1980 American Soccer League champion PENNSYLVANIA STONERS …….. Nigeria international striker CHRISTIAN NWOKOCHA is second from left in the back row standing next to former college teammate and Stoners reserve goalkeeper BILL FINNEYFROCK.
September 14, 1980 … A partisan crowd of 8,139 (second-largest of the season) arrive at the old Allentown School District Stadium for the first home playoff contest of the current American Soccer League campaign. The colorful PENNSYLVANIA STONERS, proudly sporting their now-famous Alpo dog food kit, play host to the visiting NEW YORK UNITED complete with aging Argentina international NARCISO DOVAL, the 36-year-old former CA San Lorenzo (Arg), CR Flamengo and CF Fluminese (both Brazil) attacking talent who finished tied for second place in the A.S.L. with 12 goals during the regular season. Following the 1-1 draw the previous week in New York, this return encounter will be a winner-take-all affair in the home and home, total-goals tie.
Thanks in part to a goal apiece from a pair of Clemson University products, the Stoners see off the New York United 3-1 and triumphantly march into the A.S.L. championship match. Midfielder CLYDE WATSON, the native of Guyana who had been honored as a league All-Star in 1979 after a fine rookie term with the now-dormant New York Eagles, will actually return for another season of professional soccer at A.S.D. Stadium and ultimately lead owner / trainer WILLIE EHRLICH’s last team with 11 goals in 1981. In stark contrast, however, striker CHRISTIAN NWOKOCHA — who led Ehrlich’s original enstallment with 13 goals on its maiden voyage in 1979 — had found the back of the net one final time while fashioning the legendary Pennsylvania Stoners uniform.
Ehrlich’s side would defeat the defending champions, the incoming Sacramento Gold, exactly four days later and be deservedly crown the A.S.L.’s king. Barely a fortnight thereafter, the title-winning striker from Nigeria came on to start the second half as a substitute for new club Sporting Lisbon in a 1-1 exhibition draw with the touring New York Cosmos — the reigning champions in the North American Soccer League — at the old Estadio Jose Alvalade in the capital city of Portugal. Nwokocha would find competition for a place with the “Leoes” (Lions) to be stiff, particularly with the likes of experienced Portugal international strikers such as club veterans RUI JORDAO (43 caps, 15 go) and MANUEL FERNANDES (30 caps, 7 go) both on hand.
Up to this point in time, the Green Eagles national side had, for whatever reason, always declined to recall players based overseas. Many people to this day insist Nigeria would have qualified for the final tournament of the 1978 FIFA World Cup hosted by Argentina had then-NCAA goal-scoring wizard THOMPSON USIYAN of Appalachian State University in North Carolina not been bypassed by the national team trainer. Matters were re-evaluated after the Nigerians won the Africa Nations Cup for the very first time ever in March of 1980 but lost its 1982 FIFA Word Cup first round, first leg qualifying match to Tunisia just three months later.
Winger JOHN CHIEDOZIE and midfielder TUNJI BANJO of English Second Division side FC Leyton Orient were both drafted into the national team for the second leg with the Tunisians, an affair which saw the Nigerians level the tie and eventually advance only after penalty kicks. The Green Eagles continued to sputter, though, and could only draw 1-1 at home in Lagos against unheralded Tanzania several months later at the beginning of December. And so, the former Pennsylvania Stoners striker now on the books at powerful Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon (and destined to become 1981/82 Primera Divisao champion under new English trainer Malcolm Allison) was inserted into the Nigeria line-up for the return leg in Dar es Salaam.
December 20, 1980 … A scoreless draw would be enough to do the trick for Tanzania but the legionnaire Chiedozie wrecked that idea with a first-ever goal for the Green Eagles five minutes into the match in front of a reported 50,000 at the old National Stadium. The speedy winger was only months away from being sold by Leyton Orient to newly-promoted First Division outfit Notts County for the new club record of 600,000 English pounds and would later join well-known London club Tottenham Hotspur a few years on. Of course, the Tanzanians had come up with a second half equalizer two weeks earlier on the road in Lagos and, thus, still had all to play for.
The old NATIONAL STADIUM (above) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was originally constructed in 1961 and, technically, always listed a capacity for only 25,000 spectators. However, as a person can easily see, the facility was always one that unofficially allowed for overflow crowds that would prove difficult for any sort of hard and fast head-count of passionate Tanzanian football fans arriving to cheer on the national side in a World Cup qualifer, just for example. Nowadays, the east African country on the coast of the Indian Ocean has a new football field for the Taifa Stars, the BENJAMIN MKAPA NATIONAL STADIUM, a modern arena which was built to meet exisiting FIFA and Olympic standards in 2007 and officially holds 60,000 people.
But another foreign-based attacker would hammer a final nail in Tanzania’s World Cup coffin with his first-ever goal for the Nigeria senior national side. It was Nwokocha, then, who stoned the home team’s hopes of a Spanish adventure to death with a second strike eleven minutes from time at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam. A Tiger’s spectacular transition from firing A.S.L. goals in Allentown’s West End to filling the net in the prestigous FIFA World Cup had been completed!