The North American Soccer League is often the butt of jokes for supporters in better established football nations than the United States. Aside from a flurry of star players in its later years the league is probably most remembered for some of the experimental rules deployed on and away from its pitches. Six points for a win is perhaps the most infamous of those, but the 35-yard offside line runs it close.
1972 was the year that line was introduced, mid-season, to help the goals flow more freely. It was NASL's fifth season and the league was finally beginning to find some stability, thanks in no small part to a growing foothold in New York City. No teams folded between the 1971 and 1972 seasons and none were added, the only change being the Washington Darts' move to Florida as Miami Gatos.
In the Southern Division it was 1971 whipping boys St Louis Stars who found their rhythm. Inspired by NASL's most home-grown American line-up, the Stars took first place in the division ahead of Dallas Tornado before defeating Northern Division runners-up Rochester Lancers in the semi-finals of the playoffs.
Destiny deserted them at the final juncture, however, siding instead with the team who went on to become NASL icons and one of the most famous football clubs in the world. After playing their first season at Yankee Stadium, New York Cosmos moved to Long Island's Hofstra University in time for the 1972 campaign. Inaugurated by the Ertegun Brothers and Steve Ross of Warner Communications, the Cosmos thrived under general manager Clive Toye and player-coach Gordon Bradley despite their modest facilities.
The New York side topped the Northern Division and were guided past Dallas in the playoffs by a goal from John Kerr. The championship game against the Stars was played at a half-full Hofstra Stadium and wasn't without controversy. After just a few minutes the Cosmos took the lead through Randy Horton's powerful header, which cannoned in off the crossbar from a Reuven Young corner. The helpless goalkeeper was Mike Winter, the league's Rookie of the Year.
Casey Frankiewicz soon equalised for St Louis after his goal had initially been ruled offside by the referee, who overturned his decision based on his linesman's advice, but parity had been restored to no avail.
With the final whistle approaching the Cosmos were awarded a controversial penalty, which led to a melee that saw the dismissal of New York's Werner Roth. Former Czechoslovakia international Josef Jelinek took and scored the crucial penalty kick four minutes from time, and, after one final scare when Willie Roy found the net only to be flagged offside, it proved to be the winner.
In spite of their triumph only two Cosmos players made the 1972 All-Star list. Kerr was one and the other was an even more obvious inclusion. Horton had finished the 1971 season as the league's second highest goalscorer, but in 1972 he twinned his league MVP award with the top goalscorer spot. In a league that would soon binge on famous footballers, the Bermuda international forward was one of NASL's most recognisable figures.
Horton was an imposing man, a looming giant topped with one of the very finest beard and afro combinations in the history of professional sport. He played in his number 16 shirt like a man who knew what he was made of, cheerfully throwing his weight around and making life difficult for any defender who wasn't ready for a physical battle. By his own admission, Horton's style required him to use his strength and determination to out-muscle his opponents. It worked well.
Born in Bermuda in 1945, Horton has achieved so much more in life than being a successful bustling striker for the Cosmos. He earned his teaching qualification in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, and gained a reputation for excellence on both the football field and the cricket pitch, turning down first class opportunities to play both sports in order to escape England's climate and return to the warmth of home in 1966; there, he became a teacher and represented the national football team.
He soon made his way to the USA and Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he combined his work on an Economics degree with a career in professional football. He won plaudits, titles and accolades during his career with the Cosmos (for whom he scored the first ever goal) and went on to have brief NASL spells with Washington Diplomats and Hartford Bicentennials before a thigh injury prematurely ended his career.
Horton tried his hand at coaching but went on to be a high achiever in life, not just in sport, and now boasts a list of achievements and qualifications that more than justify his decision to refuse a move to Queens Park Rangers in 1972 in order to enable him to continue his studies at Rutgers. He spent ten years as the principal of a secondary school in Bermuda and eventually followed through with his burgeoning involvement in politics, taking his place in Parliament after being elected to represent the Southampton region in November 1998.
Parliamentary literature describes Horton as a "fiercely dedicated, passionate, fiery and forceful individual", characteristics that he carried from football into politics. He has held various cabinet positions and became the Speaker of the House of Assembly (the lower chamber of Parliament in Bermuda) earlier this year.
The varied successes in Horton's life are as remarkable today as they must have been when they occurred. The first man to score a goal for the Cosmos was also the first opposition representative to become the Speaker of the House of Assembly. A 1974 Young Outstanding Person in Bermuda was also one of the Ten Most Admired Adults in 1981. On top of all this, Horton's also been a zookeeper and worked at Atlantic Records.
It's no surprise that Horton is seen in Bermuda as a successful man who does well no matter what he's doing, whether it's sport, teaching, politics or beard-growing. He appears to have a keen sense of home, returning to Bermuda to work after studying in England and again after concluding his football career in the United States. He continues to serve Bermudian politics with the passion displayed in his various previous guises, but the striking hairdo is a thing of the past.
Chris Nee is an IBWM content editor and is the host of the Aston Villa Review podcast.
Picture courtesy of the phenomenal NASLjerseys.com