July 29, 2014
By Charles Cuttone
Threads in soccer’s colorful tapestry
Phil Stephens never met Nancy Osserman. It’s too bad. They would have gotten along famously, if for no other reason than each provided a rather long thread in the colorful tapestry that is American soccer.
Though from different parts of the country, different generations and very distinct backgrounds, each had an abiding love for the game of soccer that dated from the virtual stone ages of the North American Soccer League.
Their dying two weeks apart leaves a void not only in the lives of those who knew them, but in the soccer community at large. Especially for those who know or remember that the sport had a history long before everyone started to gather in public places to watch the World Cup.
That’s the thing about soccer. There are very few degrees of separation. If you love the game, if you are invested in it, there is a direct connection and a thread that weaves through everyone in the game. That thread could be that Pelé knew both of them, or it could be one of the many journalists Phil worked with over the years, or that Nancy grabbed a dinner check for those years ago travelling with the Cosmos.
In their own ways each contributed to the growth of the game. Phil started photographing and writing about the game in the very early 70s when working at a local paper in the Dallas area and Lamar Hunt invited him to a Tornado game. He caught the bug. He covered soccer ever since, working hard to make a living covering the game he fell in love with. Along the way he got to shoot Pelé in his NASL days, the first Women’s World Cup in China—as one of the few Americans there -- and the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
If some can be considered patrons of the arts, Nancy could have been considered a patron of the sport. Born into a family of some means, she wasn’t wealthy enough to fulfill her dream of owning a team, but she sure did her part to try and keep a few in business.
If there is such a record, Nancy probably holds the one for most season tickets to different pro soccer franchises. In addition to having the entire front row at midfield at Giants Stadium, where home and visiting players occasionally stopped by to say hello or give her Mother’s Day flowers, she also had season tickets for the Philadelphia Fury and New England Tea Men, Las Vegas Quicksilvers and New York Arrows. The Cosmos were her first love. She rarely missed a game, and frequently traveled with the team on the road, sometimes taking a small entourage of her own with her. The tickets to the other teams’ games didn’t go to waste. Like a Johnny Appleseed, she spread them among, family, friends, charities, anyone who would go.
If your version of heaven is the best place you can imagine being, then Phil is on the sidelines shooting a game, and Nancy is at midfield in the front row. And I dunno, I hope our dog Zim is somewhere nearby.