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In the books: The Ten Shirt

Imagine an alternative reality where the USA victory over England in the 1950 World Cup was not only noticed by the general public, it sparked a soccer boom in the United States.

In this reality, the top US professional soccer league, second in popularity only to American football, not only follows the FIFA international calendar, it regularly develops, maintains and retains world class talent. Monday Night Soccer is the premier sport show of the week, hosted by Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. Not Don Meredith the ex-Cowboys quarterback, but Don Meredith the former midfielder for the Texas Tornado.

The nation’s best young athletes, when faced with choosing between a career in soccer or any other professional sport, naturally choose soccer. US soccer stars playing overseas are just as commonplace as international stars playing in the US.

The coach of the US national team is given all of the authority to do as he chooses by US Soccer and, when the US plays Mexico at the Azteca, it soundly thrashes them.

Now, imagine that it is 1982 and the US is facing West Germany in the World Cup final.

Can’t do it? No worries, Michael Maddox has done it for you in The Ten Shirt: How the United States National Team (Might Have) Won the 1982 World Cup ($15, Figure 18 Publishing).

In writing The Ten Shirt, Maddox began with the idea that the US won the 1982 World Cup and developed characters, a qualification campaign and eventual World Cup run from there. It’s a world in which just about everything that went wrong with the development of soccer in this country took a different course for the better. And for any American soccer fan, the book is a treat to read.

Make no mistake, this is no great work of fiction. (For that, read JL Carr’s How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup.) Characters are presented as types rather than fully drawn out and the plot sometimes moves rather abruptly. And, the typesetting is so terrible that it is sometimes distracting.

Still, I really enjoyed the book. I liked the characters, their back stories and how they come together over a grueling qualification campaign. If, like a lot of fantasies, there is often more fun in the ideas than in the execution, that’s OK by me.

Some clunky writing aside, Maddox has a real gift for vividly describing soccer tactics. The descriptions of the action on the pitch are often very good and he’s also quite funny at times. And in describing what went right in order for the US to make it to a World Cup final and win, he’s actually describing an awful lot of what actually went wrong in the real world. Those who know something of that history will be amused by the alternative Maddox has imagined while those who don’t might find themselves wanting to learn more. It’s the kind of book you can burn through in one sitting, if you have the time, and, for this reader, it wasn’t time wasted.

Local soccer fans will enjoy the character of Billy Ford, a midfielder from Philadelphia. I had a chuckle when Maddox described Ford’s tryout for the youth academy of the Philadelphia Fury, “formed when the Atoms and the Ukrainians joined forces:”

Veteran’s Stadium would be the new 65,000-seat capacity home of the Fury and the NFL’s Eagles. The Phillies had lobbied hard to be included, but realistically could not compete with the two biggest players on the Philadelphia sports scene. Baseball would continue to be played at Connie Mack Stadium.

Ah, those were the days.


  1. Oh what a wonderful world it would be…

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