Before Arango and Raul, before Cabañas, Chinaglia and even Pele, before the sold-out crowds and worldwide fame, New York had a very different kind of scorer.
While The Cosmos travel to Bermuda for their final vote ahead of the NASL kick-off in Puerto Rico, we’re kicking off a short series of key goalscorers from the team’s distant and recent history. And where better to start than with a Bermuda man who was the original Cosmos striker.
On April 17, 1971, The New York Cosmos played their first competitive game in front of only 3701 fans at the Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis. The players, adopted New Yorkers from all over the world, had only met a few weeks ago. But it was the physical condition of her 1.80 meter tall striker that left the first traces in the Kosmos history book. Running on a Kyriakos Fitilis free kick and climbing over St. Louis central defender Steve Frank, Bermuda’s Randy Horton was there to take a sturdy shot into the net for the first Cosmos goal. And it would certainly not have been the last time.
In a 2013 interview with club historian David Kilpatrick, Randy Horton was able to tell his contribution to this historic moment with impressive clarity:
“I remember that goal. I can see myself where I ran away, Steve Frank is walking with me … and boom! At the very back of the net. Above all, it was just great to go out as a team in the first game we played in NASL. “
But unlike the strikers who would follow him, Horton was not an established global soccer star. At the time he was signed by Cosmos, he was a PhD student at Rutgers working on his Masters in Secondary School Administration. He intended to return to his native Bermuda to continue his educational career (and he actually would). But while playing amateur football for the Philadelphia-Ukraine in the German American League, Horton met another former league player, a certain Gordon Bradley, who was to become the first Cosmos coach. And Bradley made Horton his second engagement for the young New York team.
Raised in Bermuda, a British overseas territory, Horton was exposed to two sports strongly linked to British colonies – soccer and cricket – and showed great potential in both areas. While studying at Culham College, Oxford, England, he caught the attention of cricket and soccer teams of the highest order. He was offered trial training at Worcestershire County Cricket Club and Huddersfield Town (then in the old English Second Division), but declined in favor of returning to his homeland: “England was too cold, I wanted to go back to Bermuda”.
While working as a teacher in Bermuda in the late 1960s, Horton represented the island internationally in both football and cricket. But it was his desire to advance his career in education rather than sports that led to his fateful decision to join Rutgers and, ultimately, Cosmos.
Not only did Horton score the team’s first goal, but he became a key member of the Cosmos squad in the early years. This inaugural season he was an outstanding performer, collecting 16 goals and 5 assists in 24 regular season and playoff games, receiving the NASL Rookie of the Year Award.
But 1972 was a “career year” for the Bermudian. In a season with a greatly reduced schedule, Horton fired the Cosmos for their first soccer bowl and scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win for the team’s first NASL championship:
“That was a great night, we just had a couple of boys [who] really connected. It was almost like a love affair “
Randy Horton celebrates with the NASL Championship Trophy 1972 https://twitter.com/ClassicNASL
Horton scored ten goals in a total of 15 appearances and led the league in terms of goals scored. In addition, Horton was elected NASL MVP:
“I always noticed that. I’ve won a lot of awards in my time, but that was something special because it was a confirmation from my colleagues. “
The 1973 season led to another playoff appearance, in which Horton again took the lead. But 1974 was a different story. Although Horton topped Cosmos’ scoring list again, the team only managed four wins in twenty games. As the club began shifting gears with the approach of the Pele era, Horton was traded to the Washington Diplomats in exchange for three first-round draft picks.
Horton played a season with the Diplomats and a handful of games with the Hartford Bicentennials before returning to Bermuda to pursue his educational career. In total, he played 70 games for the Cosmos and scored 44 goals with 18 assists.
Horton (16) with the World Cup winning squad from 1972 http://nasljerseys.com/images/Cosmos/Cosmos%2072%20Road%20Team%202.jpg
One can only guess that the salaries for Cosmos players in the early years were not quite as lucrative as they were to become later (even for a star striker like Horton). During his stay in New York, the Bermudian also held a position in the accounting department of Atlantic Records. And although Horton’s stay in the cosmos preceded the Halcyon “Once in a Lifetime” era, he had his own contact with the kind of lifestyle the cosmos represented:
“I had a lot of fun, got to know interesting people who I would otherwise never have had. I remember going into a recording session with Led Zeppelin one day. That was special “
In 1998, after a decade as a school principal, followed by an equally lengthy career in the Bermuda Department of Tourism, Randy Horton entered politics and was elected to the Bermuda Parliament, where he has remained to this day. In 2013 he was elected Speaker of the House of Assembly.
So, no doubt, Horton is delighted that his old team is showing up in his beloved home. In an interview this week with Bermuda’s Royal Gazette, Horton compared the current Cosmos with the team of his time, presumably at least with a twinkle in his eye:
“I encourage Bermuda to come out and watch the crew. I’m not sure if it will be as good as the team I played for, but there will be a lot of excitement. You can’t talk about football in the United States without mentioning the New York Cosmos at some point, so I’m glad they are coming here. “
Indeed, you can’t talk about the New York cosmos without mentioning Randy Horton at some point.
But what about that day in April 1971, does The Honorable Kenneth Howard Randolph Horton, JP, MP still remember his contribution to the cosmos lore?
“I still remember the first goal I scored, it was 1971 in St. Louis after a free kick just outside the penalty area …”
Clearly, no matter how the game ends on Sunday, Randy Horton will always be an important part of Cosmos history, and he certainly won’t let you forget it.