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Once in a Lifetime by Gavin Newsham

Release date: 06th September, 2006
Publisher: Atlantic Books

List Price: 8.99
Our Price: 5.39
You Save: 3.6 (40%)
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Back in the late Seventies, I was fortunate enough to spend two long summers working in upstate New York. Days off were spent either hitching with friends to Saratoga Springs for the races, visiting Montreal for the beer or travelling to New York City for the sport.

It was here that I first encountered live baseball, ice hockey in Canada, dirt track racing at Saratoga, top flight tennis at Flushing Meadow and the self-styled 'most famous soccer team in the world', the New York Cosmos.

A few years earlier, no-one had heard of the Cosmos, which had been acquired by Warner Brothers in 1971. Within four years, however, the club had signed a three-year deal with Pele, the greatest player the game had ever known. More big name signings followed: German superstar Franz Beckenbauer, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia and Brazil's World Cup winning captain, Carlos Alberto. Overnight, the Cosmos became New York's hottest ticket.

Celebrities such as Robert Redford, Mick Jagger, Barbara Streisand and Steven Spielberg became fans, while Cosmos players were regularly spotted at Studio 54, then the world's most infamous nightclub.

Newsham has created more than just a football tale from his cast of A-list celebrities and sports stars by cleverly setting them against an unprecedented period of social , political and economic change in New York. By the late Seventies, the city was effectively bust, yet its unparalleled magnetism ensured a steady flow of high-profile hedonists, from pop stars to gangsters, groupies to once-magnificent footballers.

Armed with such rich material, laced as it is with alcoholic excess, drugs and political intrigue, the author evokes a period when it looked as though the Cosmos might challenge football's established European order, a development which could have led to a more rapid development of 'soccer' across the pond. Heady days. You can almost hear the familiar disco beat and Donna Summer's seductive I feel Love in the background.

For a while, soccer was the biggest thing in New York (if not the USA), ably supported by the city's massive-selling Daily News, a newspaper that made the Sun's content look positively Shakespearean. I recall going to one Cosmos match at the Giants Stadium which more than 50,000 others attended; the atmosphere was truly electric - akin to a European night at Anfield.

As the side's popularity grew, assisted by experienced and highly-paid players who were simply too good for the North American Soccer League, so too did attendances, at one point exceeding 77,000. At the time, this alarmed owners of American Football and baseball franchises who suspected soccer would usurp their sporting hegemony.

Money helped the Cosmos' cause of course. Bankrolled by Warner Brothers, everything was going swimmingly until they sold Global Soccer Inc, the company that owned the Cosmos franchise, to a consortium led by Chinaglia. It was downhill after that and by 1985, the club was defunct. It was the end of an exciting time for football in the States and New York in particular. At one point, more than 16 different nationalities were represented in the Cosmos squad, but when the cash dried up, so players departed.

Newsham's story is a fascinating one, a marvellously rich tale which highlights sport's impact upon what is an intriguing mini social history. Indeed, you probably don't even have to like football to enjoy this book, but with that accompanying heady mix of glamour, sport and money appeal, this is a great read.

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