August 2, 1978
Tommy Smith was flying home from America today after a bitter row with co-owner of the Los Angeles Aztecs Larry Friend. Smith, in charge of the Aztecs for most of the season, said a long summering argument boiled over when cheques handed to his players were not honoured at the bank.
Said Smith: “I demanded to know why and was politely asked to leave.
“I would have gone anyway. This man has destroyed all the respect I had for Los Angeles and US Soccer.”
Smith complained of interference in team affairs and broken promises to the players.
“Friend, an ex-basketball star who has a big stake in the Aztecs became impatient with the lack of success”, said Smith.
The teams record for the season in the North American Soccer League is played 28, won nine, no draws are allowed.
Friend told newspapers he had no time for “English silver-spoon merchants coming over here and taking our money.” Then he refused to pay players for coaching at soccer clinics.
Said Smith: “At 20 dollars an hour it was an important part of the lads’ wages.
“The club would not change its attitude and I wouldn’t relent. I believed it was important to the players, who felt that promises were being broken because the Aztecs had not had the success anticipated.”
Smith said when he had sold George Best to Fort Lauderdale Strikers in June, Friend appeared to be pleased.
But then Friend went behind his back and sold former Chelsea winger Charlie Cooke to Memphis, a player Smith had insisted on keeping-
“I was left with a squad of 13 players and was suffering constant interference,” said Tommy Smith.
He said he had become disillusioned with many aspects of American soccer. He told of how one of his players, Bobby Sibbald, had been ticked off because his wife was spotted applauding a goal scored by one of the opposition.
Smith, 33, joined the Aztecs as player-coach immediately after Liverpool’s European Cup triumph in May. He was unable to play in the early games because of a broken toe. Within weeks of his arrival in California Smith was given complete charge of the team when coach Terry Fisher, the man who invited him over was sacked following a poor start to the season.
Smith admitted he hadn’t a good team and complained of certain deficiencies in the American’s style of running a side.
“They have got a lot to learn,” he said.
The Aztecs’ matches were given the cold shoulder by local newspapers, who confined reports to one paragraph, yet many of the Aztecs’ games were televised.
Smith and his family were due to leave their home on Rodondo Beach, Los Angeles, on Sunday, when the American season ends, but after the row they decided to leave immediately. The man left to hold things together until the end of the season is Peter Short, an administrator Smith signed from Detroit.
Said Smith: “I have been among those who have helped paint a good picture of US soccer but I have learned how different things can be when success does not come.”
(Source: Liverpool Echo: August 2, 1978; via http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited