Three years ago, Gordon Jago returned to his native England to meet Queen Elizabeth II at her palace. He was given specific instructions for the encounter: When she extends her right hand, that’s the signal it’s over. Shake her hand, back off four paces, bow, turn to your right, go off. Jago first came to the USA in 1967 to coach the Baltimore Bays in the new pro league that would become the NASL. He had a stint as coach of the U.S. national team, coached the Tampa Bay Rowdies - one of the great success stories in American pro soccer - and coached the indoor Dallas Sidekicks in the 1980s and 1990s after the NASL folded. Since 2002 he has been executive director of the Dallas Cup, arguably the most prestigious international youth tournament in the world. That day at the palace, the Queen knighted three people and then bestowed MBEs (Member of the Order of the British Empire) on about of 100 others for achievements in the arts, sciences and public services. Jago, honored for services to the promotion of international youth soccer, was one of the last to go up to the podium and was surprised that the 80-year-old Queen still took the time to chat. She asked, "Are you still involved in international youth football? How long you have you been doing it?"
Coaching professional soccer in the early days when Jago came to the USA demanded far more than preparing a team for games. It meant popularizing the game by sowing the seeds of youth soccer and creating a relationship with the community to spawn soccer fans. Jago and his players spent countless hours with young players. And Jago, who was an assistant coach for the U.S. national team in 1969 and the head coach for two games - World Cup qualifiers for the 1970s finals that the USA lost to Haiti - always had a deep commitment to growing the sport in the USA. "I always felt there was so much to do here in soccer and so much tremendous opportunity," says Jago, who made his first American connections when as coach of Fulham he came to Oakland, Calif., for an exhibition against Hungarian champion Vasas SC. After two years with the Baltimore Bays, Jago, who started coaching with the English FA while still a Charlton Athletic player, returned to England and took charge of Queen’s Park Rangers. The club’s official Web site says, "Gordon Jago laid the early foundations for the greatest team in the history of Queens Park Rangers Football Club." After QPR he coached Millwall then returned to the USA to take charge of the Tampa Bay Rowdies who were runners-up twice and averaged more than 20,000 fans while Jago was at the helm from 1978 to 1982. "The Rowdies were averaging about 30,000 fans a few years after it was impossible to find a soccer ball in a sports store in that town," says Jago. But the NASL folded after 1984. Legions of foreign players and coaches who came to America during the NASL took advantage of the boom years and went home, but others, such as Jago, stayed. "I enjoyed the way of life and made so many friends here," he says. "In spite of the doom and gloom heard from certain people, I continued to believe in American soccer. Otherwise I would have left when the NASL collapsed."
The indoor pro game gave Jago a chance to stay in the U.S. game. He coached the Dallas Sidekicks to MISL and CISL championships. And when most people retire, he went to work for the Dallas Cup, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. The tournament is famous for bringing top youth clubs from around the world to compete against U.S. teams. Participants have included David Beckham, Raul, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Diego and Robinho. "At my old age I’m still involved and I’m still having a tremendous amount of fun," says Jago, who turned 77 in October. "People say, ’Gordon, you’re so passionate.’ I’m either passionate or crazy, take your pick."
Many thanks to our good friend Mike Woitalla at Soccer America for this article which originally appeared in the magazine’s November 1, 2009 issue. Please visit Soccer America’s website at www.socceramerica.com for more great articles by Mike and the Soccer America staff.