Be it the original Sounders, the Tacoma Stars or the second generation Sounders, Alan Hinton’s name is often associated with Puget Sound professional soccer’s best of times. Under him, each of those teams either won or played for a league championship, and did so with flair. As winger during his playing days, he served a world-class cross and, in 1978, set the NASL record with 30 assists. Beyond the numbers, Hinton was determined to win and willing to buck conventional wisdom in doing so. A local resident for over 25 years now, he’s got to be the most recognizable Englishmen on the Eastside, if not all of the Seattle metro area.
First off, what’s your reaction to the club being named Seattle Sounders FC?
I like it. The name gives it background and the previous great times with the Sounders. To me, the late Seventies and early Eighties were the best of times. We’re all going to replay those times again and we’ve got a lot of good things to look forward to.
How are you involved with the game now, as a fan or still coaching/playing now and then?
I still play over-50s on a Monday night and over-55s on a Thursday night. I’ve done a lot of youth coaching and right now I’m 65, retired and I go to England when I can to see my family and watch soccer. I’m having a good life and love living here.
In America, you’re most closely associated with the Sounders, but in England, at Derby County matches, they must consider you as one of their all-time greats.
They’re at the bottom of the Premier League now, but those people love to talk about us in the Seventies, when we were so successful. I had a fantastic time at Derby. I joined when I was 25 and retired there when I was 34. We won two championships together. We often beat Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham and all the big clubs. We were a very big little club, if you like. My coach (Brian Clough) was fantastic and we had wonderful players who were also great people. I just love going back there.
You must have formed close relationships during those Derby days. Who was your favorite teammate?
I was winger, left side. My favorite players were those that played simple, inside of me. They would go win the ball and give it to me in the perfect position, which was anywhere from 30 yards from goal, on the side of the box. That’s where I earned my living, and that’s where I felt really, really important to my team, getting assists and getting goals.
During your trips back home to England, what kinds of stories do you share?
I brought a lot of those Derby County players over Tulsa and Seattle and Vancouver. So when I see Roger Davies, David Nish or Steve Daley, they all say to me what a great, great time they had in Seattle. Steve Daley said it was one of the best times of his career. Roger Davies felt the same way. He used to light up the Kingdome with his smile when he scored. He was like a breath of fresh air. He’s in his 50s now but still has a young kid’s enthusiasm. The Sounders’ best player technically was Alan Hudson and you had Tommy Hutchison. People wanted to buy tickets where they could be near to Tommy. I hope the new team can bring in people like Hutchison, who was an out-and-out entertainer.
In 1980, your first season with the original Sounders, you opted to play the third North American in 1980 up front. Mark Peterson scored 14 goals and the team went 25-. How did you come to such an unconventional decision?
I’ve always liked to go to the opposite way of the crowd and be a bit different compared to the other coaches. In ‘77 and ‘78, when I was playing for Dallas and Vancouver, I found it pretty easy even at 35 years of age–playing against rookie North American fullbacks who were almost hidden back there on the outside. I used to destroy them. They used to dive in, and they had no idea on distances. I broke the league assist record (30). So I made my mind up to play international fullbacks because it’s one of the toughest positions. You’ve got to be able to defend, pass, get forward, head the ball and cross the ball like a winger. I made the fullback an extremely important part of the team. In 1980 I had David Nish, but I later brought in Jeff Stock at left back, and he did very well for me. You’ve got to do your own thing and overall we did very well
When you resurrected the Sounders in 1994, you did so with a largely homegrown roster and yet you were competitive. What prompted you to look local?
I knew how much talent was here and had done announcing for Fox Sports and the University of Washington games for 10 years. I felt the time was right to bring in local players, to give them an opportunity. We did very well in a very tough league. There were seven teams in North America then, and there was no Major League Soccer so they were the very best. The team I built was mostly local players and many went on to play MLS, including Marcus Hahnemann. I’m very proud of those accomplishments those two years because they were basically homegrown players. We drew big crowds too.
And now some of these players you coached are coaching. How’s that make you feel?
That was the intention. Jimmy Gabriel is a great man, and we worked together in Lake Washington Youth Soccer. We started by doing clinics for 6-12-year-olds. The rewards have come back to us. Seeing these same players develop into very good players is fantastic. Plus all the players we’ve coached, we’ve encouraged them to coach and give back to the game, and that’s exactly what they do.
A trademark of Seattle (and Tacoma Stars) teams was that they played local players. It started with Jimmy Mac but is there any reason it cannot continue in MLS?
It all depends if they’re good enough. It seems natural that a local goalkeeper will play for the MLS team. There’s the Sounders keeper (Chris Eyelander). Marcus (Hahnemann) seems to be setting himself up to come back. Kasey Keller had a fantastic career and goalkeepers tend to play later on. So there’s more time left for Marcus and Kasey. I’d like to see a nucleus of some local players and get some really top, international players who can entertain. I hope they can create the spirit where, when I go out and play on a Monday or Thursday night, everybody’s talking about these guys. I hope they can really inspire and thrill the crowds. The crowds could be unbelievable if you both entertain and win.
The big transfer fees grab the headlines but in MLS and worldwide there’s a growing emphasis on clubs’ youth development.
The academies are a big deal now. They are bringing kids in as early as 9 years of age. These youth coaches are being paid well and are beginning to produce. If you can produce your own players, you can save millions and millions of dollars in transfer fees. If you want to be a big club that grows and develops over many, many years, you need to have a good system of producing players. Without it, you might have one or two good years but then go down the toilet.
There are huge numbers of people playing in Washington state. What kind of influence have the professional teams made?
I’m right around the hub of soccer. I play, I’m involved in youth soccer, and there’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t come up to me and say, ‘Thanks for all you’ve done in the game.’ They are genuinely all excited for Major League Soccer coming here, and everybody, including me, has been waiting for this for a long time. We’re all excited to get behind a major success story.