Naturally, it reads like a treatment for some Hollywood pitch. One day, this guy rolls out of bed, determined to buy a soccer team. Yes, it’s a business decision, a big one. But this story’s hero is motivated by his lifelong passion for the game. It takes more than 10 questions to get to know Joe, so there will be 10 more coming soon.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up on Long Island, which is a hotbed of soccer because there are so many people from Latin America.
As a kid, why choose soccer?
I played basketball, ran track and in seventh grade I was going out to play quarterback in junior high. But I’m also blind as a bat; legally blind. I had thick coke-bottled glasses. I literally walked onto the football field and the coach said I would not be able to play with my glasses. So I walked underneath the goalposts over to the soccer field and tried out for the junior high school soccer team.
Tell us about your roots in the game as a player.
I first played in the fourth grade, when I was 10. I played through junior high school, then was captain of the high school varsity team my senior year. I went to Bowling Green because in 1966 they wanted to make a push in soccer, and they recruited 11 of us from the East Coast, guys from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Maryland and Long Island. We had probably the best freshman team in the country, except most of the guys left after the first year, including me. Then I went to Hofstra, which was a very good Div. I school, and played my sophomore year. After that I went up to Boston University and I was going to play, but I injured my leg in a pick-up football game. Except for a year of club soccer after I finished up college, that was the end of my soccer career.
Any memories which stand out?
I was playing for Hofstra at Rutgers, which was a top-10 team. They were heavily favored. Somehow we scored a goal in the first 10 minutes. I played center defense ,and I became bound and determined not to let them score. We ended up winning the game 1-0 and they ended up taking 30 shots to our 3. It was like being in a combat zone. Balls whizzing by, hitting the post and Rutgers was always in our third of the field for the final 40 minutes, so that was very satisfying win.
What got you into coaching?
I came out to California and started coaching my son when he was 4, and coached his team for 15 years, from 1988 until 2003, on the West side of Los Angeles.
How does a movie executive arrange to coach his son’s team for 15 years?
I was running Disney and 20th Century Fox during that whole time, and I went and spoke to my two masters, Michael Eisner and Rupert Murdoch. I said the condition of me taking the job is that I’m not going to be here (in the office) Friday after lunch or Saturdays. I had the team practice Friday afternoon. By the time they got to be teenagers, 40 of the 52 weeks a year we were off playing soccer somewhere.
Looking back, do any particular games come to mind?
I have two highlights. When my son was U19, we had the best team on the West Coast, and we were invited back to Hawaii for a tournament which we had won the year before. We played the tournament final again and it was a hotly contested situation. We won 2-1 in overtime against the Hawaii state champions.
Another time we played for the city championship when my son was about 10 or 11. It was a tied game, both at the end of regulation and overtime. They didn’t have penalty kicks; instead after every 10 minutes you took three players off the field until somebody scored. First we played with eight kids and nobody scored. Then extra period we played with five, and I was just about to figure out how to get from five to two, when my son lifted a ball from outside the box and I could tell it went into the goal. Everybody rushed out and kind of smothered my son. It was one of those great moments in sports.
To coach that many years, it must have been a satisfying experience.
Well, Pacific Palisades is a tiny little town next to Santa Monica, and I had been the all-star coach there for years and years. Also during that time I had been the chairman of Walt Disney Studios for four years and Fox for six years. It’s an entertainment town. Yet when I walked through town for breakfast or something, I was referred to as ‘Coach.’ I tell you, that gives me much more pleasure than someone coming up and telling me they have a screenplay for me to read.
So you’ve been a player and coach. How about a soccer fan?
I’ve gone to Galaxy games, and I went to World Cup the last year. I’ve have always loved the game. I always felt there was something special about the game.
What intrigues you about soccer?
What I like about is that it’s so hard to score. I like the effort it takes to score. I like watching the build-up to a score. I know that’s kind of perverse for an American to say, when we have basketball games of 130-126. But when I’m watching a soccer game and seeing the whole field, I like watching how difficult to score a goal. For me, the passing the teamwork; it’s a matter of inches of getting a great pass to a guy whose not offside, and getting a shot where the goalie can’t reach it. I like the idea that really no one person can dominate a game the way they can in other sports. It relies on teamwork.