Philadelphia Atoms vs. San Antonio Thunder
July 11, 1975
1975 was the year that Pele came to New York, signing the ground-breaking 3-year, $7 million deal with the New York Cosmos that changed the trajectory of soccer in America. 1975 was also the year that the eight-year old North American Soccer League introduced KICK Magazine, the stylish national magazine format that virtually all NASL clubs would use as their matchday programs until the league’s demise in 1984.
No player graced the cover of KICK more often than the King of Football over the years. This July 1975 edition (above right) marked Pele’s first KICK cover appearance, syndicated in cities across the league after his landmark signing on June 3rd, 1975. In this case a lightly attended contest at Philly’s Veterans Stadium between the Philadelphia Atoms and an expansion side from San Antonio.
The Atoms arguably enjoyed a brief, low-key run as the NASL’s model club after coming into the league as an expansion franchise in 1973. The Atoms won the NASL championship that first year, led the league in attendance, and seemed to have developed an American-born star in goalkeeper Bob Rigby. Rigby and the Atoms appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in September 1973. It was the first time the NASL had earned the cover of the nation’s top sports weekly.
Whatever claim to flagship franchise status the Atoms may have held came to a definitive end when the Cosmos signed Pele two months into the 1975 season. The Atoms on-field fortunes were in decline and box office at The Vet was down around 40% from 1974. As luck would have it, the Atoms were due to host the Cosmos on June 10, 1975, just a few days after Pele signed. As Philly soccer historian Steve Holroyd noted, the Atoms drew a season high 20,124 to The Vet “for the privilege of seeing Pele in street clothes!”
It was a last hurrah. Founding owner Tom McCloskey bailed on the Atoms a few months later and the team fell into the hands of Mexican club owners from Guadalajara who presided over a final grim campaign in 1976. By 1977 the Atoms were out of business. The Cosmos, meanwhile, opened Giants Stadium that summer and would win Soccer Bowl ’77 in Pele’s final pro campaign, playing to crowds of over 70,000 by season’s end.
==Pele & Kick Magazine==