It’s not every day an American soccer journalist, even the author of a new book spotlighting the very futbol moment most associated with Seamus Malin, sits down for a drink with the man himself. Still, when he and I met for an early October libation in Cambridge, not a single note was taken. Instead we gabbed as friends might — about his daughter, the traffic, Shep Messing, Rai Copeland, Gregg Berhalter and my parents, who had courted right there in the Square at precisely the same time (1961-62) Seamus prowled this terrain as a Harvard undergraduate.
I’ve worked mainly in the golf business since 1992. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing and otherwise rubbing elbows with all manner of famous competitors (Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus) and the media folk who cover them. In short, I’ve been doing this journalist thing a long time. I wasn’t particularly cowed or intimidated in researching this book — especially when speaking to the stars of Generation Zero, the national team players from the late 1980s who are, in fact, my exact contemporaries.
An audience with Malin, however, felt altogether different: Here is a man, a contemporary of my own father, who called the famous match my book spends 400 pages leading up to — the 1989 qualifier decided by Paul Caligiuri’s so-called Shot Heard ‘Round the World, the one that sent the U.S. to its first World Cup in 40 years. From this moment and all through the 1990s, including World Cup ’94, Seamus Malin was the voice of soccer in this country.
Two factors quickly vaporized any aloofness that may have existed between us: First, Malin is a fine fellow, full of bonhomie. And second, he loved the book — even though I never spoke to him while researching or writing it. This potentially awkward fact was established and defused straightaway, in July 2022, when I first reached out to offer him a review copy. And it was here that I learned something else about Seamus Malin: The man gives good email:
Hal Hi: This is AWESOME !!!! I am SOOOO pumped to read this!” he wrote back the very next day. “And to have the endorsement of [Jim] Trecker and [Dr. Andrei] Markovits is wildly exciting. For the record, I was delighted to put a blurb on the dust jacket of his “Exceptionalism” back in the day. [Malin is referring to Markovits’ 2001 book, “Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism.”] I am ashamed to say I do NOT know you. I am almost 82 and retired with a vengeance in Santa Fe, N.M., but would love to talk, if you are keen. The mind tumbles with sweet memory and deep love for those guys and that era. BRAVO. Cannot wait. Thanks SOOOO much for including me on the heads-up email list. Very best. Seamus Malin
And so a correspondence and a friendship were born, the latter confirmed by those drinks. Because I didn’t take notes at Grendel’s, I’m sharing here bits from our summer threads, developed whilst he was reading Generation Zero. I’m glad to introduce Dr. Markovits here, because he and Seamus both offered live edits of GZ, via email, as they read through the narrative. This was, to say the least, an unnerving process for me, but ultimately a gratifying one. [Visit the home page here to read the Good Doctor’s testimonial. Indeed, on account of GZ, today he and I share a publisher.]
Still, such close and accomplished readers tend to result in the identification of mistakes. Input from Dr. Markovits resulted in a few, much appreciated, late-stage corrections. Seamus read GZ post release, and he soon pointed out the most glaring published error to date:
Hi Hal: Still savoring your tome on the Boys of 89 et al. Not much disagreement at all at this end with your analysis — except I came upon a shocker last night. You state that Wesleyan did not have Varsity Soccer until 1968… but that cannot be true !!! I was class of 1962 at Harvard and in my senior year 1961 we had a knock-down drag-down match at Middletown, Conn. which we won 3-2 with the half time score also being 3-2. It was a classic, played in a downpour, and the Wesleyan dorms emptied and surrounded the field with raucous support and abuse of the enemy !!! I had been All Ivy the year before and felt I was marked tightly, shall we say. All in good fun and a terrific match. So where this 1968 comes from I have no idea.
Here’s where it came from: My own addled mind. Wesleyan University, my alma mater FFS, has been playing varsity soccer since 1924. But I was ignorant of this fact during the writing of GZ, wherein I make the point that many U.S. collegiate programs were founded only in the 1960s and ‘70s. I somehow confused the program’s founding with the tenure of my longtime coach, Terry Jackson, who arrived in Middletown prior to the 1968 season. One hopes that, in time, the Wes Soccer Community can forgive me… On the subject of other errors, to be corrected in future editions (!): I misspelled the name of Rai Copland, a founder of my hometown Wellesley United Soccer Club; and 1989 USMNTer Jim Gabarra’s time at Connecticut College did not overlap with my tenure at Wesleyan — he graduated the spring 1982, while I arrived in Middletown the fall of 1982. That’s it, though surely more will be made known to me in the passage of time.
Postscript: Coach Jackson died in June 2022, just prior to GZ’s publication, and when I informed Seamus, he revealed a previously unknown backstory: In the ‘70s we tried to lure Terry to Harvard but he was too in love with small town rural life and the deep appeal of small college coaching !! Tell your pals if this new info comes from the Peoples Republic of Cambridge it must be fake news !! Seamus
In August 2022, only a few weeks after GZ’s release, I spoke to former USMNTer and NASL stalwart Al Trost for a story eventually published by Soccer America. The hook: Trost played on the 1972 Olympic team that competed at the Munich Games marked by the terrorist killing of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. The 50th anniversary of those tragic events: September 2022. For this piece I had originally reached out, via Instagram (!), to the one and only Shep Messing, a hero of mine and to all those who participated in America’s “Youth Soccer Revolution” during the 1970s. Shep also features in my book’s opening set piece — the effective mauling of Pelé during a 1975 Cosmos-Minutemen tilt in Boston, an NASL match and event my 10-year-old self was there to witness. The fans stormed the field and dispossessed O Rei of his shirt because they thought he’d tied the score — but his “goal” was eventually disallowed!
More to the point, Messing played on the same Olympic team captained by Al Trost. Shep and I had a very nice chat in late July, though he has stopped speaking publicly on the events of September 1972. Or so he explained, quite amiably. This is most understandable: He covered them in his autobiography and has given several interviews through the years. As a Jew, Shep felt there was nothing more for him to say on the matter.
Via email, I explained all this to Seamus. Naturally, this led to another juicy treasure trove of early American soccer insight, connections and jaunty hearsay. In fact, Seamus had called that very Minutemen-Cosmos game on the radio!
Hi Hal: Congrats on getting to Shep. Successfully recruited him for Harvard back in the day and we remain good close buddies to this day. I agree with him that the ball never went in. It rebounded quickly back into play, possibly off the post but more likely off one of the many fans who had invaded the field and were swarming around just behind the end line by the side of the goal !! That is what I called on radio anyhow!! Did Shep tell you that when the crowd burst onto the field to congratulate Pelé on his “goal”, that Shep dived on top of the fallen Pele to protect him from the wild mob ?? Can’t make this stuff up !! Loving the book so far. Very informative and thought provoking. No wonder my old friend Andy Markovits endorsed it so warmly. To be continued. Seamus
Hal Hi: Quick note to say I enjoyed very much the Al Trost piece. I can tell you that Shep Messing was one of the two who walked in the Opening Ceremony [against coach’s orders] at Munich 1972, because he was promptly benched and sat out the first two games as I recall. He played against West Germany and was fabulous even while losing 7-0. The crowd was chanting TORWART over and over, in his honor. That word is German for “keeper”.
Hard not to admire the tack-sharp mind of Seamus Malin, who was indeed born in 1940, three years after my own father. And while my dad passed away in 2011, I still recall how easily he was moved to tears later in his life. I still think of him often, of course. Yet I thought of him again as Seamus approached the conclusion of Generation Zero.
Hal Hi: Closing in on final fifteen pages and reluctant to put it down. Terrific read and to be savored again methinks, down the line. It is a classic and needs wide attention. Bravo. Where do you hang out these days? Must get together anon. I will be back for Harvard Alum Soccer Weekend in early October, maybe then? Cheers mate, Seamus
Hal Hi: Just finished the book and found myself close to tears !!! It is a beautiful warts and all tribute to a stunning bunch of American guys and to the out of this world magic that was Nov 19, 1989, and all that it led to. I too loved that team more than any, even the ‘94 guys who rocked the country when the show was here. Many of them the same  core, as you point out. What else could I do but go to Google and run the 40 seconds of Cal’s wonder strike with JP [Dellacamera] and moi on the call !! Touching revisit, never to be forgotten. We MUST meet and chat ere long. Heartfelt thanks for this enormous graceful tribute to those guys and the times. With deep deep gratitude and admiration, Seamus