Or “After It, Therefore Because of It.” It’s a logical fallacy, and one that many (even those who should know better) are making these days when it comes to comparing the NASL strike of 1979 with today’s battle between Major League Soccer’s players union and management.
It’s my contention that the brief walkout by less than a third of the players in the NASL for five days (which was about one thing and one thing only: getting the NASL to recognize the union as the collective bargaining agent for the players) was a bump in the road. Now, if you want to frame it as labor disputes being part of a larger issue – that issue being that the NASL’s management couldn’t get the league’s act together – then, fine. I’m with you on that. The culpability flow chart on the whole thing is as complicated as a Rube Goldberg device.
But the actual strike itself? No, I’m sorry. That wasn’t a major factor. In fact, the very same union agreed to major concessions on the eve of the 1984 season (the NASL’s last) to make sure there would even be a 1984 season. But it was too little, too late.
But don’t take my word for it. Since a guy on Bigsoccer.com took me to task1, saying he was there and “anybody who was there would tell you” that the ’79 strike was a major cause of the demise of the NASL, I asked some people who were there. Their emailed responses follow:
Kenny Stern, former general manager of the Chicago Sting and son of the club’s founder, Lee Stern:
“Definitely a ‘not,’ IMO. The union activity had plenty to do with the demise, but the activity that was problematic was beyond ’79. IMO, the league was actually stronger after the ’79 stoppage.”
Soccer historian Roger Allaway:
“No. Almost no effect, in my view. As far as I’m concerned, the main thing was the reason that Clive Toye cites, that the league (mostly meaning Woosnam) was too focused on short-term revenue and ignored long-term growth.”
Oh, yeah, Clive Toye. He’s probably the biggest of “anyone who was there.” The former president of the Cosmos, Sting and Toronto Blizzard and a National Soccer Hall of Famer was quick to respond:
“No, it was not a major cause….it was a damned nuisance, an interruption, a time we could have done without but the real reason for our demise was unnecessary expansion….and the owners that expansion brought us. We had 18 clubs…..6 very very good, 6 good and improving, 6 rubbish. Within the league there was a group which argued ‘get rid of the 6 and build on the 12′ and another group which wanted to expand and pick up the $3M franchise fees. They won the vote, so we went to 24 teams…..12 of which were rubbish. And that drove out the likes of Lamar Hunt and George Strawbridge. Understand, I am no fan of unions. But they didn’t do the damage. Owners did.”
Huh. Imagine that. Ask people who were there, they say it wasn’t a major factor. Imagine that. I don’t think it’ll stop people like Brian Glennon from insisting they know what they’re talking about, but I’m going to go with Clive on that, how about you?
Incidentally, March 28 (a week from Sunday) will mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the NASL. That’s also the end of the first scheduled weekend of games in MLS’ 15th season. How many columns and blog posts do you think will be written using that as a focal point?2
1 – I know. I shouldn’t have gotten sucked in. It was late, I was tired, he pissed me off. Sue me.
2 – Odds are at least three of them will use “ironically.” It’s not irony – it’s coincidence.