Stories

Football's maddest tour EVER: When Dallas Tornado wandered the world in 1967

Dallas Tornados 1967

Introducing the bonkers story of NASL side Dallas Tornado and their epic adventure: featuring raging monkeys, rock-throwing rabbles... and a run-in with the Viet Cong  

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

The next time you hear a Premier League manager bemoan the travails of yet another arduous pre-season tour abroad, spare a thought for Bob Kap.

His name may be unfamiliar, but in 1967, he and his Dallas Tornado players embarked on football’s maddest world tour – one that featured bullet trains, exploding planes, monkeys staging war re-enactments, baying mobs and the Viet Cong.

Over six-and-a-half months, they visited 19 different countries and played 45 games with a threadbare squad, one coach, no medical staff, no physios and no idea where and when their trip would end.

At that time, all Dallas was really known for abroad was being the place where JFK had been shot. I’d certainly never heard of it

- Mike Renshaw, ex-player and coach

This magical mystery tour was all thanks to the work of American sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt, who in 1967 was on a mission to sell football to a mass audience in the United States. The man who a year earlier had helped to devise the Super Bowl had been blown away after seeing England beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final and wanted a piece of the action.

With his North American Soccer League (NASL) set to kick off the following year, Hunt wanted a team from his hometown of Dallas to spread the word and alter perceptions.

“Hunt was hoping the trip would do some goodwill for Dallas,” Mike Renshaw, a midfielder from Manchester who played for and coached the Tornado, tells FourFourTwo. “At that time, all it was really known for abroad was being the place where JFK had been shot. I’d certainly never heard of it until that happened.”

Getting the band together

Assembling a team proved a speedy process. Kap, a Skopje-born journalist, psychiatrist and antique dealer who had escaped Europe with his family to Canada during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, was appointed as the Tornado’s manager. Adverts were placed in newspapers across Europe offering players the chance of a new life in the USA.

Imagine a group of players going on tour to somewhere like Iraq these days. They didn’t think it all through fully

- John Stewart

Renshaw, just 19 years old at the time, was on Blackpool’s books and had trials at Manchester United, but fancied a new adventure.

It was a similar story for defender John Stewart, for whom being released from his beloved Liverpool by legendary gaffer Bill Shankly was a bitter pill to swallow. Fellow Scouser Brian Harvey, the younger brother of Everton favourite Colin, was also in need of a change after making just one senior appearance for Chester City.

Kap would be their salvation, although it wasn’t clear at that stage exactly what that salvation was going to entail.

Throughout the previous six months, Hunt’s assistant Paul Waters had travelled the globe greasing the palms of a number of clubs and football associations to put together a touring schedule that would be mad for 2017, but was just plain bonkers during the late-1960s.

Trips to Australia, Tahiti, Japan and New Zealand seemed tame in comparison to jaunts to India, Pakistan, Iran and war-torn Vietnam. “It was crazy,” Stewart tells FFT with a chuckle and a grin. “Imagine a group of players going on tour to somewhere like Iraq these days. They didn’t think it all through fully.”

There was never any kind of detailed itinerary for Dallas’s players to get an idea of what might be lying in wait for them. Often, they’d be told a couple of days in advance. “I became a bit blasé about all of the places we visited,” says Bill Crosbie, another Liverpool cast-off.

And no wonder – on this whistle-stop tour of places that could hardly be described as football hotbeds, there was always something going on to distract them from the action on the pitch.

Although the tour was planned to start in Spain, the squad assembled in the south of France for a get-to-know-you session in Nice. This was, after all, a group of strangers who were about to go on a globetrotting adventure unique in that age.

The young squad of 18 consisted of Englishmen, Dutchmen, Swedes, Norwegians and a solitary American player by the name of Jay Moore. Nonetheless, everybody was ordered to sport the full ‘Dallas’ outfit - jeans, checkered shirt and a Stetson. Anyone with a Beatles haircut was sent off to the barbers. The look was to be strictly American, even if the personnel were not.

“It was the ’60s – hippies and all that – so a lot of us had long hair,” says Swedish midfielder Jan Book. “Hunt didn’t want that look. He wanted us to be tall, strong, clean cut.”

Baiting the bull

Considering the craziness of the scheduling on tour, training sessions were lacking. A bonding trip to watch a bullfight in Madrid had to be brought to an abrupt end when they were thrown out for showing disrespect to the matador, much to the anger of the Spanish locals.

“He chucked his hat to us, but we threw it back at him,” chuckles Book. “We were all being a bunch of smart-arses – but it backfired.” 

A bonding trip to watch a bullfight in Madrid had to be brought to an abrupt end when they were thrown out for showing disrespect to the matador

The team had barely played together, but their first match came against esteemed opposition – Spanish outfit Cordoba, who just three weeks previously had beaten the mighty Real Madrid. “We were scared to death,” explains Book. “We had never played under floodlights.”

It was the first time that an American side had ever played on European soil. A 4-0 loss was to follow, but that could hardly be regarded as an embarrassment.

Despite Dallas’s haphazard preparations, there was still enough talent and youthful exuberance among the ranks to keep things competitive for the most part. After all, the average age of the group was under 20. “We were a young side and fit,” says Harvey. “There was so much travelling – but we just wanted to play.”

A couple of victories quickly followed, soothing any lingering pessimism or nerves, before a meeting with Ferenc Puskas – an old pal of Kap’s from the Hungarian academy – and his Real Madrid team-mates gave the starry-eyed Tornado a look at how the other half live.

Yet, things took a turn soon after they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. With minutes left of their fourth tour encounter against Moroccan outfit UD Tangier, Kap’s boys looked to be heading towards another win. But the referee had other ideas.