Alan Hinton

Alan HintonThe opportunity to go to Dallas many years ago saved me and my family in a big way. That said, the odds of me going to the NASL’s 50th anniversary event in October are about 25 percent. Honestly, things seem like an effort these days. I’m now cancer-free and in pretty good shape. I guess I really don’t have an excuse for not going. We will see.

Alan Hinton was a prolific goal-scorer in England for more than a decade, throughout the 1960s and into the mid-70s.

Then, the absolute worst fear of any parent — the death of a child — changed everything. The Hinton’s son Matthew died from a rare form of cancer.

“I couldn’t play,” Hinton said from Seattle, where he now lives. “I just stopped playing for Derby County. At end of the season I basically retired. It wasn’t a nice time for my family. It was a tough deal, it took a few months and then I had to get a grip of myself. I had a wife and a 7-year-old daughter.

The plucky left wing who scored 63 times in 253 games for Derby from 1967-75 was known affectionately by the fans as Gladys because of the white cleats he wore and his curly shock of blonde hair.

“I took some stick on the road because of the boots,” Hinton said. “I think I got £1,000 from Hummel to wear the white shoes. I think I was making something like £100 a week. In the end, it was interesting because people knew me because of my white boots. It’s amazing how many people ask me about it. I still have the original pair by the side of my bed. I shined them before my operation [to remove his cancerous bladder] just in case I didn’t come out of the surgery.”

When Al Miller embarked on a scouting tour ahead of the 1977 NASL season as coach of the Dallas Tornado, he was directed to Hinton’s village by none other than Sir Bobby Moore. Moore, Hinton said, believed that the winger “still had a bit of life in those 34-year-old legs.”

“I thought I’d go to North America for six months then go back to England and try to rebuild our lives,” Hinton said. “I’ve been here ever since. Al was a nice man and we’re still friends. He was sincere and it didn’t hurt that Lamar Hunt owned the team. I didn’t get a lot of money, but that wasn’t the object of the exercise. It was to get away from my village and all these memories of my son. It turned out great.”

With Hinton in the lineup, the Tornado won their division but were ousted from the playoffs.

“The booster club met me at the airport and I was taken to a nice apartment,” Hinton said. “Then a bit of bad news when I found out my mate Jeff Bourne decided to go to Crystal Palace. I asked Brian Clough if he’d let John O’Hare come to Dallas. He agreed. It was important for me to have a wonderful friend and player there. Basically it was what I needed. I wanted someone around who I knew how to play with. We lived next door to each other in Richardson. It was great. It was fun.

“We’d go off to practice at SMU and I used to have fun with Kyle [Rote]. I used to tell him that if I hit a cross and he didn’t win it I’d walk off the field. I think he quite liked that.”

In his first game for Dallas, Hinton said he scored the game-winner (“a nice shot in the upper V”) against Tampa Bay and was awarded man of the match honors.

“The prize was a dinner for four at Victoria Station,” he said. “We took the O’Hares and had the biggest steaks I’d ever seen. The next game, John won the award and took us to dinner. Sometimes it was pretty difficult for me playing in the heat. It took me a while to get back into shape and at one point Al asked me to be the captain. I told him I didn’t think a left winger should be captain, but he said it would only be for three games. Then we won all three and and he said that the other players wanted me to continue.”

Hinton spent one season in Dallas before ending his playing career in Vancouver in 1978, where he set a single-season assist record with 30.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity that all began with Al Miller,” Hinton said. “I really respect and still talk to him and thank him for giving me the opportunity to come to dallas. It’s great city, great people and I had great teammates.”