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Mr. Soccer Englishman Earns Title of Seattle Nobility

Alan Hinton was named American Professional Soccer League Coach of the Year yesterday. It figures now, but not always. The morning of March 14, 1985, Hinton picked the paper off his porch and like the Midas man, muffled a Saab. Sad news leaped from a headline across the top of page Bravo 3: NASL GROWS COMATOSE, SAYS ADIOS TO COSMOS.

"That was the end," Hinton said the other day. "When the Cosmos pulled out, the league was finished."

The North American Soccer league folded two weeks later. The Seattle Sounders, coached by Hinton, were history. His soccer career apparently had gone the way of the bulb-toed soccer shoe.

But not quite.

Reborn after nine years with Hinton as their coach and president, the Sounders last month clinched the APSL regular season championship in their first year of operation. They outdrew every team in the league. Then they fought off Major League Soccer's effort to install a franchise here.

At the same time, Hinton was coaching a youth soccer team and playing in an over-40 league with the Western Floors team. As a volunteer, he coaches the U-16 Crossfire Sounders through four practice sessions and a game every week over a season that ends around Thanksgiving. Crossfire were 4-1-4 through Sunday.

"I feel I'm giving something back," he said, "It's a wonderful experience."

It's part of the package with Seattle's most durable and passionate proponent for professional soccer. Hinton is the lone link to all three of the area's teams--the original and current Sounders and, in between, the Tacoma Stars of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

The Sounders' success this year kept his personal record intact. In 10 seasons as a professional coach, he has never missed the playoffs.

"Alan took a lot of young players and some veterans and made them into a team," said Lorne Donaldson, coach of the two-time APSL champion Colorado Foxes. "He used his knowledge of English and American soccer and built an offense that was tough to stop."

Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann sees Hinton as "a real good motivator" endowed with native soccer savvy.

Teammate Chance Fry likes Hinton's eye for talent: "He assembled the right guys."

The view from the top is no different.

"Alan is Mr. Soccer," Sounders owner Scott Oki said.

From year one, soccer fastened an iron grip on Hinton in the English steel-foundry town of Birmingham, where he was born to Harriett and toolmaker Tom Hinton Oct. 6, 1942. Besides steel, Birmingham's other product was soccer. A tyke could walk, he could kick. Soccer was epidemic in the fields, in the streets.

"We broke a lot of windows," Hinton said.

Hinton captained the school team at St. Bartholomew's but dropped out at age 15 to become a soccer apprentice on a professional team at $7 a week:

"I felt like a millionaire."

He was 18 before his parents would let him leave home to play soccer fulltime, and he came out of the gate like Secretariat. A left winger with an instinct or the net, he scored 29 goals in 75 games on a Wolverhampton team that responded by trading him to Nottingham Forest in a deal later regarded as Wolverhampton's worst and Nottingham's biggest steal since the merry heists of Errol Flynn.

Hinton finished his English playing days with Derby County, helping produce First Division championships in 1972 and '75.

His career credits include selection to the English national team and repeated all-star berths en route to 20-year totals of 116 goals in 425 games.

"I was recognized as a good player," Hinton said. "Not great but good."

After 10 seasons with Derby County, he was rewarded with a "testimonial game" from which the club gave him the gate receipts of around $50,000.

Soccer took Hinton through Europe, to Singapore, to the Dallas Tornado, which he captained to the 1977 NASL championships and to the Vancouver Whitecaps. He shed 26 pounds to become a playing assistant coach at Vancouver, where he appeared in every game and collected 30 assists to shatter the league record of 18 shared by Pele and George Best.

A coaching career that began with the Tulsa Roughnecks in 1979 crested with the Sounders in 1980, when Hinton was named NASL coach of the year with a 25-7 record, and in 1982, when he took the team to a historic Soccer Bowl, where it yielded a grudging 1-0 defeat to Pele and the New York Cosmos. [actually Pele retired in 1977]

In 1976, the Sounders once drew 58,000 into the Kingdome, but less than a half-dozen years later the bloom was off the rose. Hinton apparently finished his pro coaching career with the Whitecaps and two hitches with the indoor league's Stars.

When his final franchise collapsed, Hinton went into the real estate business, where his wife Joy was a top producer, but the proviso that he would continue coaching youth soccer.

"I made a commitment to take these players all the way to under-19," he said.

The day the APSL Sounders played off against the Colorado Foxes in Memorial Stadium, Hinton coached his Crossfire youth team in a morning game.

Crossfire won successive Washington state championships in 1992-93. The players included Chris Farnsworth, son of Neil Farnsworth, Microsoft general manager whose parental contact led to interest in a revived Sounder franchise.

Hinton was a natural to operate the team.

Resurfacing this season after more than 35 years with nearly a dozen professional teams, Hinton has been described as a survivor.

"I would turn that around," he said. "To make the game of soccer survive is what drove me. I would go to my grave a happy man if professional soccer thrives and I could contribute to the quality of life in this country through soccer by helping keep thousands of kids off the streets."

By Lenny Anderson, PI Reporter

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