This rare soccer program is from the back end of an historic home-and-home series between the Chicago Sting (1975-1988) of the North American Soccer League and the National Team of Cuba in the spring of 1978.
The set began when the Sting accepted an invitation to visit Havana for an exhibition friendly against the Cubans on March 21st , 1978. In doing so, the Sting became the first American professional sports team to visit Cuba since July of 1960, when Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford C. Frick pulled the Cincinnati Reds’ triple-A farm club, the Havana Sugar Kings, out of Cuba in mid-season and dumped the ball club in Jersey City, after Castro began nationalizing foreign owned businesses. Playing baseball in Cuba in the months after the Revolution already require a sense of adventure at the least, if not a flak jacket. The previous summer, Frank Verdi of the Rochester Red Wings and Leo Cardenas of the Sugar Kings both suffered superficial gunshot wounds after Havana fans began firing off tommy guns in the grandstand to celebrate the anniversary of Castro’s 26th of July movement.
Dave Wasser over at www.davebrett.com has some archival video of the pre-game intros for the Sting in Havana, which someone has now posted to Youtube:
After the Havana friendly, the Cubans accepted an invitation from Sting President Clive Toye to visit the United States for a rematch at historic Soldier Field on May 9th, 1978.
“I believe in sporting diplomacy a great deal,” Toye told The Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s the best way to cross frontiers, whatever they may be, psychological or physical. You’re less likely to stick a gun into the stomach of someone you know.”
Despite the political and historical significance of the game, the match drew little interest on a Tuesday night in Chicago. Only 4,153 turned out at Soldier Field for the match, which was a 1-1 draw. The Sting had a long history in Chicago under steadfast owner Lee Stern, who funded 13 money-losing seasons of outdoor and indoor soccer from 1975 to 1988. The Sting never really drew well outdoors as they shuttled from week to week between Soldier Field, Wrigley and Comiskey Park taking open dates wherever they could find them. So perhaps the poor turnout for a weeknight friendly was inevitable.
Today those 1978 Sting-Cuba games are pretty much forgotten. Considerably more fan and media attention was devoted to a 1999 home-and-home baseball series between the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban National Baseball Team. Years in the negotiating, the series drew 55,000 in Havana and 48,000 in Baltimore. The Cubans’ trip to the United States was marred by the defection of retired National Team star Rigoberto Betancourt who was allowed to travel to America as a dignitary in the Cuban delegation.