – had only been here ten years. The Lakers, who went on to become a dynasty, had just moved here from Minneapolis. Then the Wolves come along, and they had to find their niche in this landscape, but they offered something unique. That was what got people’s attention. We had baseball, we had football, we had basketball, and they offered something unique.”

Zigzagging across North America, from Cleveland back to LA, to Toronto, to Washington, San Franciso and Dallas, all with return trips to their makeshift home for the summer, it was a gruelling schedule for players who had only just come off the back of a 42-game season in England.

So, it was no surprise that results started to turn during the second half of the season. As well as the travelling, the heat and humidity of playing in the draining US summer, as well as being forced to play several games with 10 men, and one with nine – after the team received four red cards throughout the tournament – began to take its toll.

But despite the side falling to defeats against San Francisco Gales, which saw both Ernie Hunt and Derek Dougan dismissed, and Washington Whips, their form from the opening six matches of the campaign saw Wolves manage to maintain their place at the top of the Western division when the regular season came to an end.

This meant there would be just one game remaining on their US tour – a championships final showdown with Eastern champions, the Washington Whips.

The Final

Wolves U.S.A
6 - 5
Washington Whips

Burnside 65’, 67’, 82’
Dougan 113’
Shewan 122’ (o.g.)

Smith 21’
Munro 64’ (pen.), 89’, 120’ (pen.)
Storrie 66’

July 14, 1967

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

Attendance 17,842

Final Video