Soccer at Howard has always been tied to race and multinationalism. A coach named Ted Chambers organized a soccer club at the university in 1947, but local, predominantly white colleges refused to put Howard on their schedules. With no opponents, Howard played for the next three years against embassy teams in Washington.
From the start, the university soccer squad was composed mostly of students from outside the U.S., but the student body at large was also international. Out of 10,152 students in 1971, there were 1,700 foreign students from 72 nations. The foreigners who came to Howard entered the cultural maelstrom of the era, and the soccer players, as much as anyone, got a crash course in U.S. race relations.
"In Trinidad we had [social] divisions, but they were based more on class than race," says Keith Tulloch, a midfielder on the '74 team. "When I came here, it was the first time someone had ever called me nigger, the first time a player had ever spat in my face."
During road games the insults were legion. "They'd say, 'Go back, banana boat. Go back, monkey. Go back to the jungle,' " Phillips recalls. "I had to tell my players that anytime that is done, it's fine to get angry, but you have to know how to get angry: Put the balls in the back of the net."
Here Phillips smiles. "They did that with amazing regularity, you know."
At the start of the '74 season, Phillips asked Dom Basil Matthews, a professor at the university, to speak to the team one day before practice. The players listened as Matthews described their role in what he called a triangle of blackness.
"He told them if you look back at the slave trade, you see people taken away from Africa to the West Indies and the United States," Phillips says. "The farther they came away, the more they were stripped out of their culture. The only thing missing was that line back to Africa, an acceptance of one's self. That's where Howard University is positioned—within the middle of that triangle, bringing the cultures together. And soccer was a big part of that."
When Matthews finished, the team was silent. "That was the first time that all of us as a group related to the idea of race in the environment we were now living in," says Bain. "But it was beyond race. It was like [Nelson] Mandela speaking, someone who is in a situation of race but seems above the race issue. Matthews wanted the season to be not so much a blow against white America or the NCAA but to bring pride to all of the different African groups, so that people all over the black world would notice our team."
Inasmuch as Howard was a microcosm of that world, the professor's wish was granted. "It just grew and grew," says Winston Yallery-Arthur, a former Howard player and volunteer assistant coach. "People who had never been to a soccer game started coming to watch the team play." As word spread of the team's success, professors began canceling their two o'clock classes on game days. The school band learned to play a samba beat and kept it going for the duration of matches.
"We weren't just playing soccer," says Phillips. "We were representing the game, our school and blackness. We felt black people needed to tell themselves they could succeed just like anybody else. So we had to be good."