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The 2014 Setanta Cup will see Glentoran travel to Dublin to take on Shamrock Rovers on 24th February.
The clash will be the first competitive meeting between the two sides since 1969, when Rovers ran out as 2-0 victors at The Oval, with Mick Leech grabbing a double for the away side.
However, only two years before, the two sides met in the most extra-ordinary circumstances in the United States during the summer of ‘67.
One of the many professional leagues that is now defunct and cast away in the annals of football in America is the United Soccer Association. The 1966 World Cup had rekindled American interest in the game and subsequently saw the creation of the league.
What was remarkable about the competition is that rather than seeking to recruit local talent, whole teams were imported from clubs across South America and Europe, where they were designated to an American city and given a franchise name. In this case, Cerro CA of Uruguay were re-styled as New York Skyliners, Serie A’s Cagliari became Chicago Mustangs due to the city’s strong Italian connections, and Stoke City of England’s top tier competed as Cleveland Stokers.
Glentoran and Shamrock Rovers were among the 12 teams invited to partake in the summer competition and were subsequently re-branded as the Detroit Cougars and Boston Rovers, respectively.
Both sides made their competitive debut in the competition against one another on 28th May 1967 in front of 7,000 inexperienced yet enthusiastic soccer supporters in Boston. The match programme acted as a beginner’s guide to the rules and practices of soccer, while the stadium’s PA announcer also gave instructions to the crowd to notify when free kicks and thrown-ins were being awarded.
The encounter itself finished 1-1, with Mick Leech and John Colrain grabbing the goals, and in the most controversial fashion. Soon after scoring a late equaliser, Glentoran – or the Detroit Cougars – had a last minute winner wrongly fully disallowed by the linesman, who later transpired to be a Boston native. Scenes turned sour after the final whistle as Cougars’ player-manager Colrain was alleged to have struck the match official who made the decision.
The inexperience and perceived incompetence of match officials would become the subject of criticism throughout the United Soccer Association, with the Glentoran chairman even stating after the game that he would never have taken the team to America if he was aware of the poor standard of refereeing.
In the return game at Detroit, Glentoran avenged the supposed misgivings in Boston by claiming a 1-0 victory in a rain drenched encounter at the University of Detroit Stadium, courtesy of Arthur Stewart’s goal.
While Shamrock Rovers struggled throughout the competition, Glentoran somewhat defied the odds by finishing only three points behind eventual Eastern Conference winners, Washington Whips, more widely known as Aberdeen FC.
As they were the only part-time outfit in the competition, the Northern Irishmen were expected to be cannon fodder for the established European and South American clubs. However, rather than simply settle for just making up the numbers, Glentoran - or the Detroit Cougars - more than held their own against their professional opposition, putting in some inspired performances against the likes of Cerro, Cagliari and Stoke City who all held international stars among their ranks.
The 1967 United Soccer Association is now a largely forgotten piece of football history, but its legacy will be temporarily revived when Shamrock Rovers and Glentoran meet for only the second time since the competition; nearly 50 years ago.
The make-up of the United Soccer Association League
Comiskey Park (46,550)
Cleveland Stadium (78,000)
Cotton Bowl (75,504)
Tiger Stadium (36,000)
Los Angeles Wolves
LA Memorial Coliseum (93,000)
New York Skyliners
Yankee Stadium (67,000)
San Francisco Golden Gate Gales
Candlestick Park (59,942)
ADO Den Haag
Varsity Stadium (25,000)
Vancouver Royal Canadians
Empire Stadium (33,000)
D.C. Stadium (46,000)
Simon Rowbotham is originally from Bangor, Co Down but now based in Manchester. A keen follower of the Danske Bank Premiership and the lower leagues of England. Simon is a Journalism student in the University of Salford. When not rambling about football in Northern Ireland, Simon writes for the Manchester FA and FC United of Manchester. You can contact Simon on twitter at @SiRowbotham
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