Four stories above the playing field at RFK Stadium, Ducan Hill, general manager of the new Washington Diplomats soccer team, sits in his office, smokes a cigar and looks ahead to the beginning of the North American Soccer League's 1981 season -- less than two weeks from today.
Not only has he not yet sold a ticket to a Dips' game, he has not yet had any printed. Not only has he not yet begun an advertising and marketing campaign to promote the team, he has not yet found an agency to do so.
Still in the process of completing the transformation of the former Detroit Express into the second incarnation of the Washington Diplomats, Hill, in the literal and figurative snese of the phrase, is still unpacking. His wife just rented a house, but Hill has yet to see it, and he's not quite sure where it is. "I think it's somewhere near Arlington," he said.
"I feel, and I think the rest of the league feels, that we pulled off a great coup in moving to Washington," says Hill, an Englishman who will celebrate his 29th birthday Monday. "We think this is one of the best soccer markets in the country."
It was on Feb. 28 that the league approved Hill's petition to move the 3-year-old Detorit franchise to Washington, replacing the old Washington Diplomats, folded last fall by their owners, Madison Square Garden. Some of the NASL owners were said to have been less than enthusiastic about Hill's bid, hoping at some point to get the franchise in Washington -- where there is no baseball team to compete with soccer for the sports dollar -- for themselves.
"One of my strengths," says Hill, "is my understanding of the game. My weakness is that I don't yet understand the Washington area. And I'm trying to learn some marketing techniques."
Hill, the son of Jimmy Hill, a well-known British television soccer commentator and a former professional coach and player, has been connected with soccer virtually all of his life. His father, he says, "is the Howard Cosell of soccer in England." Together the father and son are the largest single shareholders in the Diplomats, although Hills says he wants to involve local investors in the organization. "We would not like to be thought of as a foreign power imposed on the area."
Jimmy Hill helped organize the British soccer players' union to fight a maximum wage law that held professional soccer player salaries to $50 a week. "He did the Ed Garvey (executive director of the National Football League Players Association) thing and went off to do battle with the owners."
In college at the University of Lancaster, Duncan Hill administred the soccer program while earning bachelor's amd master's degrees and writing his thesis on the social development of sports in the 19th century.
Soccer, he says, was a byproduct of the industrial revolution, a form of entertainment and release for the thousands of workingmen crammed into the gritty industrials centers of 19th Century Britain.
"It was a means of keeping what was a very unruly mass of people under contro," said Hill, although he also observed that British soccer experiences riots and outbursts of violence.
After coaching soccer and teaching history at a school in England, Hill left for Saudi Arabia in mid-1976 to help build a soccer program there.
"My father had a call one day from a Saudi Arabian prince and we flew out there," said Hill, who in a few weeks found himself in charge of a 45-member team under contract to the Saudi Arabian government with a mandate to improve the Saudi soccer program.
"They wanted to beat the Kuwaitis. They wanted to beat the Emirates. They wanted to beat the Iraquis," said Hill. "The way you do that is to get a team and you play in tournaments all over the world."
For the next 3 1/2 years, Hill spent his time advising the Saudis on how to build the best possible soccer program, traveling around the world with the Saudi soccer team and searching the Arbian desert for good soccer players.
"When you travel with the Saudis, you go first class, the best planes, the best hotels, everything. Of course, we didn't always let the players stay in the best hotels. We didn't want to spoil them."
Introduced to Saudi Arabia in the 1920s, soccer is tremendously popular in that country, although playing conditions often are harsh. The heat is often extreme, Hill said, and many of the playing fields have the texture of reinforced concrete.
"It's hard to dind goaltenders because no one wants to dive around on that terrain," said Hill. It's also true, he said, that Saudi soccer players tend to bew less than accomplished at heading the ball becaue, in games played on the desert, the ball tends to pick up little pieces of grit that cut players' heads.
"We did find one very good goal-tender in a small Bedouin village about 40 miles north of Riyadh," Hill recalled. "I can think of two Saudi players I'd like to sign now," he said, "But they probably couldn't leave the country. We'll look for most of our players in three areas, South Amereica, America and Europe."
While Hill was in Saudi Arabia, his father and some asociates were looking at professional soccer in America. For reasons he still doesn't understand, they concluded that an investment of $1.5 millin could get a professinal franchise off the ground in three years.
Hill won't specify what the toltal cash investment in the franchise is, but estimates range between $3 million and $5 million.
Leaving Saudi Arabia when his contract expired, Hill arrived in Detroit in February 1980 to take over management of the franchise there. He recalls being astonished when the old Diplomats, with an attendance average of more than 19,000, folded, but it was not until Febvruary that he first began to think seriously about making a bid to move the franchise here. It was an idea that came up initially almost as a joke and then began to look better an d better.
"There wre rumors that the American Soccer League might come to Washington, so we knew we would have to move quickly," Hill said.
In Washington, he said, he plans to move slowly at first, particularly when it comes to taking on partners. "We've had lots of inquiries from people who want to support us and be connected with the organization. But we want to make sure we get the right kind of people -- people who are really interested in soccer."
As a general philosophy, Hill said, he will look for enthusiastic younger players instead of the established superstars. "That doesn't mean if I get a chance to sign a superstar, I won't sign him," he said.
He has plans to exploit the indoor soccer market, playing games with sixman teams between November and March, possibly at the Armory. "Indoor soccer is a very fast sport. It's like hockey and it's very good on television," he said.
The bottom line, of course, is financial solvency, a thorn right now in the colletive side of the entire North American Soccer League. "I know we would never fold if we drew 19,000 a game," Hill said. "We're looking for stability, and the way to achieve stability is not to lose $3 million a year."