Atlanta Chiefs vs. New York Cosmos
April 14, 1979
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
North American Soccer League Programs
Labor strife hung over the North American Soccer League as the organization opened its twelfth season in April 1979 with a peak membership of 24 clubs. In 1978 the NASL Player Association (NASLPA) earned certification from the National Labor Relations Board and now it wanted formal recognition from the NASL’s owners. With the owners stonewalling, the NASLPA called a strike for Saturday, April 14, 1979, the third week of the young season.
It turned into a weird weekend. The infant NASLPA didn’t hold strong sway over its membership and many players ignored the call to walkout, despite a 252-113 union vote in favor of the strike. The American players tended to support the strike action more strongly than the NASL’s large contingent of foreign imports, although the foreigners were rattled by threats that they could face deportation is they crossed the picket lines and subverted an American labor dispute. Meanwhile, players on the NASL’s three Canadian-based clubs were prohibited from striking by national law.
In Rochester, all of the Lancers’ American players struck, but the foreigners played, supplemented by scabs from Rochester and New York City amateur leagues. The Lancers were routed by a full-strength Tulsa Roughnecks squad. In Memphis, every member of the Rogues except Argentinean forward Ruben Astigarraga walked out. In Fort Lauderdale, 44-year old Strikers Head Coach Ron Newman put on boots and played in the match to help fill out his depleted roster. NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam worked to undermine the strike by lifting the rules prohibiting one-game contracts and intra-league player loans, as well as the rule requiring all teams to play two North Americans on the field at all times.
On Friday the 13th in New Jersey, the NASL’s defending champion New York Cosmos had to decide whether or not to get on the plane to Georgia for Saturday’s scheduled match against the Atlanta Chiefs. The Cosmos’ NASLPA player rep Bobby Smith, an American and thus a minority on his star-studded club, convinced his teammates to vote 20-2 to observe the strike and not board the bus for the airport. But, crucially, Smith didn’t persuade the team to disperse after the vote and that gave Cosmos General Manager Krikor Yepremian and Warner Communications Chairman of the Board Steve Ross time to turn the tide against Smith and the NASLPA. Franz Beckenbauer led the procession of starters onto the bus as Smith and a small group of American reserve players looked on in frustration. The loss of the influential Cosmos team was a major blow to the NASLPA.
Now there was a game to play. The sides were reasonably full strength, as the Cosmos had all their starters and only three of Atlanta’s American reserve players (player rep Tommy Lang, Bob Robson and Scott Strasburg) honored the strike. The Cosmos had the early edge, with English forward Dennis Tueart commanding the attack. Tueart put New York up 1-0 with a strike in the 38th minute. Three minutes later, Tueart put another shot on goal and Giorgio Chinaglia tapped in the rebound for a 2-0 Cosmos lead at intermission.
The Chiefs charged back in the second half. Aggressive Dutch defender Wim Rijsbergen was whistled for a penalty in the 72nd minute and ex-Cosmo Jomo Sono converted for Atlanta to cut the New York lead to 2-1. It appeared the lead would hold until Atlanta’s Louie Nanchoff stunned the New Yorkers with the equalizing goal at 89:40 with less than 30 seconds left in regulation.
Nanchoff’s last second heroics sent the match to the Shootout, the NASL’s unique variation on penalty kicks to avoid ties. Each team sent out six shooters, who charged the opposing goalkeeper from 35 yards out, with five seconds to get off a shot. After the Chiefs and the Cosmos tied in the first round of shootouts, they went to a second series, where Rijsbergen got a chance to atone for his late penalty that let Atlanta back into the game. Rijsbergen was denied by Chiefs goalkeeper Tad Delorm. But Delorm was called for fouling the Dutchman which resulted in a rare moment – a conventional penalty kick awarded in the midst of the NASL’s weird alternative to penalty kicks. Rijsbergen converted the winning kick from the penalty spot and the Cosmos escaped from Atlanta with a 3-2 shootout victory on the NASL’s strangest weekend.
As well as the Chiefs’ acquitted themselves against the defending champs, the match must have sounded alarm bells for Chiefs management. The Chiefs were new to Atlanta in 1979, marking the return of pro soccer to the city after a six-year absence. The Cosmos were traditionally the league’s strongest draw on the road and the match was only the second home game for Atlanta, when the curiosity factor should still have been high. Nevertheless, the Chiefs announced barely over 10,000 fans for the match, which was the smallest crowd to watch the Cosmos since a 1976 match in Rochester, New York. Crowds would remain terrible for the Chiefs for three seasons until the team folded in 1981.
The NASLPA player strike formally ended five days after it began on April 18, 1979, done in partially by the refusal of the influential Cosmos to participate and by the stated disinclination of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport foreign players who crossed the strike line. To date, the April 13-18, 1979 NASL player strike – such as it was – remains the only work stoppage in American pro soccer.
April 14, 1979 Atlanta Chiefs Game Notes
April 14, 1979 New York Cosmos Game Notes
April 13, 1979 New York Cosmos Travel Itinerary to Atlanta
==Links & Sources==
“History Lesson: The NASL Strike of 1979” – Kenn Tomasch, Kenn.com.
“Offside Remarks: Some lessons from a strike 31 years ago“, Michael Lewis, BigAppleSoccer.com, March 8, 2010
“Strike Causes Agony”, Kurt Ericsson,The Bergen Record, April 15, 1979