TUKWILA, Wash. — Former Derby County legend Alan Hinton is known to most Sounders FC fans as a television broadcast analyst. So it may come as a surprise to some of the younger fans that he’s well known north of the border as well.
Now a regular fixture at Sounders training sessions, the 68-year-old Hinton had two separate stints in Vancouver — the first as a player in 1978, the second as a manager in 1984, the club’s last season in the old North American Soccer League.
In ’78, he came out of retirement to play 29 matches and set the NASL record for assists in a season with 30, easily beating the previous record of 18 held by Pelé and George Best. In advance of the Vancouver-Seattle match this Saturday, Hinton was in the mood to share some of his memories of that magical ’78 season.
It all started when Hinton retired after Dallas didn’t make him an offer at the end of the ’77 season. Eschewing a chance to play for his old coach Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, Hinton joined Tony Waiters’ Vancouver staff as an assistant coach.
Hinton’s first act was to deliver a pair of English players with whom he was familiar, Kevin Hector and Jon Sammels. Then the Dallas club, wanting Hinton back, “wined and dined” Hinton and his wife. Even though they offered more money to come back to Texas as a player, Hinton had to refuse.
“I wanted to go back to Dallas so badly because I had had a great time there, but I couldn’t go to Kevin Hector and Jon Sammels — who had actually signed in my house — and say, ‘Have a good time in Vancouver, I’m going to Dallas!’” Hinton said. “I couldn’t do it.”
Even so, Hinton hadn’t planned on playing in the ’78 season. The comeback started during a conversation with Waiters, who planned to sign left winger Gordon Taylor from the previous season.
“I said ‘Tony, I’m better than him,’” Hinton said. “So he said, ‘You better get some weight off!’”
Hinton agreed. He shed 20 pounds and set the tempo for the 24-6 1978 Vancouver Whitecaps. The crowds responded — according to Hinton, the attendance tripled from the opening match until the team was selling out 33,000 seats every game.
The left winger, known in his playing days as “Gladys,” loved every minute of it.
“Anyway, I came out of retirement, I played, and I had the best time,” Hinton said. “Anytime you’ve retired and you get another chance to play, it’s a gift every day.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS