They bickered among themselves, they bickered with their coaching staff, they pulled pranks on each other and they won championships — 10 of them, to be exact.
They were the original San Diego Sockers and they will be honored by the newest version of the club in a special halftime ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 29, at the Del Mar Arena when the “young” Sockers, now members of the fledgling Professional Arena Soccer League-Pro, square off against the San Diego Fusion in the southwest regional final of the 2010-11 U.S. Open Cup for Arena Soccer.
Kick-off is 6:15 p.m.
“I could tell you stories all morning and all afternoon,” said Juli Veee, unquestionably the most popular of all the original Sockers.
The Sockers arrived in town in 1978 as members of the North American Soccer League, the forerunner to today’s Major League Soccer. The team had its origins in Baltimore in 1974 and played one season as the San Diego Jaws in 1976 before moving to Las Vegas the following season.
The franchise never really caught on at the outdoor level but when the club finally ventured indoors at the San Diego Sports Arena, it was magic.
“Lightning in a bottle,” said Sockers legend Brian Quinn, otherwise known as the heart and soul of the original club.
“It was a most exciting time,” added Sockers legend Zoltan Toth, the team’s heralded goalkeeper. “We had crowds of 10,000 for many years.”
Sellouts were common during the team’s many championship runs and exposure on ESPN gave the league in which it played — the Major Indoor Soccer League — a sense of legitimacy.
But it didn’t last.
The original Sockers finally went the way of the dinosaur after the collapse of the MISL following the 1992 season and subsequent switch to a successor circuit, the Continental Indoor Soccer League (1993-96) that also eventually went belly up. A revival team competed in the World Indoor Soccer League (2001) and MISL II (2002-04).
The newest edition of the fabled franchise is celebrating its second season in the scaled-down PASL-Pro, a league aspiring to recreate the magic of the indoor game in North America on a modest operating budget.
The new Sockers have carried the torch well so far for the team of which they are namesakes. The Socks were North American champions in their inaugural season in 2009-10, winning both the PASL-Pro national championship and U.S. Open Cup for Arena Soccer.
“The greatest era of the San Diego Sports Arena was watching these players go about with their ‘feets’ of magic,” new Sockers general manager John Kentera said at a Tuesday news conference at the San Diego Sports Arena, the site of the original team’s most magical moments. “It was time we, as the newest version of the team, re-connected with the original Sockers.”
The Dec. 29 halftime ceremony will specifically honor the 1985-86 MISL champions (the”One for the Thumb” team) that captured the original Sockers’ fifth consecutive indoor title. Members of the current Sockers will wear replica ’85-86 jerseys for the game.
The Socks’ string of championships was interrupted just once, when the Dallas Sidekicks won the 1986-87 MISL title. The fabled club, which was once owned by the Ancira family of Chula Vista (1991-94), closed out its MISL existence with another run of five straight championships.
Paul Wright, a member of the original MISL team, is still playing for the Sockers. He was a member of last year’s PASL-Pro North American championship team and is back for more this season. He currently ranks in a tie for second in team scoring with 12 points on four goals and eight assists.
“There’s a lot of tradition and pride when you put on that uniform,” said Wright, a Grossmont High School alumnus who hasn’t lost much of a step at age 41. “There’s a lot of tradition when you look up at all those banners. You don’t want to let all the guys who played on those teams down. As a player you feel pressure to live up to the standard they set.”
For many, it will be hard to replicate the electricity of the original Sockers but this new group is trying its best, off to a 6-1 start this season.
“There are a lot of players on the Sockers today who remind me of some of our players,” Quinn said. “It’s calling back what we did — we had players who could score and we always had good defenders.”
The best of all the original Sockers? All of the team members at Tuesday’s press conference were in agreement: the late Kaz Deyna,
“It was a pleasure to play here,” Veee said. “We made a connection with San Diego.”
The new Sockers are hoping to do the same.
For more information, visit the Web site at www.sdsockers. com or call (866) 799-4625.