Once in a Lifetime
October 26, 2006
Paul Crowder, John Dower,
Starring: Franz Beckenbauer, Werner Roth, Clive Toye, Giorgio Chinaglia, Gordon Bradley, Randy Horton, Shep Messing, Henry Kissinger, Ahmet Ertegun, Carlos Alberto, Matt Dillon,
In the 1970s, the New York Cosmos succeeded in bringing a significant amount of attention to soccer in the United States. Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos features narration by Matt Dillon with interviews with many of the team’s star players (with exception of Pele who wanted too much money) and footage of the team in action in the North American Soccer League as it chronicles the team’s meteoric rise and fall that was mirrored by the league itself.
The documentary traces the origins of professional soccer in the U.S. and the general indifference most Americans had (and continue to have) to it because the sport doesn’t conform to the start/stop nature of baseball, basketball and football to which they have become accustomed to on television. Inspired the success of the 1966 World Cup which was watched by millions worldwide on T.V., some entrepreneurial businessmen created two American soccer leagues which quickly floundered with poor attendance.
The New York Cosmos started off humbly with a team of passionate players that loved the game but their matches were on Long Island and no one wanted to go there anyway. However, Steve Ross, owner of Warner Brothers and countless other companies, also loved the sport and bought the Cosmos. After another abysmal season, he realized that the team needed a big name star to help promote it and the sport. It was suggested that they get Pele, the greatest player at the time. Ross had the financial resources to afford someone like Pele and eventually succeeded in signing him for $4.7 million. Predictably, the U.S. media finally took notice and people began turning up in droves just to see Pele play.
The next big name player that the Cosmos got was Italian superstar Giorgio Chinaglia, a disagreeable fellow off the pitch but amazing on the field as he became the team’s most prolific scorer. He was a passionate player and made a good team with Pele but in the locker room they did not get along because Chinaglia was very critical of Pele’s style of play. The Cosmos still weren’t getting the attendance that they wanted and so they lured German superstar Franz Beckenbauer to play for them. This didn’t sit well with Chinaglia who became third place in terms of importance. By 1984, the team was dissolved and the league folded when the U.S. failed a bid to host the World Cup.
Once in a Lifetime does an entertaining job of showing how the clash of egos brought about the demise of the Cosmos and the animosity that still exists between certain key figures. It also shows how the hedonism of the day also contributed to the team’s downfall. As attendance soared (they even sold out Giants Stadium – something that is unthinkable today), the players were treated like rock stars with their own table at the exclusive nightclub Studio 54 and indulged in all of the usual excesses – sex, drugs and alcohol. This documentary does for American soccer what 24 Hour Party People (2002) did for the Manchester England music scene – it captures the energy and excitement of a specific period of time with a cheeky sense of humour and with the help of a great soundtrack of classic ‘70s songs that properly establishes the tone of the decade.
It’s wild to see how popular soccer was in North America in the ‘70s and early 1980s as opposed to today where it is relegated to obscurity because the media and network television refuse to get behind it. So, it is commonly regarded here as a sport that little kids play. The timing is right for someone like David Beckham, arguably the most famous player in the world, who could bring star power back to American soccer and maybe even open the door for other big names to follow him.
“Stories of Pele” features additional interviews with contemporaries of the legendary player – those who played with and against him – recounting stories of his amazing prowess and passion for the game.
In a fantastic touch, there are highlights from several classic games in the Cosmos’ career, including the 1980 and 1981 Soccer Bowl games. Fans of GolTV should keep their eyes peeled during the 1980 game for glimpses of a young Ray Hudson playing for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and who now commentates for football matches on that station.
Best of all is the very emotional “Pele’s Farewell Game: October 1, 1977” that features highlights of the man’s final professional match. There is some great vintage footage of this momentous occasion.
Finally, there is a deleted scene entitled, “Haitian Divorce” that examines another unusual way that the Cosmos made money. They were supposed to play the Haitian team who was jetlagged and disappeared before the match. So, the Cosmos found a bunch of guys who looked like them and had them play against the team!