It took less than one game in charge of Sunderland for us to take a liking to Dick Advocaat. Strong scarf game. The ability to grow roses in the desert that is/was his bald head. And the propensity to forget which wrist he wears his watch on. But we weren’t Advocaat’s first fans in America. Far from it. Shortly after his Sunderland debut, we received a Raven from GFOP Jim Sanchez of Tucson, Ariz.
Jim’s affinity for “The Little General” dates back to Advocaat’s days playing with the NASL’s Chicago Sting. Jim, who grew up playing soccer in Portage, Ind., didn’t just admire Advocaat from the stands. He watched him pitchside, thanks to an Ocean’s Eleven-style plot hatched by his mate, who called the Sting’s front office and requested media passes for the fictitious “Portage Soccer Journal.” Almost immediately, he was granted two field passes in perpetuity. For the Sting’s remaining years, Sanchez and his friend patrolled the sidelines of Wrigley and Comiskey with impunity, using the pseudonyms “Brian English” and “James Idle” (a tip of the cap to Eric Idle). In this edition of Three Questions, we talk to a man who wisely hopped on the Dick Advocaat bandwagon early in the game.
MiB: Describe what it was like to attend a NASL game as a “journalist?”
JS: At the games I either stood on the sidelines with a pad and pencil or borrowed an SLR camera. Friends only had family photo cameras so I stood there trying to take photos with a tiny family photo lens next to the pros with professional equipment. Despite being 18 years old and unequipped as a real journalist, the team seemed happy to have anyone on the sideline they could get. Having fieldside access to players and coaches was fantastic. It was also amazing to be on the fields of those hallowed baseball stadiums.
MiB: Give us your best story from your Wrigley/Comiskey days.
JS: In 1981 when the Sting played the Cosmos, a true international star was on the field: Giorgio Chinaglia! I was so star-struck and excited to be close to a true global superstar, it was all I could do to keep fan worship in check. The game went down to penalty kicks after an exciting last minute draw. Giorgio took the last kick and had it saved by the Chicago keeper. All game I was focused on the superstar and decided that I HAD to have his autograph, paying little attention to the end of the exciting game. As soon as the penalty was missed, I sprinted onto the field press pass and pen in hand, reached Giorgio first and shoved both under his nose and asked for his autograph. The look I got was understandably incredulous and venomous. “We just lose,” is all he said and he stared at me for a second sweat dripping off his long curly hair. I turned and sheepishly slunk over to the Sting celebration to meet my friend pen and empty press pass in hand. Defeated.
MiB: What did you think of Dick Advocaat at the time, and what did you think when you heard he was hired at Sunderland?
JS: Since sidelines were so quiet we could hear all of the team banter. Advocaat was always referred to by the team members and the local media as Dicky. Dicky was quiet, being the only Netherlander on the team. The core of that team was German and they spoke a lot of German on and off the field. The other group of players was the English speakers and young Americans who hung out. I remember Dicky sitting by himself a lot which is how I was able to get his picture as he would sit and tolerate me with my tiny camera getting in close enough to take his picture. He was also one of my favorites because he was shorter than my 5’8” size. In later years people got tired of me following his exploits and discussing them as if he was a personal friend.
MiB: What is your greatest Chicago Sting memory?
JS: In 1981 The sting won their conference to go to Soccer Bowl 1981 to play the mighty Cosmos for the championship. As it was held in Toronto at a neutral field we believed we had no chance of getting our ill gotten field passes. The game was at night so after spending the day in the park with a case of “Canadian Golden Courage” we decided to go for it. Thirty minutes from kickoff we crashed will call and demanded our photo field passes giving our phony names. When the attendant couldn’t find our names we increased our volume and demands: What, we came all the way from Chicago for this?? The stern looking official called the press box and got the Sting VP of PR. He recognized our fake names and apologized to the official that he must have forgotten to put us on the list. Bingo we were in. Wow, national television, real media, a foreign country, it was incredible. After we won, of course we crashed the locker room.
MiB: How much football do you watch now? Who do you support?
JS: After the demise of our great hopes for professional soccer died in the 80s I lost touch with professional soccer for at least a decade except for the World Cup. All the predictions that soccer was the game of the future we had spouted with friends had collapsed in a heap. In the last decade or so with good television coverage I have picked up a Manchester City habit. I loved watching the Kompany, Toure, Silva, Aguero machine. I also had to pick a team that was not the dominant Man U. Since MLS spring training has come here to Tucson I have picked up the MLS habit as well and am following RSL as the nearest team.