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stokers

Cleveland Stokers

The Cleveland Stokers were a soccer team based out of Cleveland, Ohio that played in the United Soccer Association during 1967 and the North American Soccer League in 1968. Their home field was Cleveland Stadium.

The United league was made up of teams imported from foreign leagues. The 1967 Cleveland roster was actually Stoke City F.C. from England. Following the 1967 season, the USA merged with the National Professional Soccer League to form the North American Soccer League with the teams from the former USA having to create their rosters from scratch.

The franchise was originally acquired by Cleveland Indians baseball club principal owner Vernon Stouffer and club president Gabe Paul in August 1966. They sold the Stokers to a group led by Cleveland attorney Howard Metzenbaum and business partner, Alva "Ted" Bonda, the first week of January 1968.

In assembling a team of their own, the new owners acquired the bulk of the starting line-up from the 1967 NPSL Philadelphia Spartans franchise, which would not participate in the NASL in 1968. The new Stokers won their division and fully intended on continuing operation. However, a difference in business philosophy with the five surviving NASL franchises saw the Stokers stay dormant in 1969. They did host an exhibition featuring a number of Stokers and NASL "all-stars" versus a West German opponent, which drew well, and fostered some hope, but Metzenbaum and Bonda remained unhappy with the NASL budgetary restraints, and announced the end of the Stokers in November 1969.

The 1968 Stokers won their division after a tight race with the talented Chicago Mustangs. In the conference championships, they were defeated in sudden-death overtime by the eventual champion Atlanta Chiefs. But the highlight of the club's existence occurred on July 10, 1968, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, when they hosted and defeated the soccer world's top-ranked professional team, Santos of Brazil, featuring Pelé. Keeper Paul Shardlow preserved the 2-1 upset by saving a penalty kick. Unfortunately, Shardlow, leased from Stoke City, collapsed and died that October while scrimmaging in England.

Those who represented the Stokers so well in the field during 1968 included Ruben "The Hatchet" Navarro, a world-class defender who made numerous national-team appearances with Argentina, his native land - where his name and play remain legendary - and Enrique Mateos, a veteran goal scorer from Spain - part of the powerful Real Madrid dynasty of the late 1950s. Stoker performers familiar to modern-day North American fans include John Best (later Seattle coach and Vancouver GM), and Roy Turner (later Dallas Tornado iron-man and then long-time indoor coach of the Wichita Wings). Peter Short and Hank Liotart also enjoyed long US soccer careers following their season in Cleveland.

Stokers' head coach Norman Low returned to England and did scouting. He later briefly scouted for the ASL Cleveland Cobras. Metzenbaum embarked on a high-profile political career, while Bonda became a prominent Cleveland figure in education, business, and sports.

Year-by-year

Year League W L T Pts Regular Season Playoffs Avg. Attendance
1967 USA 5 3 4 14 2nd, Eastern Division Did Not Qualify 6,567
1968 NASL 14 7 11 175 1st, Lakes Division Lost Playoff (Atlanta) 4,305

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