The BBC Archives Twitter posted this fascinating video from 1967 about the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). This league was a precursor to the more popular NASL of the 1970s and early 1980s. The video features a few stand out comments from Gordon Preston of the Detroit Cougars.
First, when asked what made him think Americans would take to soccer, Preston responded “In this country American’s will take to just about anything if the product is sold, presented in the right light, they’ll buy it.”
Second, the interviewer asks “Does this mean the Americans are going to ruin soccer with gimmicks?” to which Preston answered he thought the ideas of fireworks, cheerleaders, and marching bands could do something good for the sport in the United States.
Finally, the interview asks if there will be a “foot drain and a brain drain” from the English game due to the amount of money behind American soccer teams at the time. Preston not only believes there will be, but he is “All for it!”
My first takeaway is of course the parts Preston gets right, especially in light the NASL’s heydays of… well fireworks and cheerleaders. The idea that American’s did in fact buy it when it was “presented in the right light.” Fast forward to the modern game, and that packaging of the game in the USL and MLS feels more international, but not out of authenticity but due to understanding their audiences need for that sort of presentation. (That sounds a bit cynical, my apologies.)
Finally, the “foot drain” never came, despite a some big name players making their way to the NASL and some older players coming to the MLS. This video was long before the modern English Premier League was founded in 1992, and without going into too much detail, that foundation helped to not only keep top talent in England, but also attract talent from around the world.
England never experienced, and probably never will, experience any kind of soccer talent drain from the United States.
Preston would stay involved in Detroit soccer, helping to bring the NASL’s Detroit Express to the area and being part of the bid committee that helped Detroit become one of the host cities for the 1994 World Cup. He passed away in 2012.
(Image is a screenshot via BBC video)