10E - New Student Edition - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, September 8,1999
After 46 years, men's soccer
gets foot in the varsi door
By Uma Subramanian L Daily Sports Writer
n the early 1950s, the United States going to get the little perks that we'v
was in the middle of the Cold War, been wanting."
Buddy Holly blared from the juke- But those 50 years weren't wasted
box and James Dean was in his prime. The Michigan men's soccer team has
Legendary heroes like baseball's Jackie had a rich and complicated history thai
Robinson and track's Roger Bannister began after World War II and is still
lit up the sports world. unfolding today.
But far away from the media glare, Throughout the years, the team has
the game of soccer was beginning to been composed of foreign
penetrate American lives. On Oct. 17, students, for-
1953, The Michigan Daily desenbed
soccer as a "rugged sport with ~ 4
an international flavor l if
that is rapidly climbing on
the Michigan sports hort- '
At that same time, the
paper predicted that the
Wolverine Soccer Club -as
the Michigan men's soccer
team was known - was on
the verge of gaining varsity sta-
The Wolverines remained on
that verge through 46 years and
two national championships
Now, the team finally has what it
has so long sought. On Oct. 17, 1953, the Daily showed the
"We're all out there playing Wolverine Soccer Club trying to kick into a
because we like to play now," club higher gear.
president Ryan Yoder said. "The
game isn't going to change any. We're mer football players and Americans
still going to play every day and have who just love the game.
fun doing it.
"Ii's just now there are new opportu- From Football to "Football"
nities that we haven't ever experienced Though in this country it has only
before, like good travel arrangements begun to emerge as a national pastime
... no more driving team buses and in recent years, soccer has long been
vans. It's those things that everyone is popular on the international scene,
excited about. It's been 50 years in the uniting fans from around the globe.
coming. Fifty years and we're finally This team's roots are also deeply
intertwined with that "foreign" game.
In the late 1940s, the University's
International Center sponsored an
intramural soccer league that played
games twice a week.
Each country formed its own team,
and each fall there were approximately
nine countries represented. But not
everyone had a country for which to
As a result, the club was officially
founded in 1948. In those early years,
the program received no funding
from the University.
"Those of us that were left over
formed our own team," said Len
Harding, who was one of the only
Americans on the team in 1957.
"it was very informal and for a
while we had only four or five
"We really enjoyed the game
and we got some fans - espe-
cially girlfriends - who came
out and watched. It was a lot of fun
and we didn't lose"
Due to the lack of support, the play-
ers often wore jerseys borrowed from
the football team and supplied their
own socks and pads.
"Soccer was never a sport in this
country," Harding said. "It's a world-
class sport that never really caught on
here. If you played baseball, you taught
your son to play baseball and he taught
his son. It was a pretty rough-and-tum-
ble game because the players weren't'
Harding said many teams the
Wolverines faced in those early years
were composed from a thin population
Because of Michigan's contract with Nike, the Michigan men's soccer team may not be able to practice in their favorite
warmups in the new milienium. But that's OK, because that means the team has achieved varsity status,
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of qualified athletes.
"The players I played against weren't
coached," Harding said. "They were
what was left over from the football
team. They played with football cleats
too, which hurt when you were kicked,"
The team flourished in the 1950s,
winning a lot more than it lost.
Throughout the '60s, soccer at
Michigan continued in pretty much the
same way, as a loosely organized team
that played just for fun.
But in the early years of the decade,
an interesting trend began.
Extending their careers
Players who had played in major col-
legiate programs as undergrads, espe-
cially in the East, came to Michigan
and saw the club team as a way to con-
tinue playing as graduate students.
"The team played a lot of ethnic
teams around Detroit," said Mike
Malley, a former Wolverine from
England. "It was very much an ethnic
game in those days. Everybody playing
was bomn and raised in foreign coun-
tries like Germany, England, India and
"Every country had its own style and
it was hard to make everyone agree.
But the foreigners had a passion for the
game because there was national pride
on the line"
Undoubtedly, the '70s were a time of
transition throughout much of the
world. The same was true for the
Wolverines. In the early '70s, when
Steve Olson was a player, there were
two teams, one for graduate students,
and the other for undergrads.
Those former collegiate stars who
had once consented to playing with the
undergrads had split off and formed
their own team.
"When I first started, the graduate
club was the stronger club and it regu-
larly kicked our asses," said Olson, a
veteran referee who called the first
championship game of Major League
Soccer. "It was composed of foreigners
and varsity athletes from other colleges
who still wanted to play. In fact, in '74-
75, our team had only two foreigners."
Olson took over as coach in 1978,
the team became more successful, and
went 18-2 in 1980, his final year.
In the '70s, the club remained on its
own to fund itself and find places to
play. The players didn't even have prop-
er uniforms. Their jerseys shrank by 25
percent the first time they were washed.
"It was hard to go and beat varsity
teams and not have thename respect
and treatment here," Olson said. "But
on the road you'd go places and people
would come out and watch because
they thought we were Michigan's varsi-
Olson recalled a game against
Indiana-Purdue at a stadium in Fort
Wayne when the stands were filled
because it was Girl Scout Night.
"All the little girls thought that we
were U of M varsity athletes," Olson
E y e ar o of
Experience the tradlition of the University of Michigan
said. "Our guys were signing auto-
graphs, but were pretty embarrassed
because they weren't used to the recog-
nition. People were flabbergasted that
we weren't a varsity program."
Soccer's popularity in the United
States really began to grow in the late
'70s when the North American Soccer
League, the now defunct professional
soccer league, planted its seed in the
suburbs, where the game really took
"So many changes have happened to
the sporting landscape where in the
'70s soccer was a part of the subculture
and now it's a major demographic."
As the game was developing on a
national level, it was also developing on
the collegiate level. During Burns' time
as a player, the National Collegiate
So er Association was formed in
The formal organization of club soc-
cer made it more difficult for Michigan
to compete against varsity teams.
Regardless, in the past five years, the
Wolverines have achieved the most suc-
cess they have ever known.
The past three years, they have com-
peted in the championship game of the
national club tournament and are cur-
rently the defending back-to-back
Even the University's Athletic
Department has taken notice.
"All of us who are involved with the
sport recognize the contributions thai
these young men have made,"
Michigan associate Athletic Director
Mike Stevenson said. "They're excel-
lent scholar athletes who have brought
a lot of pride to the program."
A struggle for status
Though it has had a successful and
colorful history, the team that began as
the Wolverine soccer club will have a
new title for the new millennium. In the9
fall of 2000, it will be a fully supported
child of the Athletic Department.
The telling of the program's colorful
history, though, would not be complete
without a brief note about the pro-
gram's fight for varsity status.
Club teams are responsible for doing
everything themselves. They must fund
their own travels, and pay for their own
referees, uniforms and expenses.
As a result, the coach and the team
are not free to merely play the game.
They must also concentrate on the pid-
dly details that are taken for granted by
From the beginning, the Michigan
men's soccer team has sought help from
the Athletic Department, though in the
early days there wasn't much talk of
varsity status except from speculative
But truth be told, the athletes didn't
get much support.
"Every fall we had guys who would
march down to see (former Athletic
Director) Fritz Crisler," Harding said.
"But he was not about to have a soccer
team. We met with him every year, but
we never got anywhere nor did we
Though daunted, the team wasn't dis-
couraged. But it wasn't until the late
'70s that the team started presentin
serious proposals to the Athletic
During Olson's tenure as coach the
team's application for varsity status
actually passed through the Board in
Control of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Because of a lack of funding, the mea-
Malley, who founded the World Cup
Committee in Detroit, helped the team
write numerous proposals to the board,
including a 37-page work in 1997.
Finally this year the idea caught on*
'It's always only been a matter of
resources," Stevenson said. "There's
been an awareness that it's a tremen-
dous sport that deserves recognition. It
was just a matter of timing.
For many of the current players, the
responsibility rests with them to carry
the club tradition out on the highest
eWalk through the fountain
eAttend a football game
*Take your first blue book
ePaint the rock
*Learn the words to the "Fight Song"
*Run the Naked Mile
*Buy your yearbook
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