For a guy like me living in the Dallas area, making an appearance at the NASL’s 50th anniversary reunion in October is an absolute no-brainer. Joining the Dallas Tornado way back when changed my life in more ways than I can recall. I’ve been a lot of places around the world and in the States, but this is my home — I like the people, I like the calm, there are a lot of golf courses and good fishing. Not to mention a fairly decent soccer team.
Back in the late 1960s Jan Book, a 19-year-old soccer player from Sweden, could have never conceived that the North American Soccer League was about to change his life.
Lamar Hunt was smitten with the game after attending the 1966 World Cup in England. His relationship to the game (along with his sons) has been an enduring feature of soccer in the United States ever since. The soccer bug led Hunt to found the Tornado in 1967, beginning play in the 1968 season. But first there was the matter of cobbling together a team and taking it on a whirlwind world tour — 45 games (10-26-9) in 26 countries over seven months.
“What attracted me was the world tour,” Book said. “After I had finished high school in Sweden I went into the Merchant Marines and traveled around the world. I loved it. So when the opportunity came up with the Tornado I signed on. The attraction first was going around the world to play and get paid. The second was to come to America and be a pioneer in the first year of the league. I was attracted to participating in something that could go down in history, something to leave to my kids and grandkids. I knew [soccer was] eventually going to happen in America. It had to.”
Upon their return to the U.S. in advance of the 1967 season, the Tornado promptly flopped, big time, finishing with a 3-6-3 record, which led to huge turnover on the field and in the front office.
“We returned to Dallas in February, stayed two weeks, then went to Central America for two weeks,” Book said. “We were all young guys, the oldest was 21, but we were totally worn out. We were tired from all the touring. They fired the coach [Bob Kap] and the new coach [Keith Spurgeon] got rid of a lot players, including me.”
For 1968 though, Book stayed on as an assistant coach and got a run out on the field for a handful of games. He returned to Sweden to fulfill a military commitment, then later returned to Texas and became the soccer instructor for the city of Irving.
“I’ve always loved the people here,” said Book, who was posted in a number of cities around the U.S. for his job in sales for a textile company. “People invited us to dinner and to their church. That doesn’t happen in Europe.”