Here’s a team that apparently brings back a lot of fond childhood memories – the Cleveland Force (1978-1988) of the original Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-1992). The Force were a founding franchise in the MISL in 1978 and they struggled at the box office for several years before suddenly becoming a sensation in the mid-1980′s.
I picked this up from a guy named Matthew in Ohio who grew up cheering on the Force at the now-demolished Richfield Coliseum, out in the middle of nowhere between Cleveland and Akron. Matthew later sent me an email expressing seller’s remorse, saying he was heartbroken to part with this souvenir from his youth (or perhaps just peeved that it didn’t bring in the riches he imagined).
Much happier was my buddy Tom down in Texas, a transplanted Clevelander who lived and died with the Force as a kid. He snapped this up within minutes after we posted it online, as he does with many of the Force programs that occasionally pass through my clutches.
“Nice cover shot of Kai Haaskivi, the all-time Force star player, in my opinion,” said Tom. “Some may go with Keith Furphy for his higher goals average, but Haaskivi played for Cleveland longer and had tons of assists, a real team anchor and leader.”
Indoor soccer had its 15 minutes of fame in the mid-80′s and was legitimately a big deal in a few places like Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis and Baltimore. The Force in particular really seem to have a nostalgic hold on the tens of thousands of kids who grew up attending their games and summer camps – a soccer phenomenon really only matched by the passion I hear from forty-somethings who grew up in New Jersey with the New York Cosmos in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s.
The Force existed for ten seasons from 1978 to 1988. Initially, no one cared. The team drew fewer than 4,000 fans per game during the late 1970′s. But during the 1983-84 season, Force attendance exploded to an astounding 13,675 per game, more than double the team’s previous high. That winter the Force outdrew the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, who shared the Richfield Coliseum, by an eye-popping 120,000 fans.
The Force were still quite popular when the team folded in the summer of 1988. Owner Bert Wolstein lost patience with the leadership of the MISL and the league’s continual franchise turnover and labor strife. After one winter (1988-89) without indoor soccer, the MISL expanded back into Cleveland with the Cleveland Crunch, hoping to recapture the buzz of the Force. The Crunch hired the former Force hero Kai Haaskivi as player/coach, but never succeeded in rekindling the passion and big crowds that the Wolstein family cultivated for the Force.