Football's maddest tour EVER: When Dallas Tornado wandered the world in 1967
“We thought we’d probably be stuck there for a few hours while all of the visas were sorted, but we ended up having to spend the night in a hut,” reveals Book. “It was a small border town and I’m sure no one had ever seen a white person before. They all stood outside staring at us. We threw them balls and they gave us some chicken and orange juice – we had no food.”
Hope was waning, too. “The next evening we thought we were going to get across, but the papers expired at midnight and when we turned up at the border at 11pm, the general in charge was asleep,” Book explains. “He said that he would shoot anyone who woke him.
“We were in the jungle, pitch black. Ten of us were stranded, and two were really sick. We bribed someone to cut a hole in the fence and crawled through it with our luggage and soccer gear in the middle of the night, thinking that we could get shot from either side. When we got to India, the doctor gave the sick ones medicine, but they started to get worse. It turned out they had been given sleeping pills.
“We finally arrived in Calcutta at 6am, having not slept for 48 hours, and had a match at noon. We drew 0-0 but how can you focus on a game when you’ve come through something like that?”
Unsurprisingly, the Tornado’s results on their Indian leg of the tour weren’t the best, with only one victory from seven matches. Swimming in the glittering oceans of Sri Lanka helped to calm the minds, even if the national team beat them twice. Burma was the next checkpoint – one that saw a visit to an embassy “so opulent, some of the chairs were made out of elephants’ legs,” admits Stewart.
Under fire... literally
Singapore was to follow, but back in 1967 it was not the westernised metropolis it is now. The crowd was predominantly made up of Chinese communists, which meant the American team didn’t get the warmest of welcomes.
The encounter was a dirty, tetchy affair played in front of a baying mob of 50,000 spectators all chanting ‘Go Home, Yankees’ and ‘Kennedy Killers’. The Tornado players were chased with the sharp end of corner flags and had to take refuge in the dressing room. The match was called off, yet the nightmare would continue.
“We ended up sitting in the changing room for several hours waiting for a military escort,” says Book, who was hit by a rock hurled from the stands. “People were waiting outside for us – it was a low moment.”
A scheduled match the following evening was cancelled and, given what had gone on in recent days, it probably seemed like a good time for a breather. Instead, they headed for Vietnam.
“As the plane got ready to land, the pilot came on said: ‘If you see white smoke bombs outside, that’s the enemy shooting at us’,” Book remembers. “‘Therefore, we are going to fly very high and then land very quickly’. Then we looked down and realised: ‘Shit, this is a war’.”
They weren’t wrong. “Once we’d landed on the tarmac, all we saw was the body bags,” recalls Crosbie. Trips to the American Embassy for security briefings followed, and orders to travel in small groups to avoid being targeted by locals with grenades.
“I visited the Army Hospital with Per Larsson,” explains Book. “We sat watching the American soldiers come in with all kinds of injuries – some really awful, bullets inside them. I remember seeing them cut a guy’s elbow open to take out some shrapnel, with no shot for the pain or anything. And there was Per who had got a dislocated shoulder from playing a game of football.”
A rare day off saw the squad take in a trip down the Saigon River and a meeting with US soldiers at a massive arms dump. “It was unreal to be sat talking to the American troops,” says Stewart. “They told us how it was... and it wasn’t very good.”
Two draws against Vietnam and Saigon – watched mostly by military police to the brutal backdrop of helicopters and bombs – were decent results.
“Soldiers faced the crowd with guns while we were playing,” says Crosbie, one of six Scousers in the travelling party. “It was South Vietnam, so the people were friendly, but it was all a bit strange.”
The soldiers were facing the crowd with guns while we were playing – it was a bit strange
A month later, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People’s Army unleashed the Tet Offensive – regarded as the turning point of the war. It was one of the largest and bloodiest campaigns of the conflict, killing tens of thousands of people.
The Tornado had long departed by then, with their whistle-stop tour of Eastern Asia taking in Taiwan, Tokyo (where they faced a Japanese team who later won a bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics) and the Philippines, before the relative safe havens of Australia and New Zealand beckoned. After Iran, Pakistan, India and Nam, enjoying the fruits of Sydney was like heaven.
Nine games in Australasia were then followed by a gruelling 24-hour journey back home to Dallas. A big welcoming party at the airport greeted the frazzled Tornado squad home, their overall record of 10 wins, nine draws and 26 defeats clearly not dampening their spirits.
Finally, the start of that new life everyone had been working so hard towards had arrived. “We checked into a hotel and ordered cheeseburgers at breakfast for two weeks,” laughs Book. “In fact, we had them for every meal...”
But there was still a mini-tour of Central America to navigate, and games on rock-hard pitches against decent, physical teams in Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala weren’t exactly high on the players’ wish lists. Unsurprisingly, the Tornado returned home without a victory and completely exhausted.
Back home and battered
Just 15 days later, the NASL season started with a 6-0 defeat and within four games, four of the tourists – including Book – were axed.
The standard of the domestic competition proved too high and the Tornado finished fourth in the four-team ‘Gulf Division’ of the Western Conference, winning just two of their 32 matches and conceding 109 goals. By the end of that first campaign, four tour members were left.
Book returned the following year and began coaching, while Stewart went to play in Australia. Kap didn’t last much longer either, replaced by Englishman and former Ajax manager Keith Spurgeon – yet his life would take several fascinating turns.
He became a respected artist, an agent for NFL kickers, and fronted a failed bid to bring Argentine legends Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles to the US before they chose Tottenham.
Sadly, Dallas Tornado folded in 1981, having overspent to keep up with the New York Cosmos, like many other American sides of the era. However, their place in crazy world tour folklore will remain forever.
“It could have been so much better,” concludes Stewart, who later enjoyed 30 years as a policeman, with much of it spent looking after the Royal Family. “But I’d go tomorrow and do it all again if I could.”
This feature originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!