Ahmet Ertegun and Lamar Hunt | Adding spice, foreign and domestic, to American soccer

With the Turkish foreign minister and Istanbul governor paying homage, the body of Ertegün is laid to rest on Dec 18. (Osman Orsal | AP)

Istanbul | New York Times popular-music critic Jon Pareles refers in the opening paragraph of his appreciation to the “sheer improbability” of Ahmet Ertegün‘s career (“A Mogul Who Helped Mold Pop Culture,” Dec 16). A reading of Ertegün’s life, even a superficial reading, demonstrates the often covert international influences on seemingly indigenous American art forms—on soul music and rhythm and blues, in Ertegí¼n’s case—and on American soccer.

Ertegün’s death on Dec 14 at 83 as well as the death a day earlier of Lamar Hunt, 74, meant the loss of two men whose interests and largely beneficent wielding of money and influence beginning in the mid-1960s provided momentum for a moribund sport.


Hunt, the son of billionaire oilman Haroldson Lafayette (H. L.) Hunt, has been American soccer’s constant since a terrace-based encounter with Shamrock Rovers in Dublin in 1962 and his viewing, with other Americans, of the BBC broadcast of the 1966 World Cup final from Wembley Stadium (Frank Dell’Apa, “Hunt a Quiet Pioneer of U.S. Soccer,” ESPNsoccernet, Dec 13). Andrei Markovits and Steven Hellerman in Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism (Princeton, 2001) deliberately choose “ubiquitous” to characterize Hunt’s involvement.

For one, Hunt seemed attracted to upstart projects and mixing in the alphabet soup of nascent sport leagues. In 1959, he joined several prospective team owners to create the American Football League, a rival to the burgeoning popularity of the NFL whose 12 franchises had proven a closed shop. The AFL would launch with eight teams the following year, before merging with the NFL in 1970. Four “Super Bowls”—a name suggested by Hunt—were contested between the two leagues, with Hunt’s Kansas City Chiefs winning the last between the AFL and NFL on 11 Jan 1970.

Almost simultaneously to the heated AFL-NFL wars, Hunt, as owner of the Dallas Tornado, joined the leadership of the North American Soccer League, a quickfire merger of two leagues—the National Professional Soccer League and the United Soccer Association—that launched in the spring of 1967 to fill a soccer void. In just two years, however, club soccer’s presence in America had dwindled to five professional teams. The league’s survival, according to Markovits and Hellerman, until the Cosmos’ founding and the infusion of overseas talent was due to league commissioner Phil Woosnam and Hunt, who brought the credibility of the Chiefs’ 1970 championship.

The presence of Hunt, a highly respected businessman from an extremely wealthy family, gave the shaky league its sole anchor of legitimacy and hope. Yet, highlighting the ephemeral nature of professional soccer in America and the completely unconventional—even weird—manner of building its teams, Hunt’s Tornado embarked on a global odyssey that carried the team to twenty countries, playing forty-five games of which it won ten, lost twenty-seven, and drew eight before the team had played its very first game in Dallas. (165–66)

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