08 April 2018

The Past of Football: NASAL and the New York/New Jersey Cosmos

The man they will try to stop once they've heard of him, Dr. Frank Lazarus, professor of football history at Frank Lazarus University, pieces together the scant remains of history and teaches us about that great enigma of world football, the United States of America

Back in the sixties, the whole world watched agog and non-north-Walian alike as Buzzward Aldrin, Stretchford Armstrong and a third man whose name is lost to history heroically fought off space communists trying to appropriate the United States of America's rightful claim to the moon's Teflon deposits. As the moon's eerily lunar landscape lay strewn with the corpses of America's enemies, Armstrong swung a bebooted foot at the head of one of them, and he uttered those now-famous words: "That's one small step for a man, one giant boot to the face of this space commie!" The dead red's head detached from its body and described a beautiful arc as it soared through the low-gravity moon sky. With this one act, the course of history changed. America was entranced and exited by the new futuristic possibilities that now stretched out before them. President John "F-word" Kennedy addressed an expectant nation. "We simply cannot wait for the NFL to come up with a better name for their championship game than the ludicrous 'Super Bowl'," he said, "and with the designated hitter rule, baseball has committed an unconscionable assault on the double switch, the most exciting move in all of sports. Stretchford — along with Buzzward and, I believe, some other guy, although I'm not sure about that, Ralf, check that one out for me — has shown us that soccer is in fact as American as an apple pie wearing a cowboy hat that has a detailed knowledge of anti-anxiety medication. I therefore proclaim that by the end of the decade, soccer will be our one true national American sport, game, or pastime."

And so, in a country with absolutely no history in the game whatsoever full stop period end of story move along nothing to see, soccer was invented for the eleventh time. Would this number prove auspicious?

No. In response to the President's decree, a league was hurriedly formed which, to tap into America's mania for all things spatial, was named NASA League, or NASAL (never the NASAL). The NASAL decided to inject some zeitgeisty narrative into proceedings by creating a league consisting of two teams: the patriotic, red-white-and-blue-clad Hero Legend Eagles, and the tie-dye wearing Super Freaky Electro Acid Commie Draft-Dodging Sunshine Gang. Without a dedicated soccer stadium, however, the league had to make-do with using other sports' facilities. Games were played on an iced hockey pitch, a stocked car pitch and a drained swimming pitch. In desperation, they tried playing on a baseball pitch, which worked perfectly well for several milliseconds until they were propelled from it by jealous baseball forces. Even after they found a more settled home on the infield of a go-kart track near Piddlesboro, Wyoming, the league struggled. Nervous about the American public's desire to sit through a soccer game, organisers stretched out the halftime entertainment — an incredible four-legged horse called Horse — until it became the main event and the soccer the halftime show. Horse became a star and is still sorely missed to this day. There was a new star in heaven the day he died.

Nothing the league tried seemed to work. The owners came up with a plan: win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. This didn't work. Then, realising that any American sports league needed a strong New York team in order to thrive, they tried to create one: the New York Vets. But cynical New Yorkers were too busy stylishly injecting drugs in an abandoned factory or moving to Hollywood to bother watching. In trying to salvage things with a desperate series of name changes — the Gets, the Yets, the Let's, the Stets, the Quets, the Prets, the Regrets, the Lil-lets, the Alphabets, the Capulets, the Letrasets, the Marmosets, the Sobriquets, the Peat Briquettes, the New Marvelettes, the Pair of Quintets (Plus One), the Xkblsgfvhstdffqkhets — the owners only made matters worse.

With NASAL gaining no support but life (life support), a miracle was needed. It came in the form of two of the entertainment biz's primary Italian-American supernovas: Sylvester Stallone and Foghorn Leghorn ( Fabiano Livorno). Eager to bring a taste of the old soccering country to the United States of A, they purchased the ailing Ets, promising to use their showbiz lure (money) to transform the fortunes of America's new obsession. They started with a new name for their team: in honour of America's brave space fliers, they were to be called the New York Cosmonauts. Then they gave the team some brand new kit to wear, and commemorated this special event by changing the team's name again: they were now the New York/New Jersey Cosmonauts.

Then it was time to sign some players. Reasoning that Brazil was the greatest soccering nation, they asked around trying to find out who the greatest Brazilian soccerer was. And so it was that Leônidas became the second NASAL superstar (after Horse). The 84-year-old ran riot against NASAL's cadre of Americans who, remember, didn't even know what a soccer was until five minutes before kick-off. Suddenly, NASAL became the go-to destination (as opposed to the go-away-from destination) for aging soccerers seeking a dose of HRT. In came one-man Mannschaft Franz "The Director" Peckinpah, destroyer Johan NeeskinleftonyourshinsbythetimeI'mfinishedwithyou, Carlos "Charlie" Alberto, Dennis Stewart, Sweden's 1958 World Cup hero Pelle, England's forgotten 1966 World Cup hero Stanislaus "The Manislaus" Carter, and Billy Meredith, plus coaches of the calibre of Ken Furphy, Billy O'Smelly and Ulick McGee.

But even these greats were complete fucking dogshit compared to the majestic Iolo Cynallia, a striker hailing from the part of the Welsh Valleys that mysteriously hasn't really got any valleys, probably because druids hid them or something. After travelling to Rome to grant the Pope an audience with him, Cynallia signed for Lazio, where he became part of the legendary team that took the prime minister hostage and secured the Scudetto as ransom. After six months spent as an aid worker in Biafra, he headed Stateside to resurrect soccer and, perhaps, the American nation itself. He was a greater goal machine than even the legendary Rasputin. He often won games entirely on his own, which was necessary given his penchant for physically assaulting teammates who wouldn't pass him the ball, especially if it looked like they were going to have a shot themselves. Should this course of action fail, a quick signal to the sideline would see the errant colleague hauled off and sold to Canada, Cynallia's immense charisma and intelligence having seen his effortless rise to the positions of special assistant to the coach, executive co-general manager, Owner-in-Spirit and Honorary Founder of the Cosmonauts. Between games, he liked to relax by shooting people in the streets of New York/New Jersey, which people liked because it was edgy.

The Cosmonauts were a great success, but America still needed one last push to be fully awoken to the joys of soccering. To that end, many rules were changed and gimmicks devised to reflect the unique American sportsing mindset. The game was divided into four quarters, the third being the "cocaine quarter". A 35-yard offside line was introduced (reputedly the "cocaine line"). Ties were abolished, broken by force if necessary. Defending was made illegal between the 15th and 75th minutes (the "NASAL Power Hour"); permission to defend outside that time was conditional on the collection of special tokens hidden around the stadium and surrounding neighbourhoods. The coin toss was replaced by the "NASAL Header-Off", wherein the ball was thrown up between two opposing players, the first to head it winning for his team the precious right to kick off first. (Far fewer careers were ended by this than predicted by the usual mongers of doom.) Goals scored by goalkeepers would count as fifty goals (Stallone's idea). One round per season was designated as "NASAL Pinball Week", wherein the pitch was transformed into a giant pinball machine, ball and players alike subject to the tyranny of the flipper.

A new halftime entertainment called "March Madness", in which a marching band were forced to keep marching until they went mad, finally and irrevocably tilted the balance. America experienced something like soccer ecstasy. Teams sprang up all over the land like soccer-shaped flowers in a desert of meaninglessness to welcome the godlike Cynallia and his troupe of Cosmonauts to their town, in the hope that their magic would liven up the dullness of living in a place full of right-angle intersections. NASAL welcomed the Tallahassee Uncontrollables, the Wichita Fuzzy Bunnies, the Des Moines Anxiety, the Kansas City Subsidence, the Carolina Plague of Frogs, the Portland Tax Day, the Philadelphia Kickers, the Seattle Kickers, the Albany Kickers, the New Orleans Kickers, the Boston Kickers, the Austin Kickers, the Cleveland Serial Killers, the Arizona Serial Kickers, the South Dakota Straight-Line-Border-Drawer-Uppers, the St. Louis Obesity Time Bombs, the Washington Plausible Deniability, the Los Angeles Aztecs of Anchorage, Team Amazing, Young Boys Poughkeepsie, the Houston Assault Rifles, the Pittsburgh Paranoia, the Bay Area Delightfulness, the Albuquerque Albuquerquians, AFC Indiana United, the Soccer Stars of Northeast West Virginia, People You Think Are American But Are Actually Canadian, the Cincinnati Loan Sharks, the Atlanta Go-To-Hecks, the Garkos Gorgons and the Chicago Shitehawks. President Kennedy's promise had been fulfilled, and the world wept in gratitude and awe.

Reigning supreme, however, were the mighty New York/New Jersey, now renamed Cynallia and His Cosmonauts. They smote their enemies with a swashbuckling style of soccer universally known as "Cynalliaball". "Give it to Iolo!," even opposition fans would scream. Eventually, the Cosmonauts made it to the championship game, where they faced a scary black-clad Iceland team coached by the fella from the Statoil ads. A tense match went to a shootout, with Iceland's final shot to be taken by Gunnar Stahl, who was so fearsome his parents were afraid to give him a normal Icelandic name. Cosmonauts coach Gordon Bombay (shortly afterwards renamed Gordon Mumbai) cleverly swapped out goalie Greg Goldberg for Julie "The Cat" Gaffney, who made the vital save. "Quack! Quack! Quack!," they all chanted for some reason. The Cosmonauts had won the big game!

As usual, the Cosmonauts' victory party took place in Hot Shit, the second happeningest club in town (after the Cosmonauts). Soccer-crazy funk monarchs Chic (named after Chic Brodie) headed down hoping to celebrate the championship win and the success of their latest single "Nile Rodgers' Disco Pants", but were refused entry, even after they said they were best friends with Billy Meredith. Fuming, they went home and immediately wrote the scathing anti-Cosmonaut anthem "Kill A Cosmo (For The God Of Happiness)". The song was so damn catchy that it inspired anti-Cosmonaut feeling all across America. The Cosmos Suck! movement was born. A Chic concert turned into a giant rally, wherein fans created a giant bonfire out of Cosmos jerseys, memorabilia and players, thus destroying yet another perfectly good Madison Square Garden.

But America loves a winner, and as long as the Cosmonauts kept the W's (win's) a-rollin' in (rolling in), they could hold on to their position as the kings of the republic. And win they did — until they didn't. With the scores level in a tense, decisive game 17 of the Teflon Earl of Football World Supreme Championship Series against the Rochester Rambunctiousness, a power cut plunged all of New York/New Jersey into darkness. Naturally enough, the entire crowd started to riot. As giddy fans spilled onto the pitch, looting mascot costumes and barrels of Gatorade, Cosmonaut keeper Sheep Messing sprinted from his goal to join his teammates in the sanctuary of the locker room. But eagle-brained Bunc ace Hank Schtrumpfsteiger V noticed that the referee had not blown his whistle and that the game was in fact still in progress. He kicked the ball into the net, and vigorously and repeatedly repeated the act to make sure the ref saw. The ref saw. With no Cosmonauts left on the field to restart the game, the ref blew for full-time. Rochester were/was world champion(s) (of America (and Canada)). The invincibles had been vinced.

The Cosmos were now big, fat losers. America, still desperately waiting for Who's the Boss? to be commissioned and craving certainty, lost all faith in the credibility of the team and therefore of NASAL as a whole. Attendances and TV figures were sent into a funk, which you'd think would be a good thing but was actually considered bad, so confused was America at the time. With the tide having turned so violently against soccer, and with the league on the brink of extinction ("NASAL Brinkstinction"), top lawmaking body Congress staged an anti-Cosmonaut witch trial to root out the evil in their mid. The nation was gripped. "Are you or have you ever been a member of the Cosmonauts?" became a catchphrase beloved of people who like pop culture. All Cosmonauts were tortured, including, tragically, members of long-defunct doo-wop group The Cosmonauts. Even the Horse Memorial in Washington was tortured. Stallone and Leghorn had had enough. They sold the Cosmos to a museum of taxidermy in Tickling Gulch, Colorado, and put all their energy into making Defeat from the Jaws of Victory, a feel-good buddy flick set in a prisoner-of-war camp, starring Stallone and Leghorn. NASAL folded and soccer was banished from America's shores, only returning when OJ Simpson (an old pal of Leghorn's) pretended to be a murderer, thus providing enough of a distraction for the World Cup to be smuggled into the US by Marco Etcheverry, who departed the field in triumph four minutes later.


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