Before Arango and Raul, before Cabañas, Chinaglia and even Pele, before the sell-out crowds and worldwide fame, New York had an altogether different breed of goalscoring hero.
As The Cosmos head to Bermuda for their final tune up before the NASL opener in Puerto Rico, we kick-off a short series profiling key goal scorers from both the team’s distant and recent histories. And where better to start than with a man from Bermuda who was the original Cosmos star striker.
On April 17th 1971, in front of a mere 3701 fans at what must have seemed a cavernous Busch Memorial Stadium in St Louis, The New York Cosmos were playing their first competitive game. The players, adopted New Yorkers from all over the world had only met a few weeks previously. But it was a the physical frame of their six-foot-two striker who made the first mark in the Cosmos history book. Running onto a free kick from Kyriakos Fitilis and climbing above St Louis centre back Steve Frank, Randy Horton of Bermuda was there to head robustly into the net for the maiden Cosmos goal. And it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
In a 2013 interview with club historian David Kilpatrick, Randy Horton was able to recount with impressive clarity his contribution to that historic moment:
“I remember that goal. I can see me, where I ran from, Steve Frank running with me...and boom! In the back of the net. More than anything it was just great going out as a team in the first match that we were playing in the NASL”
But unlike the forwards who would follow him, Horton wasn’t an established global soccer star. At the time he was signed by the Cosmos, he was a graduate student at Rutgers, working towards his master’s degree in secondary school administration. He had every intention of returning to his native Bermuda to resume his education career (and indeed he would). But while playing amateur soccer for the Philadelphia Ukrainians in the German American League, Horton became familiar with another former player from the league, a certain Gordon Bradley, who would become the first Cosmos coach. And Bradley made Horton his second signing for the fledgling New York team.
Growing up in Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, Horton was exposed to two sports strongly connected with British colonies - soccer and cricket, and showed great potential in both pursuits. While studying at Oxford’s Culham College in England he garnered attention from top level cricket and football teams alike. He was offered trials with Worcestershire County Cricket Club and Huddersfield Town (then in the old English Second Division) but turned them down in favour of a return to his home: “England was too cold, I wanted to go back to Bermuda”.
While working as a teacher in Bermuda in the late sixties, Horton represented the island internationally in both soccer and cricket. But it was his desire to further his career in education, rather than sports, that led to his fateful decision to sign-up at Rutgers, and ultimately the Cosmos.
More than just score the team’s first goal, Horton became a vital member of the Cosmos roster in the early years. In that inaugural season, he was a standout performer, compiling 16 goals and 5 assists over 24 regular season and playoff games, earning the NASL Rookie of the Year award in the process.
But 1972 represented a ‘career year’ for the Bermudian. In a season featuring a much reduced schedule, Horton fired the Cosmos to their first Soccer Bowl and scored the opening goal in what would be a 2-1 win for the team’s maiden NASL championship:
“That was a great night, We just had a bunch of guys [who] really connected. It was almost like a love affair”
Scoring ten times across 15 total appearances and leading the league in goals scored, Horton was also voted NASL MVP:
“That always stood out for me. I have won many awards in my time, but this was special because it was a confirmation from my peers”
The 1973 season led to another playoff appearance, with Horton again leading the line. But 1974 was a different story. Though Horton once more topped the Cosmos scoring chart, the team only managed four wins in twenty games. With the club beginning to change gear as the Pele era approached, Horton was traded to the Washington Diplomats in exchange for three first-round draft picks.
Horton would go on to play one season with the Diplomats and a handful of games with the Hartford Bicentennials before returning to Bermuda to resume his career in education. In all, he made 70 appearances for the Cosmos, scoring 44 times with 18 assists.
One can only presume the wages for Cosmos players in the first few years were not exactly as lucrative as they would later become (even for a star striker like Horton). So while in New York, the Bermudian also held a job in the accounting department of Atlantic Records. And though Horton’s stint with the Cosmos predated the halcyon ‘Once in a Lifetime’ era, he did have his own brush with the kind of lifestyle the Cosmos came to represent:
“I had a lot of fun, got to meet some interesting people I never would have otherwise. I remember one day walking into a recording session with Led Zeppelin. That was special”
In 1998, after a decade as a school principal followed by an equally long career in the Bermuda Department of Tourism, Randy Horton entered politics and was elected to the Bermuda Parliament, where he has remained ever since. In 2013 he was elected Speaker of the House of Assembly.
So, without a doubt, Horton is excited to see his old team make an appearance in his beloved home. In an interview this week with Bermuda’s Royal Gazette, Horton, presumably at least a little tongue-in-cheek, compared the current Cosmos to the team of his era:
“I encourage Bermuda to come out and watch the team, I’m not sure they’ll be as good as the team I played for, but there will be a lot of excitement. You can’t talk about soccer in the United States without, at some point, mentioning the New York Cosmos, so I’m happy they’re coming here.”
And indeed, you can’t talk about the New York Cosmos without, at some point, mentioning Randy Horton.
But what of that day in April 1971, does The Honourable Kenneth Howard Randolph Horton, JP, MP still recall his contribution to Cosmos lore?
“I remember clearly the first goal I scored, it was in St Louis in 1971 from a free kick just outside the box...”
Clearly, no matter the result of the game on Sunday, Randy Horton will always be a key part of Cosmos history, and he certainly won’t let you forget it.