The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
by David Falk
Adrian Webster (wiki) was there at the very beginning of Seattle Sounders history. It was 1974, and a very different Seattle of a very different time. Little did anyone know in those days the rides clubs called “Sounders” would take soccer fans in the northwest on over the years, or how much they all would become founding fathers of today’s Rave Green madness.
“The owners, management, office staff, the players and those incredible Sounders fans…it truly was a fantastic first season,” Webster says of 1974. Adrian’s Sounders career was just getting started. “Other highlights for me would have to be the move from Memorial Stadium to the Kingdome. Although sad in a way, it showed that the Sounders and soccer were moving in the right direction. My biggest thrill as a player for the Sounders was as Captain leading the team out for the 77 Soccer Bowl against the New York Cosmos. As a teenager my heroes were Pele and George Best so having the opportunity to play against them both on several occasions was certainly living the dream.”
In those days Seattle had yet to fully join the ranks of professional sports cities. The Seahawks debuted in 1976, the Mariners in 1977. The Sounders filled a role and added foreign flair to the city. “There were so many wonderful memories of times shared with the fans, but probably the one that will always stay with me was the tremendous support we had in Portland for the 1977 Final and then to fly back to Seattle to be greeted by thousands of fans was truly remarkable,” remembers Webster. “Probably if I am honest the thing I miss most about my days in Seattle is the training sessions and the banter in the dressing room. I loved to train and the lads I played with during my time were great characters who loved playing for the Sounders and for the Sounders true legend (head coach, player) Jimmy Gabriel.”
Webster was up north in BC before he joined Seattle’s inaugural campaign in 1974. “Before coming to play for the Sounders I played in Canada for two seasons for the Vancouver Spartans. Initially it was just meant to be for the season but I enjoyed it so much and loved Vancouver so much that I decided to stay on.” The Whitecaps were born the same season as the Sounders, but Webster crossed the border to the American NASL side thanks to first-ever Sounders head coach John Best.
“I started my career as an apprentice at Colchester United and signed pro when I was 18. Unfortunately it did not go as I had hoped, but fortunately I got the offer to go to Vancouver. During the time I played for the Spartans I was asked to train with a select group who were being put together to play for a new franchise, the Vancouver Whitecaps. I trained regularly with them and would probably have played for them had I not found out that their first season they would be part time. Again I was lucky because the Spartans had got to the final of the Western Canada Soccer League (which we won) and I must have done OK because unknown to me John Best was at the game and he offered me a full-time contract with Seattle…and the rest is history.”
The Sounders used a blend of young and aging players to fill their first rosters. “During my early years with the Sounders the teams’ makeup was with players who were coming towards the end of their careers or with younger players like myself who had a bit of experience, not quite made it, but had a hunger to do well. Like anything you need a bit of luck and I went on to play six seasons for the team. I think the NASL went to another level when the Cosmos brought Pele over and shortly after that the whole standard improved as teams began to import some of the world’s greatest players, as did the Sounders when they signed Alan Hudson.”
The Sounders were over-spending just like most of the North American Soccer League clubs, trying to keep up with the Cosmos. Crowds still flocked to the Kingdome, but Webster was gone before the fans dwindled and the Sounders eventually folded in 1983. The emotional and club high water mark of the 1977 Soccer Bowl season would not be repeated during the remainder of Webster’s Sounders tenure.
“When I left the Sounders in 1979, which by the way was a mutual agreement between Jack Daley (general manager) and myself, he thanked me and said what great service I had given the club both on and off the field. I thought that was really nice but it did not stop me feeling like I had just lost my best friend. Within a couple of days I got a call from Pittsburgh Spirit of the MISL and it was just the pick-me-up I needed and I looked forward to this new indoor soccer challenge. When I got to Pittsburgh I was asked to recommend some players so I quickly suggested Sounder lads Tommy Jenkins, Stevie Buttle, Micky Cave and Davey Butler. They came, and what a great season we had both on and off the field.I was so sad when Micky and more recently Stevie passed away…lovely guys, and I have to say Stevie Buttle was one of the best players I ever played with.”
Webster was now in the middle of a different kind of soccer phenomenon, the indoor MISL kind. While the NASL was fading, the Major Indoor Soccer League looked like the future variant of the sport with some arenas selling out for high-scoring matches. Adrian’s Sounders lovefest in Pittsburgh didn’t last long, though.
Watch all of Soccer Bowl 77 below!
“At the end of the season the Spirit decided to sit out a season, something I did not want to do, however that little bit of luck came knocking again and this time it was the Cleveland Force and a new team, the Phoenix Inferno that were interested. I opted for the Inferno (who could blame me…winters in the sunshine!) Again I surrounded myself with a few mates with Seattle ties: Dave Gillett, Tommy Jenkins and Tommy Ord. We did not start too well and I suddenly was promoted to head coach. It worked out quite well because I had torn my hamstring in three places.We went on to win 11 out of 13 and make the playoffs.I thought “this is easy,” but then again I did learn from three of the best Jimmy (Gabriel), Bobby (Howe) and Harry (Redknapp.)The “easy” thought did not last long as the following season I got the sack when we got off to another horrible start. By this time I really had the coaching bug but it was five years later that I got my dream job. In the mean time I managed an indoor soccer facility and started the soccer program at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. As I got into the coaching more I thought how nice it would be to coach a pro team of all American players. When the opportunity came and I found the right person to fund it and who wanted to do it the same way I was over the Moon and I will always be thankful to Tony Koleski for making that dream come true. Although it only lasted two seasons due to financial difficulties and a big recession in the States. We were the Arizona Condors, in the WSL (Western Soccer League) and we would be playing against the Seattle Storm managed by two of my best mates, Dave Gillett and Tommy Jenkins.”
Like so many American clubs, the Condors came and went on the landscape. They did play the Seattle Storm four times over 1989 and 1990, winning once and losing three times, including a 10:2 setback at Memorial Stadium in June of 1990. Adrian was seeing America one folding team at a time, it seemed.
“Obviously I was very disappointed when Tony had to pull the plug on the Condors because although we did not win a whole lot of games we felt we were moving in the right direction.The team was made up of young local players of which the majority were under 21 years old. I felt that if we were able to play another two seasons together we would have a very good squad for a number of years. One thing I have learned over the years is that you don’t always have control over your destiny and that you have to make the most of the good times and also when things don’t go to plan…it is how you deal with it (that makes the difference.)”
Webster had experienced the ebbs and flows of American soccer both indoors and out, and was still searching for that breakthrough in our sports culture that would indicate the sport was being embraced here and that future stars could spring up out of American soil.
“After the Condors folded I was a bit low and was not sure whether I wanted to stay in the game,” admits Adrian. “I quickly got involved in coaching young players in the Phoenix area but soon realized my heart was not really in it. I was forty years old had been over almost twenty years. The NASL had folded, the MISL was going in the same direction and sadly I doubted if soccer would ever really get back to those dizzying heights of the mid 70`s.”
“At that time we were hit by the recession and I just wondered where a 40 year-old out of work soccer coach who had no other real experience would find something that would bring as much satisfaction that I had been use to. A call from an old friend of mine who was youth team coach at my old club back home and also where my mum, dad, four sisters and my brother still lived, saw me on my way back home to England.” Sometimes the beginning is the end, is the new beginning. “I had come full circle and was back at Colchester United, the club I had signed for as a twelve-year-old school boy.”
“It was eighteen months before I was offered a full-time position at Colchester and I think that came about because of the Summer Camp success the first year when we got 110 kids, the 2nd year 120. I went onto spend 13 years at the club working as Soccer Centre Manager, Recruitment Officer,Youth Development Officer and Centre of Exellence Manager as well as always coach of our U16`s. In 2006 I joined a friend of mine to become Assistant Director of Football at the Colne Football College and I am still there. After a back operation and a hip replacement I am not as mobile but still work out in the gym three times a week. I am also doing a bit of scouting for Ipswich Town. I still love to watch the kids play and try to get along to watch one of my grandsons as often as I can. When I came back I met my wife Jo (who is not a real football fan) but who has always given me 100% support. The rest of my time is taken up by being grandad to the other five over here, one in Colorado, and in the New Year we will have two more that will be in Calgary. Jo and I like to get away every year to spend a couple of weeks in the sun and to recharge the batteries.”
No one could predict with any certainty that the original 1974 Sounders would somehow live on in a new, wildly successful form. Yet it has happened. The 2012 Sounders FC of Major League Soccer averaged 44,000 fans per home match while making the playoffs for the fourth straight year. You’ll forgive Webster if he is just now catching up to the “new” Sounders.
“To be quite honest I do not follow the new Sounders or the league as much as I would perhaps like to,” Webster explains, “but that does not mean that I don’t want them to do well. I believe that within the new structure the young American players are given more opportunity to play, which I think can only enhance their development and also benefit the clubs, which in turn will improve the National program.”
About those crazy 2012 attendance numbers? “I am not surprised that Seattle leads the way in attendance…the state of Washington has always been a soccer hot bed,” Adrian says.
“I think it is really nice that the new franchise has recognized all the efforts and the foundation laid down by the previous Sounders and the NASL. I think they should never lose sight that the fans are the heart beat of the club.”
“During the NASL and the WSL days I did return to play in a couple of reunion games and had a ball meeting up with the lads and enjoyed catching up with a lot of the fans that, like Dave Gillett and myself, were there from the beginning. I hope one day that I will be able to see first hand the new generation of Sounders and catch up with some of my old friends, players and fans.”
Webster will always be a Sounder, and always will be welcome in the Emerald City. He shares the sentiment.
“To those Sounders fans that may still remember me I would like to take this opportunity to say a big Thank You for all the support that you gave me both on and off the field. I hope you know that I always tried to give 100% and I will always be proud to have worn the Sounders shirt.”
To the Rave Green masses of the modern club? Adrian says simply: “I hope together you have as much fun as we did.”