After a youth soccer game in his native Sweden, a spectator told a 19-year-old Jan Book to respond to a newspaper ad looking for talented young players for a professional league team that was starting in Dallas.
“There was nothing to lose, so I sent a note that I was interested in playing soccer in America,” Book recalls.
The response landed him a tryout, then a contract – and a spot on one of sport’s greatest journeys.
With the Dallas Tornado Soccer Club in 1968-69, Book traveled the globe, playing 32 games in 26 countries, including Morocco, Iran, Japan, Fiji and even Vietnam, in the middle of a war, in just seven months.
The team narrowly avoided the Tet Offensive, an assassination attempt and a plane bombing in Greece, as they visited countries where anti-American sentiments were high. They’ve been referred to as the “Forrest Gump” of athletic teams.
“It’s very hard to believe, especially in today’s world,” said Book, who now lives in Runaway Bay. “We just went out in the world and didn’t know what was going on. We just played soccer.”
Saturday, Book will join 10 of the 16 members who completed the tour at a reception prior to the FC Dallas game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco. At 66, after a heart attack and congestive heart failure, Book will represent the Tornado in the Dallas Soccer Tribute Match.
“I’m going to play a few minutes and get in the uniform,” Book said.
But aside from getting back on the pitch, he’s looking forward to seeing teammates with whom he shared the journey of a lifetime.
“There’ll be a lot of laughter and crying. It’ll be wonderful to see the guys,” Book said. “We lived a lot together and most of us haven’t seen each other since 1968.”
JOINING THE TORNADO
In the late 1960s, the beautiful game of soccer – or football as it was known around the world – had yet to make an imprint on an American sports landscape dominated by baseball, boxing and the American version of football, which was just coming of age.
Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, with an oil fortune in his pocket, joined an effort to bring the professional game of soccer to the United States.
“They didn’t have a pro league in soccer,” Book said. “In 1967 they brought in teams from Europe to represent different cities and to see if there was an interest. Hunt, who was owner of the Dallas Tornado, had gone to Europe and seen the World Cup and had really got smitten with the game.”
Joining with Bill McNutt of the Collin Street Bakery, they started a team from scratch for the newly forming North American Soccer League.
To coach and organize the team, they hired Kap, a Hungarian refugee living in Canada.
“They sent him to Europe to look for players. It was like finding needles in haystacks,” Book said. “He’d go to various cities in Europe and run ads in the paper saying we are looking for young, talented soccer players and if interested send your resume to this newspaper and we’ll contact you.”
It was one of the ads that drew Book’s inquiry. Several months later he got a call saying there was going to be a tryout in Sweden in June 1967.
“They were some players brought in from other countries and they had a tryout at a park,” Book recalled. “Afterward, [Kap] said I’d like to sign you.”
Book, who was two months shy of his 20th birthday, hesitated at first.
“I didn’t even know if I could sign, and if I needed my parents,” Book said. “He said, ‘I’m giving you an offer right now and the beauty of signing now is we are going to have training camp in Madrid, Spain and then we’re going to travel the world and play exhibition games and then go to America.’
“I thought, ‘This is crazy – no one goes all over the world to play.’ I thought I had nothing to lose. I love traveling. So I signed.”
In his youth under Sweden’s mandatory military service, Book had served in the navy and traveled all over Europe – even to the United States, where he visited New York and Baltimore.
“I knew I loved traveling and experiencing different cultures,” Book said.
TRAVELING THE WORLD
After signing in July 1967, a plane ticket to Madrid arrived at Book’s home. In Spain, he met 20 other players who had signed to play for the Tornado.
“We were four Swedish guys, probably 10 English guys, five from Holland, a few Norwegians and one from St. Louis,” Book said. “He’d played for the U.S. Olympic team. It sounded good but at the time, it wasn’t much.”
After three weeks of training camp and doing some public relations, the team played practice games in Spain before heading out on its odyssey.
Their first stop was in North Africa, where in Morocco in mid-September, they picked up a win. The team went back to Spain before going to Istanbul, Turkey and getting a draw against one of the elite clubs in the world.
After the game in Turkey, they went to Cyprus, Iran and farther east to Pakistan.
The travel was not easy with the team leaving on early morning flights after matches. And after those games, the team, which was made up of single men in their late teens and early 20s, headed out for a night on the town.
“We came back to the hotel in the morning and went to the next flight,” Book said.
Playing soccer and preparing for the upcoming season wasn’t the lone function of the trip. The team also had a mission of selling America and Dallas to the world.
“Part of the trip Lamar put together was to form a good soccer team and get ready for the season. That was the number one thing. Number two was to show the world we had soccer in America and we were not behind in any way. Number three – to promote Dallas, Texas and America in a goodwill ambassador type of thing.
“When we started the trip, we were sent Stetson hats – cowboy hats – and we had to wear those hats the entire trip to draw attention. Of course, people in India say, ‘Where are you from and why are you wearing those hats?’”
Book and nearly everyone on the team had never stepped foot in Texas at that point. While they may have fooled some with their 10-gallon hats, the gig was up when they began talking.
“Most people believed us until some Americans traveling would ask where we were from and we’d say ‘We are from Dallas, Texas,’” Book recalled. “They’d say, ‘Shoot, you are not from Texas with that accent.’”
It was not a popular time in some parts of the world to be an American especially one from Dallas.
“It was real difficult times in America in 1967-68,” Book explained. “The Vietnam War was really going on. A lot of countries didn’t like America. They didn’t like Dallas because of JFK. A lot of times we had hostile crowds. We were trying to overcome the perception the world had and give a positive influence of Dallas, Texas and America. We succeeded in doing that.”
But not all crowds were willing to give the team a chance. They had to wait out riots in Calcutta. Then in Singapore, Book and teammates were hit by stones thrown from the crowd. Book was grazed in the head by one of the stones. The team canceled its second match in Singapore.
After games in Indonesia, the Tornado went to Saigon, Vietnam in December.
“It was one of the highlights and also one of the saddest parts of the trip,” Book said. “We were close to where the war was going on. We realized these guys in Vietnam were not much older than us guys. They were doing this for America and our freedom. It was a highlight to bring a little joy and laughter to them.”
The trip continued to Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji before finally in February 1968, they arrived in Dallas.
The team stayed in Dallas only a few weeks before heading to Central America for more games.
BACK IN DALLAS
After their world tour, Book said the team was completely worn out. The results showed that, as they managed two wins in 32 matches with four ties.
“We played too many games. When we got back we were exhausted,” Book said. “Other teams also had brought in professionals. We didn’t stand a chance once the league started.”
The team also had a letdown after playing before tens of thousands in Burma and other exotic ports, then seeing crowds of 4,000 at Turnpike Stadium in Arlington.
Book and other players traveled through North Texas giving clinics and trying to promote the game. One of the promotional stops came through Wise County to Runaway Bay, where he moved to 40 years later.
After one season with the Tornado, Book returned to Sweden to complete his military commitment. He mostly played soccer for the military.
An acquaintance Book met in Irving during his time with the Tornado stayed in contact with him after he returned to Sweden and made him an offer to come back to Texas and become the city’s soccer instructor.
Book helped grow the city’s participation in the sport from 100 to more than a 1,000 players.
“We’d go out and hold clinics and do anything to promote soccer,” Book said.
He worked a couple of years with Irving before going out on his own to start Jan’s Soccer Club.
“I started the club,” he said. “It’s what they were doing in the rest of the world,”
But after marrying his wife Dorothy and with three kids, he needed work to pay the bills. He landed a warehouse job with Dan River that he turned into a career. Rising through sales and management in a few different textile companies, he moved around the country and to London before settling back in North Texas.
He continued to play soccer with club teams, winning multiple state titles. He played competitively up until 2007.
Book had a heart bypass in 2002.
“I didn’t know I had heart problems,” he said before experiencing chest pain.
His health deteriorated as he developed congestive heart failure that prevented him from even climbing the stairs in his home.
“A year ago, I couldn’t walk up the stairs,” Book said. “I was spitting up fluids.”
He ended up at UT-Southwestern and eventually was sent to rehab with Susan Rector and her staff in the Cardio Pulmonary Rehab unity at Wise Regional Health System.
“He was having a lot of heart issues,” Rector recalled. “It was a slow process. We monitored his heart and blood pressure. Slowly he progressed where he was doing 45 minutes of cardio exercise and strength training.”
With the reunion and tribute game on the horizon, Book made it his goal to play. Next week he plans to reach that goal, and he credits Rector and her staff.
“I owe my life to them,” he said. “I’m going to play soccer and a year ago there was no way I could play. They saved my life. They are the real heroes.”
More than 40 years after his world excursion, Book looks back fondly on the trip, Hunt and Kap.
Book has made copies of notes Hunt wrote about the team to give teammates at the reunion.
“To me, [Hunt] is one of the best people I’ve met and one of the kindest and most generous,” he said. “I don’t have words enough to explain my feelings for him.
“I’m in America today and enjoy the wonderful life I do because of him.”
He is also grateful to FC Dallas for bringing his teammates together for this week’s reunion and continuing the original mission from 1968 to grow the game of soccer.
“There’s a lot more to be done in America with soccer,” Book said. “It’s a great game for everyone.
“Soccer has been great to me. It’s been my life.”