Investors in American professional soccer, emboldened by the high viewership ratings for the 1966 World Cup final, creates 22 teams and two warring leagues in 1967. Vancouver secures a United Soccer Association franchise, the Royal Canadians, and there is rumored interest in expanding soon to Seattle.
With that as the backdrop, local promoters arrange to bring Chelsea to Memorial Stadium once the English season is completed, on May 28. The Blues finish ninth in the first division and advance to the FA Cup final, where they fall, 2-1, to Tottenham on May 20. They promptly take flight to the West Coast of North America where they also make stops in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Victoria. It’s all part of a 24-day tour through the U.S., Canada and Bermuda.
Rarely was admission charged and attendance taken at soccer matches around Puget Sound to that point, so the Chelsea game would serve as the first barometer for soccer as a business. Tickets were priced $2 in advance and $1 for students and children.
Elsewhere, some of Chelsea’s touring dates featured another foreign invader. Seattle settled on a local contingent. The Hungarians might have been more rehearsed and cohesive as a team, but instead Alex Lennox was appointed manager and it became a select squad. The Hungarians were well represented, and all of the Northwest All-Stars were foreign-born. Baldwin, the future Sounders midfielder, scored twice in Chelsea’s 5-0 win.
More importantly, the match attracted 6,400 spectators – a respectable turnout and comparable to most NPSL and USA games. It was sufficient to spur further discussion of Seattle acquiring a team for a few months, and for the next five years European clubs would come calling for springtime friendlies.
However, the notion of getting a professional franchise waned when the two leagues, both facing financial strains, agreed to merge before 1968. Instead of expansion there was contraction, down to 17 total teams.
Effectively, the Chelsea match was the last significant sporting event played on the old, rocky (and in winter, muddy) Memorial sod. In August, the Seattle School Board voted to install Astroturf, making it the world’s first football and soccer facility to do so (although the college stadium in Bloomington, Indiana, was the first to stage a competitive event).