In 1978, Alan Hinton signed on to be an assistant coach with the Vancouver Whitecaps. He had just retired after one season with the Dallas Tornadoes, but early in preparations for the start of the season, he saw that he could help out the team on the left wing and came out of retirement for one final season.
The problem, in addition to the 20 pounds he would have to lose to get into game-shape, was that he didn’t know what kind of shoes to wear on the Astroturf at Empire Stadium.
He searched the facilities before finally finding a pair in a loft above the locker room. They were nearly worn out, the molded cleats worn down nearly to the soles of the boots. For Hinton, though, they were perfect.
“I said these boots are perfect and I wore them,” Hinton laughed, looking back on that final season as a pro.
Saturday night in Vancouver, BC, the Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps will meet in the final match at Empire Field before the expansion Whitecaps begin playing in the newly renovated BC Place Stadium.
The temporary stadium is on the same site where Hinton, now a broadcast analyst for the Sounders FC, played his final season as a professional, setting the North American Soccer League assist record in 1978 while leading the Whitecaps to a 24-6 record.
It was quite the memorable season for Hinton, who became a fan favorite in Vancouver, and it was a role he embraced. He led the team in song as they recorded and released a song, “White is the Color,” that was a hit with the fans. When the club clinched the Western Division title, he raised the trophy in front of the fans as a tribute to their support.
“My relationship with the fans was almost the same as it was while I was playing with Derby County. I had no inhibitions. I was free as a bird with my emotions,” he said. “It was so lovely and every time I’ve gone back up there it’s been really lovely. It’s a great city with great fans.”
He repaid the support with his performance as well. Before 1978, the league assist record was 18, held by legendary stars Pele and George Best. He destroyed that record with 30 assists, setting up the likes for Kevin Hector, Jon Sammels and Bob Lenarduzzi, who is now the president of the Whitecaps, while assisting nearly half of the club’s 68 goals on the season.
“My style was to go down the left and hold the ball up until almost the last minute so the defense would squeeze in, then Bobby would come in late and he was a fine candidate for me when I was crossing the ball,” Hinton said.
The magical run for the Whitecaps ended in the quarterfinals of the playoffs with a defeat to the Portland Timbers and Hinton would join the Tulsa Roughnecks as head coach the following season. However, he’ll never forget his time in Vancouver and Empire Stadium.
“It’s a great soccer city, no question,” he said.