They transcended everything, every culture, every social background, every race. They were European, they were Latin, they were American. They were champions, they were kings…They were the New York Cosmos.
The year is 1971 and New York’s newest soccer team is being created. Despite much opposition from some wealthy Americans a British sports writer turned general manager gets his way and, after some underhand tactics, names the newest NASL team the New York Cosmos (cosmos being short for cosmopolitan). This move would prove one of the most legendary in soccer history. The recommended light blue kit was disposed of and a green and yellow strip was designed to reflect the success Brazil were enjoying, but more than anything this choice of colour was implemented to try and entice a recently semi retired world beating footballer to the states. That man was none other than Edison Arantes do Nascimento, or Pele as he is more commonly known to the football and sports world. Four years of hard work, meetings and offers were brokered between the American soccer franchise and Pele’s entourage before finally in 1975 he was tempted out of semi retirement to star for the New York Cosmos on a wage of $1.4 million a year which is roughly equivalent to $6-7 million in today’s money. To ensure that Pele gained the best deal he could from turning out for the growing New York Cosmos name he was signed to a number of contracts, only one mentioning football and going as far out as to register his as a recording artist for Atlantic Records. General manager Clive Toye, the British sports writer was also known to boast throughout the two and a half years that Pele sported the Cosmos shirt that they owned him lock, stock and barrel.
Other world beating players would soon follow Pele with German captain Franz Beckenbauer, Italian striker and all time NASL leading goal scorer Giorgio Chinaglia and Brazil captain Carlos Alberto all joining the roster at some point alongside lesser known but still quality players such as Canadian John Kerr, Iranian Andranik Eskandarian and German goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier.
Pele’s debut for the Cosmos on the 10th of June 1975 was seen by millions of sports fans around the world, with a last minute panic from the grounds man that his pitch didn’t look too green so he spray painted the pitch to give a grass effect. Everyone was lifted by the presence of Pele both on and off the pitch and a regular change of strips, some including mid season, kept with the public perception that the team were ahead of their time both on the field and in terms of style with none other than Ralph Lauren even designing the strips in the later years of the NY Cosmos’ existence. Pele even asked that the colours of the strip be changed to mirror his previous club Santos, therefore the Green and white was switched to an away strip and an all white home kit was born.
Five NASL championships were won in the fourteen years that the team competed in the league, with the most significant coming in the last year that Pele played. A further five conference title wins and seven divisional titles were also obtained. Johan Cruyff nearly signed for the Cosmos alongside the legends that were plying their trade for the team; however a last minute offer from the Los Angeles Aztecs took him there. Cruyff did play a number of exhibition games in the famous white, green and yellow strip.
Much success, football and excitement were enjoyed for the two and a half years that Pele played for the New York Cosmos and the few years afterwards however in the early 80s the format of the league began to change. The lucrative deals that had been brokered when Pele was a star of the league had begun to come to an end and the cash flow had started to dry up, with the league enforcing a salary cap on the teams. The top players couldn’t earn the money that had been paid to them so they migrated back to Europe and their countries of birth to either retire or finish their careers. This left the NASL with lesser known homegrown players and the crowds, attention and money all dried up with the league dissolving in 1984. The Cosmos managed a further 33 games in the Major Indoor Soccer League before winding up the team due to the funding completely finishing with low, if any attendance at all at the games.
The highs and lows of the franchise were documented in various films, movies, books and DVDs over the years with the most viewed ‘Once in a lifetime: The extraordinary story of the New York Cosmos’ being shown at the cinema and in book form.
Fifteen years went by before Paul Kemsley bought the naming rights and license for the team name, previously held by the former franchise manager. After contacting Pele and making him honorary life president of the team they set about building and laying the foundations for a return to football in the MLS by 2012. Eric Cantona was hired as the Director of Soccer with US football legend Cobi Jones as his associate. British sportswear brand Umbro was tasked with designing a new kit, and range of merchandise that would appear modern but take inspiration from the vintage kit of the 70s and 80s. The brand new collection under the tagline ‘tailored by Umbro’ was launched on the 3rd of March 2011 with a New York Cosmos replica shirt at the forefront alongside a superb selection of Umbro t shirts, football shirts, track tops, hoodies, hooded zip jumpers and jackets, including a homage to the walkout jacket worn by the famous greats.
The New York Cosmos range by Umbro is available at Mainline Menswear from today and features an excellent selection of clothing, all carrying the iconic Cosmos badge and crest. Be a part of the history of this fantastic team by supporting them with your newly designed Umbro merchandise.
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