One battle won, Cooke jumped into the next. Consider the great soccer caper. Soccer, as everyone knows, is a fast game played by bare-legged men kicking at a ball and each other. It is very big everywhere in the world—except in the U.S. And after the rather startling success of the recent World Cup match, which was bounced into this country by TV satellite, a hard core of promoters kept coming back to the idea that in time it could become America's sports sweetheart.
Cooke was one. Besides, he had a couple of open days left in the week, remember? Arthur Allyn, who owns the Chicago White Sox, was another, plus such notables as George Fleharty, who owns the Ice Follies; William Clay Ford, who owns the NFL Detroit Lions; and Texans Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs and Judge Roy Hofheinz, who owns the Houston Astros and the dome they play under.
"Actually," said Cooke, "there is less need to educate people in soccer than there is in hockey. It is the coming-sport. It is on the verge..."
This is the verge: starting this April, Americans are going to get soccer with a vengeance. Cooke and associates formed the North American Soccer League and got sanction from the F�d�ration Internationale de Football Association, the sport's world-governing body, thereby becoming the In league. The Out league—the National Professional Soccer League—does not have official sanction, but it does have a CBS-TV contract, which it figures is even better. The matches will look the same. Both leagues claim they will present top stars, drawing heavily on imported talent—players who have finished their regular, exhausting winter seasons around the world—who will play during the summer in the U.S.
League owners will pour funds into educating the public. "It will be a promotional-and-merchandising job on a scale comparable to what a major automotive or soap company, for example, undertakes when it attempts to 'condition' the public to its new product." And remember what happened at Colgate when Cooke began to sell soap.
But even this summer there will be some dreadful days when Cooke won't have a team of some sort doing something for fun and money. No matter. It will come in time.
"You pay dearly for all this in emotional wear and tear and bruising," says Cooke. "But the profits far outweigh the bruising. And hope springs eternal. I have this refusal to succumb..."
Funny how Cooke shows no signs of bruises. His critics claim he is still just a slicker and not all that rich. Meanwhile, Cooke lives and looks all that rich. Inside his sprawling Mediterranean home on three acres in Bel Air, he could finance another soccer league just by selling off a Utrillo or an Augustus John or two; the place is so full of expensive art and antiques that he keeps the Wedgewood vases in the basement because there is no room for them upstairs.
If he does come upon hard times he could raise the money by writing songs. Cooke still gets royalties on his Love Is Gone, a tender ballad he composed years ago when he was Oley Kent. Ray Anthony recorded it on 78. Surely everybody remembers Ray Eberly crooning:
Love is gone;
We've had our share.
I've done my part,
But you weren't there...