KC And His Sunshine Vision

Tycoon Who Might Have Made Wolves Trail Blazers

Jack Kent Cooke in later years.

Tired of reading about yet another foreign oligarch trying to buy into English football? Worried where the trend of overseas ownership of our clubs will end?

Read on and reflect how Wolves might, just might, have set a trend and been snaffled from distant shores as far back as 43 years ago.

So smitten was sports mogul Jack Kent Cooke with the performance of Ronnie Allen’s team of tourists in their guise as the 1967 Los Angeles Wolves that he expressed interest in a purchase of the parent club at the unthinkable sum of one million dollars.

Kent Cooke was the franchise president behind a side who criss-crossed America over seven memorable weeks to win the inaugural United Soccer Association Championship.

And, about his interest in broadening his business base into England, he told Daily Mail football writer Mervyn Thomas at the time: “I just want the privilege of being associated with Wolves and the thrill of flying over to see them play.”

Nothing came of his approach but Kent Cooke, a Toronto-born multi-millionaire whose main interest was as owner of the Washington Redskins NFL team, was not alone in looking towards the English game.

The revealing Fleet Street piece from 43 years ago.

The same Daily Mail piece said Atlanta Chiefs vice-president Dick Cecil flew 5,000 miles to try to secure a 51 per cent stake in Aston Villa.

And it claimed that Coventry, who had just pipped Wolves to the Second Division title, might well have been ripe for similar interest had they chosen to celebrate their promotion triumph with a tour of America rather than one of the Caribbean.

The link between Wolves and Kent Cooke didn’t quite end there.

In the dark Molineux days of the early 1980s, Les Wilson, by then extremely well known in Canadian and American soccer through his career on and off the pitch with Vancouver Whitecaps and in international football, made an unsuccessful follow-up approach on Wolves’ behalf.

“On several occasions when we were there in 1967, Mr Kent Cooke invited me to his home in Los Angeles to discuss football, so I did get to know him,” Wilson said.

“I am sure that he was curious how a Canadian was playing in the Wolves team and we stayed in contact over my career.  He was also the owner of the LA Lakers basketball team, LA Kings ice hockey team and the Washington Redskins NFL team.”

Despite the efforts of another member of the 1967 Los Angeles squad, Derek Dougan, Wolves were nosediving towards oblivion in the mid-1980s and were presumably nothing like the attraction the businessman had seen them as a decade and a half earlier.

Kent Cooke died in 1997, aged 84, following heart problems. He was said to have been worth between $700m and $1.2 billion, so is it fanciful to wonder whether he might have become an early Roman Abramovich?

Wolves on parade in Los Angeles in 1967.

Getting to Wolves games might have been more troublesome, though, than affording the game’s foremost players. His acute claustrophobia meant he hated flying intensely – and even had to touch down in Kansas for a break on coast-to-coast flights from California to Washington.

* A full account of Wanderers’ summer as Los Angeles Wolves, written by Jim Heath, appears in the Tours Are Us section of this website.

Thomas Publications