Take the richest sports magnate outside of Jerry Jones Arkansas has ever produced. Add the “most brilliant con man” in American sports history. Then throw in some impressionable young soccer players from Europe.
What you have is a recipe for the strangest, most ambitious soccer tour the world has likely ever seen.
Dallas Tornadoes’ six-month world soccer tour of 1967-68 “consumed 25,000 miles, 19 countries, five continents, 45 games and a serious bite from a family fortune,” the Dallas Morning News’ Kevin Sherrington wrote. That fortune belonged to El Dorado native Lamar Hunt, former owner of the Kansas City Chief and Chicago Bulls and major investor in American professional soccer leagues.
Hunt and a fast-talking, dubiously credentialed Serbian immigrant from Canada named Bob Kap teamed up to gather 16 young men in Spain, slap “Dallas” on their shirts and send them around the world into some of the most politically charged environments of the late 1960s – Vietnam (including Saigon just before the Tet Offensive erupted), Afghanistan*, India, Iran – anywhere there were tens of thousands of natives willing to cram into a stadium and watch. The overarching goal was to show America could hold its own in soccer. On a smaller scale, Hunt knew this tour featuring mostly subpar soccer players could generate good will toward the city of Dallas even if it lost most of its games (which it did). The city was still trying to emerge from the specter of the Kennedy assassination less than five years before.
The fact that the majority of the young men who made up the Dallas Tornadoes had never actually been to Dallas was beside the point.
Here’s more about their trip, provided by the FC Dallas communications department:
The team began with training camp in Spain in August. After stops in Nice, Istanbul and Athens, the team took a side trip to check out the Acropolis and missed its flight from Athens to Cyprus. The Acropolis trip saved their lives** as their original flight was blown up in mid-air by a bomb, killing 63 people. The target was Cypriot leader General George Grivas, who coincidentally also missed the original flight and was on the second plane with the Tornado. On the tour, the Tornado played in Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus, Iran, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti, Costa Rica and Honduras. The highest recorded crowd on their travels was 47,000. They played 48 games from Aug. 24, 1967 to March 10, 1968. They returned to Dallas to open their inaugural NASL season on March 30, 1968 against the Houston Stars at Turnpike Stadium in Arlington.
Tonight, 10 of the 16 players will meet at FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium in Frisco for the first reunion of this team. Many of the players have not seen each other since 1968, said Bobby Moffat, a Dallas Tornado in the 1970s who is writing a book on the defunct franchise. You’ll likely hear more about their adventures in the near future. The BBC will cover the reunion and a British production company is making a documentary about the trip, said Jan Book, a former Dallas player who went on that whirlwind tour so long ago.
* Afghanistan was scheduled as a destination but not followed through with, Sherrington points out. “According to Michael MacCambridge’s Lamar Hunt: A Life in Sports, Waters wired his boss from Karachi to say Afghanistan was “a mistake.”
“YOUR REQUEST TO SKIP AFGHANISTAN OKAY,” Hunt wired back.
“PROCEED TO INDIA.”
**Sherrington says this claim may have a touch of apocrypha mixed in with hit. “Unfortunately for the purposes of this story, records indicate flight 284 left Athens at 4:30 a.m. on the 12th. Unless the boys were touring the Acropolis after hours, they were fast asleep when the de Havilland Comet settled at the bottom of the Mediterranean.”