Yesterday The Houston Chronicle published photos of the nearly complete $95 million BBVA Compass Stadium in downtown Houston. BBVA opens on May 12th when its primary tenant, the Houston Dynamo, plays D.C. United in a Major League Soccer match. BBVA is simply the latest in a string of increasingly state-of-the-art soccer specific palaces erected for MLS franchises, starting with the opening of Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio in 1999.
Dynamo play-by-play man Glenn Davis (@GlennDavisSoc) has witnessed the construction of Houston’s new stadium – and the overall surge in MLS’ fortunes of late - with a mixture of pride and awe. Davis turned pro out of college in 1983 when American pro soccer was at perhaps its lowest ebb. He spent part of his nomadic pro career with the Houston Dynamos of the United Soccer League. Aside from that club’s name, it would be virtually impossible to confuse them with the modern day Dynamo of MLS. The Dynamos of the mid-80′s played in a high school stadium and young players such as Davis earned about $8,000 a year. During the Dynamos’ second season in 1985, the club couldn’t even find a league to play in, as the U.S. no longer had a viable nationwide professional league. Dynamos owners Peter Kane and John Gaughan kept pro soccer alive in the region by underwriting a schedule of international exhibition matches.
Glenn took time recently to speak to Fun While It Lasted about his careers on the field and in the broadcast booth and the remarkable transformation of the soccer landscape in Houston during those years.
The following is an excerpt of our interview with Glenn. You can download the full transcript here.
Glenn, with the opening this summer of this beautiful, 22,000-seat soccer specific stadium in downtown Houston, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the Houston soccer landscape when you were turning pro in the mid-1980’s. That was a rather dark time for professional soccer in the United States.
In some ways, it‘s interesting that you‘re reaching out about this right now. I think we could do a better job of that here locally than we have, to be honest with you. I try as much as possible to try and educate – not overbearingly – about the history of the game in Houston. It started with the NASL and the Houston Stars at the Astrodome in 1968 and then Kyle Rote Jr. and the Houston Hurricane a decade later. And then the Houston Dynamos in the 1980’s – it’s all part of the history that brought us to where we are today with MLS.
When you came out of school in the mid-1980’s, you had the opportunity to go play for the Pennsylvania Stoners of the American Soccer League. What were your aspirations then as a young American player? Today, a young player might aspire to represent the United States in the World Cup or they could work to play in Major League Soccer. It must have been a different set of expectations that a young American player could have back then, with the NASL headed out of business and the U.S. not a factor on the international scene.
You know actually it wasn’t – I don‘t think it‘s any different from young guys growing up now. As a New Jersey kid, I went to New York Cosmos games at Giants Stadium. I had been a part of all that energy and seen the quality of the soccer. Me and all my friends – we all wanted to be professional soccer players and whatever was out there, we were going after it.
Looking back at what was going on with the outdoor game when I got out of college in 1983, we could see that the game was in a downturn and the NASL was having troubles. But for young players coming out of college – like me and a lot of my friends – we were just about trying to play at a higher level and become professional soccer players. We didn’t concern ourselves so much with the health of the sport at the time.
So you still felt like there were going to be outdoor soccer opportunities and you wouldn’t be restricted to playing indoors?
The outdoor game was it for me. The indoor thing to me was almost a different sport. I played briefly in Columbus, Ohio in the American Indoor Soccer Association. I don’t think there’s any question that the outdoor leagues were in real trouble and for a while there in the 80’s the indoor game actually took over for the outdoor game.
But there were guys from the NASL and young ambitious guys who all wanted to keep playing somewhere. So you ended up in places that had very accomplished players like the Pennsylvania Stoners in the American Soccer League or later in Houston with the Houston Dynamos. You had guys who had played in World Cups and internationally on these teams. Those both ended up being wonderful experiences for me.
A whole group of us moved down here <to Houston> and we got melded together. You weren’t making big money playing in the American Soccer League or the United Soccer League in ‘83 or ‘84, but for a young guy, you’re going “Wow! I’m getting paid to play!”
On your website, there are a couple of entries where you speak very fondly of Peter Kane and John Gaughan who owned the Dynamos. Can you talk a little about them and their commitment to soccer in Houston in those days?
Yeah, Peter and John were the two owners. These guys knew there was no financial return on professional soccer back then – this was purely driven by passion. They were both multi-millionaires. One was in the oil industry and the other was in telecommunications. They were wonderful and they believed in the sport. They were an odd couple in a sense. Peter Kane was an Englishman. John Gaughan was a guy from Pennsylvania who moved to Houston and sort of symbolized that go-get-it attitude that Houston embodied.
They both sunk a lot of money into the sport and I just remember how enthusiastic they were about their team. They traveled with us around the country when we played. They were hands on. They were very invested. At games they would be outside the locker room slapping guys on the back as they went onto the field. From that standpoint, looking back now, we were really fortunate to have those two guys.
We always got paid on time, which wasn’t always the case for other teams. Back in Pennsylvania, it used to be a running joke that when they put your paychecks by the locker, guys started rushing out of the showers to be the first to get out of there. You wanted to be the first at the bank, because we didn’t think there was enough in the account for all of the checks to clear.
What kind of following did the Dynamos have in Houston?
Well, we were resigned to probably page five of what were two newspapers at the time. I think the only time we ever got on the front page of The Houston Post was when we got into the Championship and played Ft. Lauderdale down in Florida.
We were playing in high school facilities. Sometimes we’d go on the road and play in a football stadium like the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and there would be 5,000 people in a monster stadium that held 70,000 people.
There was a small group of people that followed the team, but you known it’s such a different landscape now. When I do television work today for Major League Soccer and go into these buildings it’s just absolutely mind boggling. Nobody even in a passing conversation back in the 1980’s would have ever thought of or mentioned the idea of a stadium built specifically for soccer.
Do you have a couple of favorite stories or memories from the road from those days?
Here’s one good story for you…In 1983 when I was with the Pennsylvania Stoners, we traveled to play a team called the Carolina Lightnin’ in Charlotte. The coach of the Lightnin’ was Rodney Marsh, the former Queens Park Rangers star and Tampa Bay Rowdie. His assistant coach was one Bobby Moore, the 1966 England captain who hoisted the World Cup. They had so many injuries they activated Bobby Moore to play that night against us. Bobby was probably 43 years old and he obviously can’t move. He’s kicking everything and everybody that he can get close to. And we’re just going “Oh my God – it’s Bobby Moore.”
I remember we had a 2-0 lead and we absolutely crumbled in the final ten minutes with their fans going nuts. They had probably about 7,000 or 8,000 fans in this cool little stadium in Charlotte. I think it was called the Memorial Stadium. We totally collapsed as a team and lost 3-2. I remember our owner on the bus back to the hotel and screaming at one of our players. I think a lot of us were just still in shock that Bobby Moore was playing that night.
How did you transition into broadcasting after your playing career ended?
Like a lot of guys I banked on the leagues getting better and improving and they really never did while I was playing. But I think in the end a lot of us thought in some small way we were pioneering a bit and bring a little cavalier spirit to the game here.
Then in 1994 I got an opportunity locally. I was asked to be an analyst on Fox. I knew Major League Soccer was coming in 1996 and I figured there’d be more television coming. I wanted to learn the craft. I wanted to learn how to become a real broadcaster – not just a soccer guy on there talking. I got some great encouragement from producers and people inside Fox. I was fortunate to be around people who wanted to help me and I applied my work ethic I developed being a soccer player. Slowly I started to get more and more work. Now I’ve written for a major newspaper, hosted a radio show, done games for ESPN and NBC and local games.
I’m doing the Dynamo local package on Fox and Channel 2 in Houston. I’m doing the Olympics and men’s and women’s qualifying for NBC. I’m doing World Cup qualifies this June for ESPN, along with some MLS games.
It’s a steady diet or work and I take it very seriously. I believe I have the best job on the planet.
I’ll tell you…you think about places like Seattle and Houston that are thriving today. Think of how the <club owners> were back in the 1980’s that were spending money to put teams together and keeping the sport alive here. All those years in Seattle keeping the A-League Sounders alive during the 1990’s – that all played a part in the success of a team like the Sounders today.
Back in those days playing pro soccer you bounced around. I don’t regret any of it. Not one second. And it makes me appreciate where the game is today.