In the common imagination, soccer in the United States is often seen, internally, as some insidious undermining of American culture. To outsiders, it’s seen as a goofy land of cheerleaders, rules changes, semi-retired Brits and clueless fans.
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What if both of those were true, and then some? What if, in fact, teams of Bulgarians, Poles and various Slavs had been dispatched to America in the 1970s to actually do something despicable? And what if it took a giant bearded center back from a third division English club to save the day? And what if, in doing so, he had to play games in rodeo arenas, fight off spies inside giant trees, fend off chunks of beef from the stands and mad drunken Scots on the pitch, all the while trying to win the heart of a lovely lady in a far-off, misty land?
Welcome to the world of Hooper’s Revolution, a 2017 first novel from Dennie Wendt, a Portland, Oregon-based former marketing executive with Converse and Nike, now the editor of the highly-praised Howler Magazine. He is also, as becomes apparent very quickly in Hooper’s Revolution, an imaginative and funny storyteller.
First, all one has to do in re-telling the story of the North American Soccer League in the 1970s is take what actually happened, change the name to the American All Star Soccer Association, and make it slightly more ridiculous. So in Chicago you have someone roast a cow in the stands to support the Butchers. The Las Vegas team plays in a casino parking lot. Another team tried signing “unusually tall” African tribesmen to head in goals. Just the backstories on players and teams in this book nearly demand a prequel.
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Also as a warmup, and for a few more laughs, Wendt throws in Danny Hooper’s pre-American story, in which he toils for East Southwich Albion until a fateful decision against Dire Vale United sends him across the Atlantic — but not, as it will turn out, away from his comical yet terrifying reunion with the Dire Vale lads.
Here’s a sample, about another of their opponents:
Wolves United and Wolfingstonesgreen-upon-Heath Wanderers merged in 1973 after United slipped into administration following a poorly funded and ill-conceived world tour during which they produced seven wins, against 34 defeats and 11 draws and four confirmed player deaths in 40 countries over 60 days. When they returned, bedraggled and traumatized, for a preseason friendly in Wolfingstonesgreen, they learned that Wanderers had lost three quarters of their squad to a traveling cult/circus that had absconded to the Isle of Wight.
Insert into all the American zaniness an actual, Soviet communist plot to wreak havoc on the championship game, the Bonanza Bowl, centered on a Cosmos lookalike called the Giganticos, led by the Pearl of Brazil. The whole thing is so much fun that you’ll be disappointed, as am I and other reviewers, that Wendt hasn’t produced more.
Danny will of course, in nothing like a spoiler, save the day and get the girl. The Russians will be foiled, and it will in fact turn out one of them can rather play a bit. The city of Portland will be lovingly portrayed, and the hated Seattle Smithereens (don’t ask) will be vanquished. And soccer will thrive in America.
That last bit, anyway, is already coming true. And lest we all take things too seriously as that happens, go and get a copy of Hooper’s Revolution on Amazon — in print or Kindle — and have yourself a laugh, or many.