Laurie Abrahams – From Tailor’s Shop to NASL

Laurie Abrahams was one of the most prolific goalscorers in the NASL. Here is a profile of his career in the states. This article was originally hosted by Gav on his excellent Les Rosbifs blog. Many thanks to him, and go check out his blog.

In today’s time, when talent is highlighted at the under 9 level and players at the top level rarely have any experience of real-life work before becoming highly paid superstars it is worth remembering the people who came through a different way.

Laurie was born in Stepney, East London on the 3rd of April 1953, and had a tough upbringing and although talented on the football field was only playing semi-professionally for non-league Barking. His main job was working in a tailor’s shop, measuring up the customers, making trousers, and selling suits.  He has stated that he had no desire to play professionally as he felt he wouldn’t like the business. He actually only signed for Charlton Athletic in 1977 at the age of 24 in 1977.

After one season with Charlton, making 17 appearances upfront and scoring twice he was approached to move to the NASL and sign with the Boston based franchise, The New England Tea Man (the team’s odd name was due to the fact that they were owned by the Lipton Tea Company, and also to relate to the Boston tea party of 1773). The Lipton Tea Co. Were owned by Unilever, who in turn owned Charlton’s training ground, so when it came to putting a team together Charlton were the first port of call. The Tea Men were a new franchise and had decided to build their team around largely English talent. Irishman Noel Cantwell was named as Head Coach and Manchester United legend Dennis Viollett his assistant. Joining Abrahams on the team would be fellow striker Mike Flanagan (on loan from Charlton), midfielder Roger Gibbins, 37 year old goalkeeper Kevin Keelan, and ex England international Keith Weller amongst others.

Abrahams’ debut season in the NASL was a success, with the team winning their division and qualifying for the playoffs at the first attempt. The team was very dependent on Flanagan who notched a hugely impressive 30 goals from just 28 games. Abrahams played 17 games, notching a respectable 7 goals and 10 assists. During the season Abrahams had started to develop a reputation as being a bit of a difficult character, with even Noel Cantwell stated that he had rubbed him up the wrong way, and wasn’t sorry to see him go at the end of the season. Cantwell stated “he was a bit of a Jack-the-lad, he would play well for a week or two, then disappear, then come back and do something exceptional. I don’t think he took football seriously”

At the end of the season Abrahams left. The contract that the Tea Men had signed would mean that if he stayed another season they would have to pay more money to Charlton which they were unwilling to do.  Abrahams was approached by the Tulsa Roughnecks, another team who had debuted in 1978, and after he impressed in a friendly against Portsmouth was signed. The Roughnecks were owned by oilman Carl Moore, whose son Joe-Max would go on to play for Everton, and had caused a bit of a stir in the pro sports franchise desert of Oklahoma. Like the Tea Men, the Roughnecks were a largely “English” team under Head Coach Alan Hinton (ex Notts Forest, Derby, and Wolves). Abrahams would be paired upfront with Roger Davies, with David Nish at the back alongside Terry Darracott.

The 1979 season saw Abrahams start well in Tulsa, scoring 10 goals in 15 games, but another clash of personalities, this time with Alan Hinton saw him traded mid-season to Anaheim, home of Disneyland, and the California Surf NASL team. The Surf were not one of the NASL’s more successful franchises, and frequently only scraped through into the playoffs before being knocked out in the first round. His half season with the Surf showed his worth with 8 goals from 10 games. His first full season (1980) in California under English Head Coach Peter Wall was successful, scoring 17 goals from 28 games and making 17 assists. Abrahams was the undoubted star of the Surf franchise, wand it was felt that if he played well, the team played well and vice versa. He was also not averse to having a sly dig at his coach stating in the press that “we’ve played well and delighted a few people, but the coach shouldn’t be too pleased with himself. Some days we go out there and get slaughtered”. At the end of the season Wall was fired and replaced by fellow Englishman Laurie Calloway.

The close season also saw Abrahams’ first experience of indoor soccer. The Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) had been founded in 1978 playing a winter schedule, and had proved to be hugely successful in terms of fan attendance, with some indoor teams outdrawing their outdoor counterparts. The indoor pitch was roughly the same size as an ice hockey rink, with 6 players per team, endless substitutions, rebounds, and a healthy dose of razzamatazz. Eager to cash in on this boom for indoor soccer, the NASL launched its own indoor competition to be played in the winter.  Abrahams had had talks with the MISL’s Hartford Hellions, but terms couldn’t be agreed. Instead Abrahams stayed in Anaheim and played the 1980-81 NASL indoor season with the Surf, scoring 14 goals in as many games. The Surf won their indoor divison, but again lost in the playoffs at the first hurdle.

The 1981 season was not a happy one for Abrahams. Although he featured heavily in the first half of the season, by the second half his relationship with the club had broken down and he found himself increasingly sidelined and hardly featured. The club were reputedly trying to trade him to another team, but he had had a “no trade” clause inserted into his contract making this impossible. From this point Abrahams has admitted himself that his attitude could have been better. The Surf management went around each player asking them if they wanted to play, Abrahams refused to say, not because he didn’t want to play, but upset that anyone would question his desire to play. The management took this as a refusal to play and told him that he would not be involved in any future games. Then on a road trip, the management backtracked telling him he could play, at which Abrahams refused to play. His ex-coach at California Peter Wall has stated that “Laurie was a weird guy with a strange personality, but a brilliant finisher and quick”.  He also stated that Laurie had a difficult attitude and could easily rub people up the wrong way, and wasn’t the world’s best trainer. Another insight was given by his English teammate Mark Lindsay, who said that one day Abrahams out of the blue was going to go into the management office and demand a better contract. If they refused he was going to quit and go back to making trousers.

At the end of the 1981 season the Surf folded, an all too common experience for players in U.S. professional soccer until the MLS provided a more stable environment. The players from franchises who had folded were placed in a special NASL “Dispersal Draft”, where they hoped they would be picked up by another NASL team.

Abrahams was picked up by the Roughnecks, and head back to Tulsa for the next 2 NASL seasons, forming a formidable striking presence with fellow English import Ron Futcher. By this time the future of the NASL was in doubt, and the quality of play and fan interest had dropped sharply. However, these 2 seasons would prove to be Abrahams most successful in his career. In his first season he featured regularly, scoring 17 goals in 31 games. His relationship with the Roughnecks Welsh coach Terry Hennessey was by no means perfect, as Hennessey was always upset with Abrahams’ efforts in training, but he just felt he could play for him. Even Hennessey came close to losing it with him, once saying to him “you are the hardest player I have ever had to manage, when you stop scoring goals you will be gone”. Abrahams responded, somewhat disparagingly towards his teammates, “all you have to do is make sure these clowns get the ball to me”, which at least gives an insight into his levels of self-confidence. Mark Lindsay has also said that maybe some people didn’t get Abraham’s rather dry sense of humour.

It was to be the 1983 season that would be the high point, probably for pro sports in Tulsa. Like most franchises by this stage, the Roughnecks were existing on a shoestring budget (they actually had the lowest budget of any team in the NASL), and were thought to have one of the weaker teams, stuffed with rejects from other teams. Despite this they won their division, with Abrahams again prolific scoring 11 goals from 22 games. They excelled in the playoffs reaching the 1983 Soccer Bowl against the Toronto Blizzard. 58,452 fans saw the Roughnecks defeat the Blizzard 2-0, and claim an unlikely championship.

The close season saw the Roughnecks in danger of folding; only a fan appeal saw them able to field a team to defend their 1983 triumph. Abrahams was gone however, being traded to the San Diego Sockers for midfielder Peter Skouras and reputedly, 2 used footballs. Abrahams scoring touch deserted him in San Diego, with him scoring only once from 19 appearances. Abrahams was largely used from the bench, and said that “San Diego was a very strange team, with a lot of factions”.

After the season the NASL folded, leaving Abrahams ninth in the NASL all-time points scorer list with 76 goals and 63 assists from 162 games. The San Diego Sockers jumped ship to the MISL, a move that made sense as the Sockers had a higher average attendance playing the indoor version of the game. Abrahams was sold however, moving to the once great New York Cosmos for $25,000. The Cosmos by 1984 were playing in from of 4 figure crowds, the stars had gone, and Warner Bros. weren’t able to continue funding the club. They had failed to post their bond for the prospective 1985 NASL season, and instead joined the MISL. Abrahams played 18 games and scored 7 goals before the Cosmos sold him mid-season to the Kansas City Comets, one of the stronger teams in the MISL. This proved to be a good move as after 33 games of the season the Cosmos folded.

Abrahams spent 2 seasons in Kansas City, scoring 38 goals from 55 games, before being reunited with his 1983 NASL Championship coach Terry Hennessey. Hennessey was working in Australia, acting as Head Coach of the Melbourne Croatia in the NSL. Abrahams spent the summer there, scoring 5 goals from 9 games, before returning to the MISL for his final season as a pro. He signed another strong team, the Wichita Wings for the 1986-87 season. After 23 games and 14 goals, he retired at the end of the season, aged 34.

Abrahams was an example of a player who made a career for himself in America. Unknown in his home country he ended his NASL career in ninth place in the all-time points scoring list with 216. He played 167 NASL games, scoring 76 goals and registering 64 assists, and won one NASL Championship. When asked about the secret of his success in America he stated that one reason was it “was easier scoring goals in San Diego in the summer, than Hull in the winter”. He continues to live in America, where he is Assistant Soccer Coach at Irvine Valley College in California.


History of the Carolina Lightnin’

Earlier on this year Ed Young, the ex-General Manager of the Carolina Lightnin’ asked me to write a history of the team for the 30 year reunion for their 1981 ASL Championship win. Below is the history of the first professional soccer team in the Carolinas, the last club that Bobby  Moore played for, and one of the most successful teams in ASL history.

Thanks to Ed Young for helping with research and letting me write this piece.

The roots of the first professional soccer team in the Carolinas began nine years before the team would take to the field for its first professional game. Ed Young was a soccer player at Western Carolina University, playing for the university team in goals. During the summer he found that there was no chance to practice his game, and no environment for soccer in his home state.

Taking the matter into his own hands he founded the Charlotte Summer Soccer League, a 6 team indoor league predominantly featuring university players on their summer break. After graduating he became a player and a Head Coach of numerous amateur teams in the Charlotte area including the Charlotte Soccer Club, and the Lowenbrau Soccer Club (formerly the Press Box Soccer Club). The Lowenbrau Soccer Club (with its $20,000 sponsorship from the beer company) would win 6 Carolina Soccer League Governor’s Cups and go on to qualify for the nationwide Open Cup competition. In addition to this Young would officiate high school and college games as well as serving as a director of the Charlotte Junior Soccer Federation.

By 1979 soccer was finally achieving a nationwide profile in America. The twenty-four team NASL was thriving with superstars such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Rodney Marsh, Bobby Moore, Giorgio Chinaglia and many others having passed through and thrilled the 1st generation of pro soccer fans. Over 70,000 fans would watch the Cosmos, and although few other teams could come anywhere close to that figure many franchises were getting above average fans.

Below the NASL level was the American Soccer League (the ASL). Still a fully national professional league, but with a far lower budget and profile, it served as a 2nd tier to the NASL, providing numerous players (and the occasional franchise) to the higher level league.

One area where the NASL had thrived was one introducing professional major league sport to cities that had not had much of a look-in with regards to Football, Baseball, and Basketball. Cities such as Portland, Tampa Bay, and Tulsa had successful teams and large support within their communities.

The Carolinas had never had a professional soccer game played in their states, let alone a team. Indeed, even the established American sports struggled with the market there. In Charlotte the Carolina Cougars (basketball) & charlotte hornets (world football league) had not been successful, and it was felt that the Carolinas and Charlotte could not support a pro sports team.

Undeterred by this, Ed Young, Gene Goldberg, and Richard Roddey formed Charlotte Soccer ’79, an organization to promote soccer in Charlotte and gauge the public’s mood regarding pro soccer. In December 1978 NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam had visited the group in Charlotte for preliminary talks about the possibility of locating an NASL team in the city. These talks sparked the group into using 1979 to see if the idea held weight.

Charlotte’s youth soccer program was also shaping up to become one of the larger programs in the Carolinas, despite the lack of facilities available for the kids to play and practice on. This proved that there was an interest in playing soccer in the area, but to test the waters regarding professional soccer the group attracted the NASL’s Atlanta Chiefs and Minnesota Kicks to play an exhibition game at Charlotte’s memorial stadium. Gene Goldberg’s son Steve was part of the Atlanta Chiefs and he felt that pro soccer could work in Charlotte. For him the Tampa Bay Rowdies, with their family and youth friendly approach, was the model to work from.

The event was accompanied by another first – a weekend long 16 team youth, adult, amateur, and collegiate indoor soccer tournament held at the Park Center.  The 2 events were designed to serve up family entertainment, and if they went well in terms of attendance, show the NASL league officials that soccer was a viable concern in the city.

It wasn’t just the NASL that had been looking at Charlotte however. The ASL was also interested in the area and talking to potential investors. One of the plus points in favour of the ASL was that it offered pro soccer (albeit at a lower level than the NASL) at a fraction of the cost. A franchise in the NASL cost 1,500,000 or more to set up, whereas in the ASL this would largely cost around $500,000.

The ASL’s Director of Franchise Development Rich Melvin was interested in adding a Southern Division to the ASL for the 1980 season, and was looking at Charlotte, Jacksonville, Birmingham, and Norfolk as potential cities. To try out facilities the ASL’s New Jersey Americans were going to attend a 2 week training camp in one of the cities to test the area’s suitability for pro soccer. If they chose Charlotte, four outdoor exhibition games were lined up against amateur teams, plus one indoor exhibition at the Charlotte Coliseum against a team of all-stars from Carolina’s colleges.

Melvin (who had previously been coach and co-owner of the Americans) favored Charlotte, and stated that even if the Southern Division was a non-starter, expansion was still on the cards. Charlotte would lose out however, with the Americans instead choosing to hold their training camp at the University of South Florida in Tampa Bay. The indoor exhibition was also cancelled due to the logistics of holding the game, plus the NASL exhibition match that would be taking place on the same night. The Americans would actually relocate to Miami for the 1980 ASL season, a move which would prove an unmitigated disaster.

This left the NASL exhibition as the only game in town. To drum up interest in the game a special advertising pull-out was placed in the local paper to promote the events and explain the rules of the game Ticket prices for the NASL exhibition were priced at $4 for adults, whilst a ticket for the 2 days of the indoor tournament was just $3. Goldberg estimated that around 10,000 tickets had been sold for the game.

On the 24th March 1979, the Chiefs and Kicks took to field in front of 3,742 fans in the first professional game in North or South Carolina. The attendance was a little lower than expected, put down to the cold weather on the day of the game. The Chiefs ran out 2-1 winners, thanks to a last gasp goal from Yugoslav forward Nino Zec.

Although the attendance was disappointing, NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam said that Charlotte’s chances of joining the NASL were not hurt by this. He explained that any decision would not just be based on attendance, but also the stadium, the team’s organization and a strong financial commitment from the ownership group. Woosnam was very complimentary about the area’s suitability for a franchise, but any team would have to be relocated from an existing city.

After this it seemed that the chances of NASL soccer in Charlotte was in out of reach in the short-term, so the ASL seemed to be the only option for outdoor professional soccer.

The Carolina Professional Soccer Ltd. Was a group of five investors ready to enter a Charlotte-based team in the 1980 ASL season. President of the group was Pittsburgh-raised Bob Benson, the owner of Pnucor, a local engineering sales firm, who said that their application would be entered in August 1979, and they should know if they were successful the following month. An estimated $350,000 dollars had been pledged towards the running of the team, and if they were successful a similar amount would be required for the team to start the season in April 1980. Benson would not reveal the names of his co-investors but it was known that Rich Melvin, who had favoured Charlotte for the training site of the New Jersey Americans, had pledged to invest a portion of the money. The group was also holding youth soccer camps in Charlotte with staff and coaches from New Jersey, where Melvin ran youth camps. The ASL was reputedly looking for 4 new franchises to join the league, with each franchise costing a 250,000 fee payable to the ASL. Benson and his group were looking for at least $700,000 before they would commit to fielding a team, as this would allow them to field a team for 3 seasons. At the present time it was a not-for profit investment, but there was the potential if the team and league performed well for the sale of the franchise to reap a profit. The additional investors and funds were found, and on December 1st 1979 the group was granted an ASL franchise.

Benson was the group’s figurehead and named as President of the nascent franchise. A former Clemson University basketball star, he had previously tried to save the Carolina Cougars ABA team without success, and was now the driving force behind soccer in the Carolinas. Benson had always been interested in soccer, but his passion was truly stoked by a college soccer game between Clemson and St. Louis University in 1974 that attracted over 10,000 fans.  Married to his passion for the game was pragmatism about why soccer could be successful in Charlotte whilst traditional American sports couldn’t. The city lacked the 50,000 capacity stadium to make football or baseball viable, whereas for an NBA franchise the team would have to average huge attendances in order to not make a loss. Ice hockey was ruled out as the manager of the Charlotte Coliseum stated that it was too warm to make ice. This just left soccer, which by happy coincidence would fit snugly into the Memorial Stadium. The team would train at the Leroy Springs Complex in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

In order to promote the team and the sport, the Carolina Professional Soccer Ltd group also staged an exhibition match between an ASL All-star team and the Israel national team.

Rich Melvin was named as the first General Manager of the team, and the first appointment made b was that of Ed Young, who was named as Director of Operations due to his background with soccer and connections within Charlotte. He would also assist Melvin with his GM duties, and become known as the “hardest working executive in the ASL’.

In the September of 1980, 7 months before the team would take to the field for the first time, English soccer legend Rodney Marsh was named as the Lightnin’s inaugural head coach. Marsh had arrived in the states in 1976 to play in the NASL for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, where he quickly won over the American soccer fans with his skills on the pitch and personality off it. He was also familiar with the ASL having spent the 1980 season as head coach of New York United. The signing of one of the most recognizable soccer stars in America as head coach gave a great boost to the Lightnin’s wooing of fans, especially as Marsh’s nationwide TV adverts for Miller Lite beer had further raised his profile in the states. Other new signings to the front office team were Conrad Smith as the team’s PR director, and Judy Adkins, who would work on team operations and equipment management. Another key player would also be John McGillicuddy as ticket manager. On the training staff Steve Horne was appointed as the playing squad’s athletic trainer responsible for getting them fit and ready to play.

Conrad Smith’s appointment was part of Bob Benson’s strategy to promote the team within a 50 to 80 mile radius of Charlotte, mainly through getting stories in the media to spread the word of soccer in the Carolina’s and working with local businesses. The Lightnin’ staff’s hard work and skill in promoting the team saw them receive extensive media coverage and support from the local media. The Charlotte Observer newspaper, and in particular their soccer-savvy sports reporter David Scott covered the Lightnin’s birth tirelessly, and Paul Anderson, the Sports Director for WBTV (local CBS affiliate), also helped promote the game and the team to the Charlotte public.

Supporters from the business community included local banker Wes Sturgis (now President of the Bank of Commerce), Carolina’s number one grocery store chain Harris-Teeter, and Belk’s Department Stores (the number one department store chain in the Carolinas). Harris-Teeters’ “HT” logo was also incorporated into the team’s name on their shirts. The support of the media and business would be vital in promoting the game in the city and wider area.

They also targeted families, as Smith noted: “we want to promote families. We have to promote for entertainment because people yet don’t understand the game. We try and give it the personal touch and hope that that person will come back again and again and in time will learn the game. A lot of people have not been exposed to soccer in this country”. Part of this ‘personal touch’ approach was to heavily expose the Lightnin’s players to the public. Prior to the team’s first game players were sent out to schools, local soccer clubs to make speeches and hold clinics and training sessions for the children. The amount of kids playing the game in the local area was also encouraging, as they would influence their parents into going to see a professional soccer game on their own doorsteps. All this would hopefully see the Lightnin’ reach Benson’s goal of a 6,000 average attendance for their first season on the field.

The ASL (under the auspices of their commissioner, news anchor Mario Machado) placed the Lightnin’ in the Freedom Conference, where they would line up for their first season alongside the Detroit Express, Rochester Flash, and the Cleveland Cobras. The other conference (named the Liberty Conference) would feature New York United, New York Eagles (based in Albany), Pennsylvania Stoners, and the New England Sharks. The ASL’s scoring system was 5 points for a win, 2 for a tie and 1 bonus point for each goal scored up to a maximum of 3, meaning that a 3-0 win could earn a team 8 points.

The Lightnin’ had a front office, committed ownership, a stadium, and a nationally famous and respected Head Coach, but what about the important people: the players who would take to the field for the Lightnin’

On the roster was 4 year ASL veteran striker Mal Roche, who would come to be known as the Lightnin’s “Penalty kick King”. Roche had been the leading goals and points scorer in the 1980 ASL season whilst with the Golden Gate Gales.  He had also been voted as the “Rookie of the Year” in 1977, so was well versed with the ASL. Ex-American international forward Joey Fink was signed from the ASL’s Cleveland Cobras. He brought experience to the frontline having previously been with the New York Cosmos and the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL. He had spent the previous 2 seasons in the ASL and was familiar with the style of play required. Spanish born defender Santiago Formoso was signed from the defunct Houston Hurricane after a 4 season NASL career, including 2 seasons with the Cosmos. The goalkeeping position would be filled by Scott Manning who was the ASL’s leading goalkeeper in 1980 whilst with the Pennsylvania Stoners. Englishman Stuart Metcalfe, a veteran of 386 games with Blackburn Rovers was signed to play in the midfield.

One player on the roster that would become the team’s star player, and be Charlotte’s top sports star of the early 1980’s was Tony Suarez. Born in Cuba, his family emigrated to the US in 1972 when he was 16 years old. After graduating from Belmont Abbey College with a B.A. in Business Management he decided to have try outs for the Lightnin’.  His trial was unsuccessful, but he was placed on the team’s reserve roster, as well as being employed as the bus driver for the team on their road trips. It wasn’t long until he received his chance with the first team. In preparation for the team’s second game, the Lightnin’ suffered an injury crisis and Suarez was in the starting line-up. He was an immediate hit with the crowd, who liked seeing a hometown player on the roster, as well as enjoying his style of play. Fans also warmed, according to reporter David Scott, to his “shoulder length hair and toothy grin”. His playing style was uncomplicated; being to knock the bass passed the defender, race after it, and then put a shot in at goal. He was also adept at latching on to passes into space behind the defenders and haring through to score. He would go on to honors with the team and become the biggest sports star in Charlotte during the early 1980’s.

Another notable player was New Jersey native Hugh O’Neill who was signed from the NASL’s Memphis Rogues. His career had started in 1976 with the Hartford Bicentennials, but wanting to gain experience, asked them to find a club in Europe during the off-season. They loaned him to Scottish team Rangers, unaware that as a Catholic he would not fit in with Rangers’ protestant only policy. Despite being aware of this, and knowing that Rangers had never signed a Catholic player, he went on to play every game that season for Rangers’ reserve team, although he never appeared for the first team.

In defence for the Lightnin’ would be Curtis Leeper, nicknamed “Louie the Leep”, a right back who was an excellent marker with a good throw-in. Partnering him at the back was Kevin Murphy, who was the youngest American soccer player ever to sign a pro contract when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Fury in 1978. Back-up goalkeeper to Manning was Bill Finneyfrock, a brave goalie with good hands who acquired the nickname “Barney Rubble” from his team mates. Steve Scott was a forward runner with signed for the Lightnin’ after free tryouts, and who Marsh felt was the best athlete on the playing roster. Corner kick specialist Miguel Avila would play in right midfield after signing from the Sacramento Gold. English defender George Borg was signed from English semi-pro team Wycombe Wanderers to play at fullback, where he would compete for a starting spot with Formoso.. Irish midfielder Don Tobin was a key addition to the Lightnin’ midfield, where he would become regarded at the team’s “quarterback” dictating play. Completing the defense were Dave Power & Dave Pierce. Pierce had spent the previous six seasons with New York United ( or Apollo as they were known up until the 1980 season) and was named as the team captain, whereas Pierce was a rookie, but they would go on to play a major part in the Lightnin’s success.

Another important member of the team, and fan’s favourite was the “12th man”. Sparky the dog would entertain the fans pre-match and at half-time with his excellent heading and ball control skills. He secured his place on the roster by trialling at the franchise office in front on Rodney Marsh and Ed Young. He was on loan to the team from his owner and trainer (and Lightnin’ fan) Donna Hammer.

The team’s first ever training session was held at the Tega Cay Country Club, the first day of a two week training camp that would be held at their Fort Mill training complex. Rodney Marsh was happy with the fitness of the players, as well as the Americanization policy of the ASL. During the training camp one of the best known American players in the NASL, Kyle Rote Jnr. was said to be having discussions regarding signing for the Lightnin’. Alas this would come to nothing and Rote would retire from professional soccer.

Lightnin’ started season with 5 back-to-back home games, which saw Miguel Avila score the Lightnin’s first ever professional goal. Throughout the season, various promotions would take place to try and persuade the Charlotte public to come and attend games. Their third game of the season would see them face the Rochester Flash at home, with the American Cancer Society receiving a share of the profits.  The first 500 children through the gates would receive a balloon and the half time giveaway was a color television. June was named as Coca-Cola bottle top month where fans could get $1.50 off match ticket if they presented 6 coke bottle top caps when purchasing a ticket. Entertainment was also provided for the fans in musical form with each win by the Lightnin’ greeted with Kool & The Gang’s – “Celebration” being played as the players walked off the field. Likewise during every stoppage in play the “Budweiser” song would ring out around the stands.

May also saw the Lightnin’ face the Chinese national team in an exhibition match at Memorial Stadium. The China team was facing ASL teams on tour, and had already downed the Rochester Flash and the Pennsylvania Stoners. The Lightnin’ were unable to improve on that record, going down 2-0.

In June Marsh told the St. Petersburg Evening Independent that he had received job offers from 2 NASL  teams (California Surf was one, maybe Tampa the 2nd?), and one MISL team. Marsh however said that he was happy in Charlotte and would make a decision about his future after the season. The Lightnin’ according to Marsh was a “Dynamite” franchise, although he said he “would be a liar if I said everything was perfect about the ASL”.

By mid-season the team led ASL in average attendance with around 4,000 (1,000 more than the others), proving that soccer had well and truly caught on with the Charlotte public. Benson stated that if attendance grew at present rate the team may be the most successful 1st year soccer franchise in the country ever, in turn proving naysayers wrong about Charlotte being a good sports town. A week before this story appeared, the Carolina Chargers of the American Football Association had folded due to non-payment of players. Benson said that the success thus far of the Lightnin’ was due to the fact that before he set up the team he had studied the mistakes that other sports franchises in the city had made, and learned from the process. He agreed that Charlotte was not capable of supporting a major traditional American sports team but that soccer was the right size for the city. The city also provided ample room for growth, with approximately 20,000 kids playing in the metropolitan area. These same kids were being targeted by the Lightnin’ with the team’s personal appearances.

July saw Hollywood come to the Lightnin’ as the game at home against the New York Eagles was named as “Victory” night, named after the soccer movie starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine  & Pele (alongside Werner Roth and some other NASL players) that had just been released. “Victory” was shown at a special preview for the Lightnin’ team, and for the fans attending the game posters, a soccer ball signed by Pele, and a complete soccer uniform worn in the movie “Victory” would be given away.  Unbeknownst to players watching “Victory”, one of the footballing stars in the film, Bobby Moore, would also come to play his part in the success of the Lightnin’ in the coming years.

By August the Lightnin’ were playing well and attracting the fans, but were described as “low-scoring” in the press. They had the lowest goals for in the league at this stage with 22 goals from 16 games, with most of the goals being scored by their bus driver-turned superstar forward Tony Suarez. His ongoing success on the field with the Lightnin’ led to him signing 2 year joint contract between the Lightnin’ and the MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League)’s Cleveland Force. The deal was worth just over $100,000, and included an option on the Lightnin’ part to extend his contract for up to another 2 years. Bob Benson stated that Suarez was “exactly the type of player we’re looking for”.  The team’s performances led the owners to move quickly to secure other players to longer contracts. Confirmed signees were Dave Philpotts, Dave Power ( given a 3-year contract and a role as assistant coach for the 1982 season), Curtis Leeper, Hugh O’Neill, Dave Power, and George Borg, who had displaced Formoso at left back with some tough tackling displays.

The Lightnin’ promotions got larger and larger as the team became more successful. Probably the most unique half-time giveaway in soccer history occurred when the prize at stake was an actual airplane. The Charlotte Observer Airplane Giveaway was the brainchild of Ed Young, with Rodney Marsh pushing it through and making it happen. The prize was supplied by Piper Aircraft, the Observer, and Coca-Cola. To stand a chance of winning the plane, fans had to buy a copy of the Charlotte Observer the day before the game. Each copy contained a pasteboard plane model that could be folded into the shape of an airplane. The fans then brought this to the stadium where at half-time they had to stand in the stands and throw their planes towards the real thing stood in the centre circle of the pitch. The nearest paper plane to the airplane’s nose won the plane. The contest caught the imagination of the Charlotte public, and saw a half-time clean up of 10,000 plus paper planes from the pitch after the competition.

Another regular giveaway was a Volvo car, which was won on match days if a fan could kick the ball into the car’s sunroof in three attempts. As is standard in these giveaways, prior to the event insurance had to be acquired, so a  prestigious agent and actuary from Lloyds of London attended to assess the risks of maybe giving away a car every other week. The actuary asked Ed Young to arrange a trial, whereupon a cross section of the Charlotte public (amateur soccer players, children, parents etc) would have five attempts at the challenge to see how likely it was that cars would be flying out of showrooms in prizes. Every person had three attempts, and all ended in failure, leading to the Lloyds agent starting to prepare a very favourable quote to Ed Young. Exactly at the wrong moment Rodney Marsh appeared asking what was going on. When told, he gets a ball and kicks it straight into the sunroof at the very first attempt. Cue the Lloyds agent hastily re-writing his quote and coming up with a (far higher) figure to insure the giveaway.

Another financial cloud on the horizon (not caused by Marsh this time), was that the Lightnin’ players may follow the lead of other squads in the ASL and vote to unionize. The Federation of Professional Athletes was a demanding a minimum salary requirement for its members, a move that might hurt the Lightnin’. Benson stated that the Lightnin’ might not be able to survive if this came to pass as his expected loss of $160,000 for the season would be increased by at least $100,000. This would force him to have to pull out of funding the team. The crisis was averted however, and the unionization never came to pass.

The Lightnin’ won ASL Freedom conference on last night of regular season  in September, when main rivals Detroit Express lost 4-1 to New York United.  They topped the Freedom Conference after 28 game regular season with 16 wins, 3 ties, and 9 losses scoring 46 goals and conceding 31 for 127 points. This gave them the 3rd best record in whole ASL, and meant that they would meet the team with the 6th best record in the first round of the playoffs.

The Lightnin’ brushed aside the Rochester Flash in the first round, beating them 2-0 in the winner- takes-all game, which would see them through to a two-leg semi-final game against the Pennsylvania Stoners

The semi-finals saw the Lightnin’ face the Pennsylvania Stoners home and away to decide who would reach the championship game. The first leg was at home in Charlotte, and the Stoners took charge early in the game, battering the Lightnin’ goal with shots. The Lightnin’ hung firm and managed to get a goal up after 31 minutes when Stoner goalkeeper Tom Reynolds could not hold on to a 30 yard shot from the Dave Power. The ball bounced off his chest and Tony Suarez nicked in to put the Lightnin’ one-up from 6 yards. The Stoners equalized after 52 minutes after a defensive lapse let Eric Smith in to score from 22 yards. An inspired substitution at 70 minutes saw Joey Fink replaced with Mal Roche. Just 2 minutes later Stoners defender Ken McDonald was called for handball in the Stoners’ box, and the penalty king stepped up to put Carolina 2-1 up. Poor goalkeeping by Reynolds on 88 minutes saw him spill another long shot and Philpotts sealed the first leg victory 3-1.

The Lightnin’ travelled to Allentown knowing a draw would suffice to send them through to the championship game. The Stoners would be formidable however, as they had not lost at home for 30 games,  a fact highlighted by Philpotts who said that the first leg “was a tough game to defend”. Carolina decided to play a more defensive game, but couldn’t prevent the Stoners scoring twice to send the game into overtime. With 4 minutes left in the second period of overtime, Lightnin’ forward Mal Roche scored the goal that would send them through 4-3 on aggregate.

The Lightnin’s opponents in the ASL Championship game would be Marsh & Power’s old team, New York United. Due to United having the best record over the 28 game season, they had the rights to hold the game at their own stadium. This created a problem for the ASL however, as New York United had struggled to attract fans to the games – only 375 people paid to see the United host the Lightnin’ earlier in the season. The same fixture in Charlotte had attracted 9,109 fans, and with the Lightnin’ leading the league in attendance it would be put to a vote of the ASL owners and the league about switching the game to the Carolinas. The vote came in at 9-1 in favour of moving the game to Charlotte, which was a great boost for the Lightnin’, their fans, and the city itself. With a crowd of around 10,000 expected, the Lightnin’ agreed to share the gate receipts with New York as part of the deal. The game would also be broadcast live on radio station WBT (1100AM).

The 18th September 1981 saw the Lightnin’ exceed all expectations. The 10,000 crowd that would have been considered a success was dwarfed as 20,163 fans turned out to see the championship game against New York United. The attendance was not just a record for the Lightnin’, but also for any match played ever in the American Soccer League.

The game was expected to be tight as the teams had a 2-2 head-to-head record over the regular season. The first half started with some rough play, and English defender Dave Philpotts was forced to leave the field after only 15 minutes with cracked ribs and a punctured lung. His replacement Kevin Murphy came off the bench and performed brilliantly filling in. The game was tight with Scott Manning and United keeper George Taratsides saving shots. The deadlock was broken by New York United after 64 minutes when their Nigerian striker Solomon Hilton struck a fierce shot from around 20 yards passed Manning and into the top left corner. It didn’t take long for the Lightnin’ to hit back however. On 69 minutes Hugh O’Neill headed a throw-in on to Don Tobin who in turn headed it into the net from 3 yards out. After regulation play the game was still tied, forcing the two 20 minute extra time periods to be played. With just 3 minutes before the game would go to a penalty shoot-out, O’Neill scored the goal that would send the championship to the Carolinas. Tobin took a corner kick, Dave Pierce knocked the ball on and O’Neill headed the ball into the net. New York United responded by bombarding the Lightnin’ goal, but Scott Manning and the rest of the team managed to keep them out.

After the game Marsh said that there had been “nothing in my life like this, it’s been an incredible year”.  He followed it up by saying he thought it had been a “classic final”. Champagne flowed in the locker room

The Lightnin’ had won the ASL championship at the first time of asking, and had energized the Charlotte public, putting to bed the feeling that the city couldn’t support a pro-sports team. This was proved by the Lightnin’ having the highest average attendance in the ASL with over 4,300. 2 games attracted over 8,000 fans, more than some teams in the NASL.

Tony Suarez finished up as the team’s top goal scorer with 15 goals from his 22 games , as well as creating  4 goals. His total of 34 points ranked him 5th overall in the ASL that year. He also made the ASL All-Star team, as well as being voted the ASL’s “Rookie of the Year”.  Irish midfielder Don Tobin was also voted on to the ASL’s All-Star team on the basis of his excellent displays. Other stand outs were Mal Roche who scored 8 goals from his 21 games and began to be known as the Lightnin’s “penalty kick king”.

Public relations and competitions would provide an integral ay of attracting fans to the Memorial Stadium. Cars were frequently given away at half-time if you could chip the soccer ball into the sunroof from 20 yards away. One competition even saw the Lightnin’ give away an aeroplane at half-time! The Lightnin’ success saw them appear in adverts for the army, removal firms,

Before the 1982 ASL season, new league chairman Prenk Curanaj started scouting new southern teams to join the league after New York United, New York Eagles, and the New England Sharks all folded. To replace them the Nashville Diamonds, and the Oklahoma City Slickers were added to the league. The Cleveland Cobras upped sticks and moved to Atlanta to become the Georgia Generals. In a structural change, the 2 conference system the previous year was disbanded, and the 7 teams would play in a single league. Six teams would make the playoffs after the 28 game season.

The Lightnin’s roster would change a little for the 1982 season, which would see them attempt to defend their title. Spanish defender Santiago Formosa was released. He was starting fullback for the 81 season until his position was taken by English defender George Borg. Then, due to bad feelings between him and Rodney Marsh he was asked not to return for the 1982 season. Joey Fink opted to retire from outdoor soccer and focus on indoor soccer, signing for the Baltimore Blast of the MISL. He would go on to be successful indoors and be inducted into the Baltimore Blast hall of fame in 2006. Defender Dave Power became Marsh’s assistant coach, a role he would combine with playing. One big loss however was Tony Suarez. He had joined up with Cleveland for the indoor season and began well with 4 goals from 8 games, before injuring his knee badly. This injury would not only rule him out for the rest of the MISL season, but also the entire 1982 ASL season. It was a cruel blow for someone who had become Charlotte’s biggest sports star.

To replace Suarez, South African NASL legend Derek Smethurst was signed from the Memphis Americans of the MISL. Smethurst had scored 57 goals in just 65 games for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, before playing out his NASL career with the San Diego Sockers & the Seattle Sounders. He had also very nearly switched codes, as his success in Tampa led him to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL pre-season as a place-kicker. In a mirror of the Suarez situation, Miguel Avila damaged his knee in pre-season friendly and was also ruled out for the season after surgery. George Borg was also unable to return for the 1982 season after a contractual dispute with Wycombe Wanderers over the terms of his loan deal. Joining the team was Haiti-born ex-US international Pat Fidelia who had played for the Montreal Manic in the 1981 NASL season.

In an ownership change, Rich Melvin left the franchise and sold his share of the ownership to Bob Benson.

The 1982 season opener was game away against the new Georgia Generals franchise. WAYS (610 AM) radio had struck a deal to feature all of the Lightnin’s games in 1982, meaning that even if fans couldn’t travel to the away fixtures they could still keep in touch with the action. Team preparations for the Generals game were disrupted by the late of midfielder Don Tobin, who faced a race against time to get back from Wichita where he had been playing with Wichita Wings in MISL playoffs. The game finished 2-2,  with central defender Dave Philpotts scoring both goals with headers from corners, making use of his physical presence and heading and jumping ability. Philpotts said that the team had got stronger as game went on and they could have won by the end. This positive statement was retracted after the next game, a 2-0 away loss against the Nashville Diamonds which Philpotts Stated performance was worst Lightnin’ he could remember.

Before the Lightnin’s home opener against Oklahoma City Slickers, they announced the signing of NASL legend Paul Child. Born in England, Child had came to the U.S. in 1972 to join the Atlanta Chiefs, and had never left. He became one of the most feared strikers in the NASL, and ranked 5th in the all-time top scorers list with 102 goals in 241 games. His partnership with Smethurst gave the Lightnin’ an attack that would have graced almost any NASL team.

Defender Curtis Leeper was enthusiastic about signing of Paul Child – “I’m really excited, I’ve seen him play before and played against him in the MISL. He’s going to do the team a tremendous amount of good, since we need some goals upfront”. Lightnin’ goals in the 1982 season were a valuable commodity as each goal scored was worth a $100 bonus for the scorer, with $500 handed over for a hat-trick.

The 4th game of the season was a home match against the Rochester Flash, but due to thunder and lightning and poor field conditions the game was called off 30 minutes after the supposed start time. The decision was made by the referees in conjunction with Charlotte’s parks and recreation department. The Lightnin’s contract with the parks department for the use of Memorial Stadium allowed them to cancel a game if they felt the grass was threatened. Rodney Marsh was disappointed, but recognized the need for the players and fans safety

June saw Derek Smethurst agreeing his release from the team after their 3-0 loss against the Pennsylvania Stoners, feeling that he could not adapt to the style of play in the ASL. In that game, and in the previous game against the Nashville Diamonds, Smethurst had been subjected to overly physical and rough play from opposing defenders. He felt that he and Paul Child were “marked men” in those games. The Diamonds players had been told to kick him, on or off the ball and to try and put him out of the game, whether by intimidating him or injuring him. Smethurst was left with a cut above his eye and numerous bruises. After the game he stated that he wasn’t that sort of player. The treatment continued in their game against the Pennsylvania Stoners, with 5 players handing out the pounding on him and Child which led to him asking to be released from his contract so he could return to his Memphis home.

Smethurst stated that he had no problem with physical play during the regular course of the game, but that he was being fouled and kicked when the ball was 60 yards away. He might have been able to retaliate a few years previous, but due to his age (34), and his converting to Christianity 3 years previously he no longer wanted to play soccer that way.  After his release he retired from pro outdoor soccer and said he would wait at home with his family in Memphis until the MISL season recommenced in the Autumn. He would concentrate on playing out his career indoor with the Memphis Americans.

Rodney Marsh stated that his release was by mutual agreement as it was not working out on either side. As they had been a potent forward partnership at the Tampa Bay Rowdies Marsh said that they remained friends, there were no hard feelings and the decision was for the best.

June also saw a 2-1 exhibition game victory at home against the Georgia Generals in front of 4,083 fans. Head Coach Marsh even took to the field for 20 minutes, which he stated was “a learning experience” and that he had learned more about the team in his 20 minute cameo than he had in the previous 2 years. He also learnt that a comeback for him was not on the cards. Marsh wore the number 13 shirt and showed that whilst his on the ball skills had not left him, his speed and fitness had. Marsh had said before that he had considered returning as a player in 1983, but the Generals game was proof that once you’ve retired, you’ve retired. Regarding the team, he learned that his offense wasn’t taking advantage of gaps in the middle of the field, and that the team was playing as 3 separate units rather than as a team. Midfielders weren’t making offensive runs, as other players weren’t dropping in and covering  for them when they went, so they had decided not to make runs at all.

For the game he had also tried Bill Finneyfrock in goal, who impressed making several key saves. Marsh stated that he was “excellent” and that he had needed a full game to boost his confidence. Finneyfrock himself described the game as “fantastic”, although it took him a little time to re-familiarize himself as he hadn’t played a game in a while. Finneyfrock’s brother Rich was a midfielder with the Nashville Diamonds.

Taking Smethurst’s place on the roster was Irish midfielder Redmond Lane who had been signed on loan from the MISL’s St. Louis Steamers for a year. Lane had spend the 1981 ASL season with the New York United where he had finished 4th on the ASL’s points scoring table with 14 goals and 10 assists for 38 points. Lane had also been voted MVP of the 1978 ASL championship game when he played with the New York Apollo. He would feature on the left side of midfield, where his speed and cultured left foot would energize the Lightnin’s attack. Also signing, although only on a one-month trial period was striker David Wright, a prospect from Portland State University. He was described as a speedy striker in the Tony Suarez style, and had been personally recommended by Lightnin’ goalkeeper Scott Manning. Midfielder and North Carolina University graduate Gerry McKeown also signed a one-year contract with club.

Unfortunately forward Hugh O’Neill would end up missing part of the 1982 season after returning to New Jersey to be with his dying father.

Promotions continued apace, and for the home game against the Detroit Express the first 3,000 youngsters admitted into the Memorial stadium would receive a fee Lightnin’ T-shirt courtesy of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Before the game would also see the second year of the Press Vs. Carolina Lightnin’ Media match. The press team were looking to avenge their 7-2 loss in the inaugural game in 1981.

After the Express game the Lightnin’ would travel to play the Rochester Flash in an unusually luxurious manner; the owners were chartering a plane to fly the team there in an experiment to see if it would see the team arrive in better shape. If proved successful and finances allowed, they may well travel in this manner for future road games. This showed how serious the Lightnin’ were in defending their championship.

A familiar face returned to the Lightnin’ midway through the season as Santiago Formosa was re-signed on a contract until the end of the season. Marsh was happy to give him a chance as the team was struggling, and Marsh felt that he was “one of the most talented players in America”.  It was hoped that he would strike up a partnership with Redmond Lane on the left side. To make room for him on the roster, striker Len Mercurio and defender Ricky Marvin were deactivated.

One of the drawbacks with having a successful and high profile Head Coach was the speculation linking him with the NASL, in particular his former stomping grounds in Tampa. The coaching position at the Rowdies was free again and Marsh was much in demand from the fans, if not the owner George Strawbridge. Marsh stated “I’d regard it as a personal honor to come back and make this team great again” indicating that perhaps he was inclined to take the position. Strawbridge instead quickly hired American Al Miller, and to quieten any further rumours Marsh signed a new one year contract for the 1983 season as head coach of the Lightnin. This completed Marsh’s original contract of 2 years plus a one year extension option pact with Carolina. Bob Benson said that this was “a vote of confidence in Marsh and the team”. Benson issued a challenge to Marsh however, saying that his overall 22-18-5 record was not acceptable to the winning tradition and values of the franchise.  Marsh stated that the contract was “the most original and unique in the United States” and that he would be completely free to negotiate with any team after the conclusion of the contract in September 1983. He himself offered a vote of confidence in the Lightnin by stating “Whether in the ASL or the NASL I have no doubt that this is one of the top 5 Soccer organizations in the country”. He also liked the challenge of turning around the Lightnin’s poor 1982 season, and had agreed with Benson that the team must win 6 of its 8 next games.

Later in the month, and quite appropriately given the team’s name, goalkeeper Scott Manning was struck by lightning prior to a home game against the Georgia Generals. During the storm his aluminium studs connected with a water sprinkler and caused the shock when the lightning struck, knocking him to the ground. He was helped off the field with no burns, just with his nerves severely rattled. Lightning does obviously strike twice however, as a few years before during a practice match in Rochester, Manning had been knocked to the floor when lightning struck the goalposts. The game with Georgia was postponed due to the weather.

Regarding their recent poor form, Manning was optimistic that it could be turned around, and that a run to the playoffs was not out of the question. He felt that although the squad had lacked a little belief, he thought that there wasn’t a team in the ASL the Lightnin couldn’t beat. He also said though that due to the teams poor defensive displays that it was “the most frustrating season of his career”.

Formosa’s second debut for the team was a home game against the Oklahoma City Slickers, and he inspired them to a 2-0 victory in front of 4,141 fans at the Memorial Stadium. Formosa was key in the victory, setting up the first goal for Lane and shoring up the defence. He also helped reduce the Slickers to ten men when, after a hard tackle, opposing  midfielder Jim Millinder came up with a hard swing to punch Formosa on the back of the neck.

Marsh was pleased with his performance too, feeling he played better than expected.  He said that Formosa “was a very, very, very good player.  He’s a good passer and seldom gives the ball away, that’s why we need him”. With the first of his 6 victories that Bob Benson required, Marsh stated that “we have to take it game by game, and keep chipping away at it”.

Their next home game drew a midweek record crowd of 5,194 to the Memorial Stadium to see the Lightnin’ in the re-scheduled clash against the Georgia Generals. Unfortunately the Lightnin’ would go down 2-1 amidst controversial refereeing  decisions and comments from Marsh. A booming free-kick from Formosa had tied the game following Robbie Olson’s opener for the Generals, when a controversial penalty kick was awarded to Georgia. Lightnin’ defender Steve Scott collided with an opposition player in the box, both players went down along with 2 others but a penalty was called. ASL scoring legend Jose Neto converted from the spot to win the game. After the game Marsh labelled the referees in the ASL as “worse than pathetic” and that they “seemed to enjoy seeing the Lightnin’ lose”. Marsh also said that the referee was laughing whilst booking Mal Roche towards the end of the game. During the game he felt that the referees were favouring the Generals, awarding them more fouls, and giving them the penalty kick..

The loss snapped the Lightnin’s 2 game winning streak and left them at 5-9-2 for the season, stalling the teams “must win” trip to the ASL playoffs. Their next 2 games would be on the road at the Generals and in Nashville before a home exhibition game against the NASL’s Rowdies. The exhibition was meant to be against a team from Holland, but they cancelled in advance.

The Lightnin’ won both the road games, leaving them 5th in the ASL, before beating the Rowdies 4-3 on a penalty shoot out in the exhibition game. The Rowdies line-up was mainly reserve players, although a few had NASL experience. It was successful at the box office with 7,690 fans in attendance. Defender Curtis Leeper scored 2 goals in the shoot out, an oddity for ASL teams as they didn’t feature penalty shootout deciders in their league.

By mid-August the Lightnin’ were in 4th place in the ASL with a 9-12-4 record, and were preparing for a home exhibition game which might lead to the Lightnin’ joining the NASL. The Jacksonville Tea Men were considering relocating to Charlotte and merging with the Lightnin’ as they were drawing poorly in the NASL, and not experiencing success on the field.  Other potential cities were also being considered, with Milwaukee the key challenger. The exhibition game was Jacksonville testing the Carolina market for the franchise and also testing the players.  Charlotte seemed to have the upper hand, having had a successful team and having successfully drew 20,000 plus fans for their championship game, instead of an untried soccer market in Milwaukee.

Lightnin’ President Bob Benson stated that requirements for the merger would be the Lightnin’ getting good crowds for their remaining ASL game and the playoff games, as well as selling 8,000 season tickets for the following season. The deadline for the sales would be November, as the NASL league meetings were held in that month and the fixtures announced in December. If both criteria were fulfilled the merger would go ahead. Benson explained that he wouldn’t go ahead without the guaranteed season ticket sales as he “wasn’t prepared to risk the team’s off-field success on the weather and the teams winning record (in the NASL)”. Benson was also not sure on whether the fans would still come in numbers to a team finding its feet and growing in the NASL over a number of years, rather than the instant success the team had in the ASL.

If the merger went ahead, Marsh would coach the new team and the roster would be a combination of the two squads, giving the exhibition game the feel of a trial match for all the players. The team would also not feature in the NASL’s indoor league. Marsh liked the prospect of Charlotte being in the NASL, feeling that the team would do well.

In early September the Lipton Tea Co. (owners of the Tea Men) announced that Charlotte was out of the running, and that Milwaukee was the preferred option for relocation. Rodney Marsh expressed surprise at the announcement, stating with surprise that “Milwaukee must have sold 8,000 season tickets”. It seemed that Milwaukee had rich backers, but the word was that the Lightnin’ might try for its own NASL franchise in 1984. In the end the Tea Men acquired new owners, remained in Jacksonville, and would face the Lightnin’ in 1983 having left the NASL for the ASL.

The Lightnin’ had a difficult second season and  finished 4th in the league playing 28 games, winning 11, tying 4, and losing 13. They scored 37 goals, conceded 45 for 99 points. They still qualified for the playoffs, where they would defeat the Rochester Flash 3-1 at home. This qualified them for the ASL semi-finals where they would face the ASL new boys, the Oklahoma City Slickers. Their success of 1981 would not be replicated however as they lost the best of 3 series , losing 2-1 and 3-0 in the first 2 games.

The top scorers for the Lightnin’ was Pat Fidelia, with 8 goals and 3 assists for 19 points. This was 8th best in the ASL, which adds weight to the feeling that the Lightnin’s offense wasn’t firing as well without Suarez and Avila.

The close season leading up to the 1983 season saw the Lightnin’ attempting to fight off the NASL. In an attempt to help ‘Americanize’ the NASL and provide better preparation for the U.S.  National team, a new team was set up in Washington DC called Team America. All NASL teams had to make their American and green card holding players available for trade to the team to fill its roster. In addition, at least 2 of the teams 20 man roster would be drawn from teams in the ASL. The commissioner of the  NASL, Howard Samuels, had contacted the Lightnin’ and asked them to participate in potentially providing players for the franchise.  Marsh was concerned about how competitive the team would be if it lost a key player to Team America, and was considering protecting the player’s contracts from the expansion draft. In the end Team America didn’t feature any players from ASL teams, and the Lightnin’ roster remained intact.

Although the Lightnin’ were a strong franchise,  the same could not be said of the other teams in the ASL, or the league. The ASL barely made it to the start of the 1983 season and now comprised only 6 teams, split equally into an Eastern and Western Division. The Lightnin’ were placed in the Eastern Division alongside the Pennsylvania Stoners and the Jacksonville Tea Men (the team who had nearly merged with the Carolina). In the Western Division would be the Oklahoma City Slickers, the Detroit Express, and the Dallas Americans.  The Season would be shortened to 25 games, with ties eliminated in favour of the NASL style penalty shoot out.

Joining the Lightnin’ front office was Robin Hyatt-Corn, who would be the voice of the team when people called the office. Her main role was  in public relations department  for the team, having previously worked for the Rock Hill Times newspaper in Charlotte.

New players on the roster would be ASL veteran midfielder Danny Payne, who had played under Marsh in the 1982 ASL all-star game. Payne was expected to bring vision to the Lightnin’ midfield alongside Lane and Tobin. 1981 Championship winning defender George Borg returned to Charlotte having settled his contract dispute with Wycombe.

By far the Lightnin’s biggest signing (and perhaps the ASL’s biggest coup)  however was  the signing Bobby Moore as assistant coach. One of the best soccer players of all time, he had had a distinguished career, making over 500 appearances in defence for West Ham United in the English First Division. He also captained the England national team, and made played a then-record 108 games  for his country. His career was capped however when he was the captain of the England team that won the 1966 World Cup, beating West Germany 4-2 in the final. Moore had played in the NASL with the San Antonio Thunder and the Seattle Sounders before retiring from playing in 1978 aged 37. Immediately prior to joining the Lightnin’ he had been player/head coach of Eastern AA in the Hong Kong league, and joined the Lightnin’ as assistant coach to Rodney Marsh. Once the season had started though it seemed a waste to not use his talent, and he donned the uniform to play for the team.

The 1983 season also saw the Lightnin’ welcome back star players Tony Suarez and Miguel Avila back to the team after they missed the entire 1982 season due to injury.  Newcomers to the roster were English striker Stuart Lee, a player who had played in England for Bolton Wanderers, Wrexham, Stockport County, and Manchester City, before he moved to the U.S. He signed for the Lightnin’ after 2 seasons with the Portland Timbers.

Leaving the Lightnin’ was goalkeeper Scott Manning, who had opted to concentrate on the indoor game. Englishman Stuart Metcalfe opted to return to the UK to finish his career, signing for Crewe Alexandra.


The Lightnin’s home opener for the 1983 season would be played away from the Memorial Stadium. The Charlotte Motor Speedway organization would stage the opener as part of its World 600 festival.

After the first few games of the season Marsh was promoted to become the team’s General Manager and Vice-President of Marketing, as well as continuing as Head Coach. To relieve him of some of his workload, Bobby Moore would handle more of the coaching responsibilities, having been in charge of all training sessions. This move gave Marsh control on the team’s management and operation, a duty he had previously shared with the owner and President Bob Benson. Ed Young would also assist him in this new role.

The promotional activities of the Lightnin’ hit a high note in June, with the Beach Boys playing a concert at the Memorial Stadium. The gig was scheduled to start after the Lightnin’ game with the Dallas Americans had finished. Advance ticket prices for the match/concert were raised to $10, with tickets on the night costing $12.50. Marsh had no ill-feelings about being the warm-up act for the Beach Boys, feeling that Soccer was in a transitional period in America, with attendances dropping off in both the NASL and the ASL, and that all marketing avenues to put bums on seats had to be looked at. Marsh also suggested that the game of soccer in itself was not enough on its own to draw people in, and was not accepted in the U.S. sports world. The Lightnin’s average attendance had itself dropped from its high in 1981.

On the evening 16,081 fans (5 times the normal gate) attended to see the Lightnin’ beat the Dallas Americans after a 1-1 draw in regulation play and the 20 minute extra time period. The game was settled by a penalty shoot out with goalkeeper Matt Kennedy the hero, saving from Wolfgang Rausch. Dallas had got off to a quick start with Charlie Kadupski scoring after 2 minutes. Tony Suarez equalized after 23 minutes and no further goals were scored, despite the Lightnin’ playing the last 15 minutes of the game and overtime with only 10 men after defender  Dave Pierce was sent off. The team also coped with fellow defender Tommy Groark having to play whilst injured. Marsh was full of praise for the character of his team, and striker Tony Suarez was also happy with how the team played.

The Lightnin’ finished bottom of the eastern Division with a 12-13 record, scoring 43 goals and conceding 37 for a total of 103 points. Despite this they still had the 4th best record in the ASL and made the playoffs.

After winning the first leg of the semi-finals against the Jacksonville Tea Men 1-0, they lost the return fixture 2-0, pushing the tie into a decisive mini game. The Tea Men triumphed 2-0 and dumped the Lightnin’ out of the playoffs.

The team’s leading points scorer was Englishman Stuart Lee, who scored 11 goals and made 2 assists for 24 points, leaving him joint 5th in the scoring charts.

After the season had finished the ASL folded. Initially it had considered setting up an indoor league for the winter with the Nashville Diamonds being revived and a new team based in Houston joining the league for 1984, but the league administration didn’t have the fight to go on.

Professional soccer in Charlotte was not dead however, as along with the Jacksonville Tea Men, Dallas Americans, and the Oklahoma City Slickers they opted to join up with a group of investors based in Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. The investor’s new venture was  the  United Soccer League which was part-founded by ex- Lightnin’ co-owner Rich Melvin along with some other team owners.

The USL was intended to be much more than just a simple continuation of the ASL. It adopted a 5 point plan to ensure its survival. This included fiscal responsibility, regionalization of the league, orderly expansion, Americanization, and a strong and lean league office. The USL’s commissioner Dr. William Burfeind also announced that it was to be a year-round league, with each franchise also operating an indoor team. This would maintain interest in the teams, rather than a league stopping 6 months. Each team was limited to a roster of 18 players, 14 of which had to be American, and a strict salary cap of $175,000 per season  in effect. If a team opted to also take part indoors this would be extended to $350,000 for the whole year. Exceptions to the cap could be made, but only with the approval of the other owners. Each team’s total operating budget was expected to be around $900,000 per year.

This led to a new start for soccer in Carolina, as the Lightnin’ effectively folded. In its place came a new ownership group headed by Felix Sabates, would go on to found the SABCO Racing team that competed in the NASCAR championship. Bob Benson was not part of the new team, although most of the Lightnin’s front office employees and the playing roster moved over to the new team. The Lightnin’ name also disappeared, as the new team would be named the Charlotte Gold.

The league featured 9 teams, the Gold, Americans, Tea Men and Slickers (renamed the Oklahoma City Stampede), were joined by 5 other teams. The Houston Dynamos, Fort Lauderdale Sun (filling the void left by the Strikers relocation to Minnesota),  Buffalo Storm,  New York Nationals, and the revived Rochester Flash. The teams were split across 3 divisions with the Gold placed in the Southern Division alongside Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale.

Rodney Marsh’ s contract as Head Coach had expired and he had finally rejoined the NASL as Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Rowdies for the ill-fated 1984 season. The new Head Coach was Dave D’Errico, who would also join the playing roster in defence. He had played in the NASL for the Seattle Sounders, Minnesota Kicks, New England Tea Men, and the Rochester Lancers, as well as one season in the ASL with New York United. An accomplished defender, he was also a US international, having featured 17 times with the national team. He had also played indoor soccer with the Cincinnati Kids and the New York Arrows. At 32 years of age this would be D’Errico’s first coaching assignment. Taking over Marsh’s General Manager role would be Ed Young.

Most of the Lightnin’ roster continued to play for the new team. Pat Fidelia. Stuart Lee left to rejoin the NASL, signing with Marsh at the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Defender Curtis Leeper joined the Gold’s Southern Division rivals the Fort Lauderdale Sun.

Star player Tony Suarez continued with the Gold, but after injuring his right knee was forced to retire from professional soccer. It was a sad end for a player who had shown so much promise in his first season and become a huge star in the Carolinas.

After the 24 game regular season the Gold finished second in the 3 team Southern Division with a 11-13 record. They scored 48 goals and conceded 59 for 105 points (5th best in the league). This record was not enough for them to reach the playoffs and they duly folded after the season along with the New York, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Rochester, Houston, and Oklahoma franchises. Some of the Gold ownership group began negotiations with Clive Toye regarding joining the NASL for the 1985 season, but the talks would come to nothing, mainly because the New York Cosmos would not post the bond to Toye to confirm their place in the NASL. This led to them being excluded from the league and Italian owner Giorgio Chinaglia threatening to throw the lawyer out of the window. The folding of 2 soccer franchises in quick succession in Charlotte had left little interest in public about soccer, and no new team would take the Gold’s place until the Charlotte Eagles began play in 1993.


After the Gold folded numerous players continued to live, work, and promote soccer in the Carolina’s

Tony Suarez  unfortunately passed away on April 18th 2007 at the age of 51.

Pat Fidelia retired from professional soccer, although he would continue to play amateur soccer in Charlotte. He also coached high school soccer at Charlotte Christian School.

Bill Finneyfrock is currently the Executive Director of the Charlotte United Futbol Club.

Ed Young was inducted into the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007 due to his contribution to soccer in the state from the early 1970’s onwards. He continues to promote soccer and has a national profile as vice-chair of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Soccer Ambassadors program.

Danny Payne, who played in midfield for the Lightnin’ in the 1983 season  retired and set up his own accounting firm in Pleasanton, California. He sadly passed away from cancer in 2005, aged only 48.

Don Tobin is currently assistant coach at the University of Tampa’s soccer team, the Spartans.

Bobby Moore succumbed to cancer in 1993 at the age of 52. His widow Stephanie set up the Bobby Moore fund in his memory to raise funds for the fight against cancer.


Southern California Lazers

The Southern California Lazers were a professional soccer team who lasted just one season in the American Soccer League (ASL)

The team was based in Torrance, a south-western part of Los Angeles County and competed in the 1978 season. The Lazers home stadium would be Murdock Stadium at El Camino College, which had a capacity of 12,127

The Lazers were placed in the ASL’s Western Division, where they lined up against 2 more Los Angeles based teams, the Los Angeles Skyhawks, and the California Sunshine.  Rounding out the 4 team division was the Sacramento Gold. The regular season was 24 games, and draws were permitted.

The teams head coach was English defender Laurie Calloway, who had spent the previous 5 season playing in the NASL with the San Jose Earthquakes. This was to be his first appointment in a career that would see him coaching professional soccer teams in America to this day. Assisting him was fellow Englishman Jimmy Melia. Melia had been a professional in England with Liverpool and Wolves, and had coaching experience with Aldershot, Crewe, and Southport.

The size of the roster was unlimited, but a maximum of 6 foreign players were allowed. The budget for the team was probably around the ASL average of between $300,000 and $350,000 for the season.

The biggest star on the roster was ex-Brazil international defender Rildo Menezes who had played the 1977 season with the almighty New York Cosmos of the NASL. Partnering him in defence was English defenders Jack Howarth (signed from Southport), and Paul Cahill (ex-Portsmouth). An intriguing addition to the roster was 20 year old Scottish midfielder John McGeady, who had played 16 games for Sheffield United. His son, Aiden would go on to play for Celtic, and currently features in the Russian Premier League with Spartak Moscow. Charged with scoring the goals for the new franchise was Irish striker Sid Wallace, who had previously played in the ASL with the Utah Golden Spikers. Keeping goal would be Trinidad & Tobago international goalkeeper John Granville who was signed from the NASL’s Oakland Stompers. His back-up was Hugo Buitrago.

Laurie Calloway on his time as Head Coach:

“I got the job ten days before the start of the season. They asked if I minded them bringing in a fellow from England who could bring some players with him. It turned out to be Jimmy Melia. I said: ‘Sure, I used to play with him and clean his boots’. Actually, I didn’t. I was a bit older but I did use to clean Ron Flowers’ boots and it felt like an honour”.

“It was a good cop, bad cop thing and Jimmy taught me a lot. We had a bunch of rag tags from England, but also Rildo, the Brazilian international. He had an emotional interest in being in LA, so came to play for very little money. He owned plenty of apartments at Copacabana, so he didn’t need the cash”.

The Lazers inaugural game was a 1-1 tie with the California Sunshine. The game had finished tied after the 90 minutes, plus two ten minute overtime periods. The attendance was 2,700 at the Sunshine’s LaBard Stadium.

After the 24 game regular season, the Lazers were placed 3rd in the Western Division, having amassed a record of 15 wins, 1 tie, and 8 losses for a total of 117 points. They scored 44 goals and conceded 29. They qualified for the playoffs as they had the 4th best overall record in the ASL.

In the first round of the playoffs the Lazers were up against the California Sunshine in a winner takes all game. The Sunshine won in sudden death on a penalty goal from Brazilian defender Ramon Moraldo. The Lazers had played the last 17 minutes of regular time and overtime with 9 men after having 2 players sent off. The defeat eliminated the Lazers from the playoffs.

Irish striker Sid Wallace was the Lazers top scorer with 14 goals and 7 assists from 24 games. He finished the 4th highest scorer in the ASL with 35 points. Goalkeeper John Granville finished the season as the highest ranked goalkeeper in the ASL. He led the league with a goals against average of 0.99 from his 18 games. Granville would go on to play in England for Millwall, Wycombe Wanderers, and numerous non-league teams.

Four players from the Lazers roster were selected by the leagues Head Coaches on to the ASL’s All-star team.  Granville, Wallace, Rildo, and Paul Cahill were all selected after their stellar performances during the season.

After the 1978 season the team folded. Calloway returned to play for the San Jose Earthquakes the next year, whilst Jimmy Melia became head coach of the Cleveland Cobras in the ASL. McGeady returned to Britain where his professional career would end with 2 games for Newport County. Sid Wallace followed Melia to the Cobras, whilst Jack Howarth returned to England to sign with Basingstoke after his one year sojourn in the states.

Full 1978 ASL Roster:

Goalkeepers – John Granville, Peter Thomas, Hugo Buitrago, David Theobald

Defenders – Rildo, Paul Cahill, Jack Howarth, Mike Young, Kurt Stierle, Keith Walley, Frank Towers

Midfielders – John McGeady, Paul Johnson, Juan Sandoval, Carlos Ravel, Charlie Kadupski, Jim Popov

Forwards – Sid Wallace, Nikica Jankovic, Zivorad Stamenkovic

Miami Americans

The Miami Americans were a professional soccer team in the American Soccer League, though they only featured for the 1980 season before folding. The franchise was originally based in New Jersey, but in the early months of 1980 the New Jersey Americans owner Joseph Raymond sold the franchise to an English consortium that moved the team to Miami. In the process of the move the new owners dispensed with most of the playing and back office staff.

The Americans played their home games at the Tropical Park stadium, a 10,000 capacity ground in the Olympia Heights area of Miami.

The Miami Americans Stadium - Tropical Park

The ASL in 1980 was to be an 8 team league, split into 2 four team divisions, A National Conference and an American Conference.  The top 2 sides in each division after the regular season would meet in a best of three playoff series to decide who would play in the ASL Championship game. The Americans were placed into the American Conference, lining up against the Sacramento Gold, California Sunshine, and another new franchise, the Golden Gate Gales from San Francisco. The regular season would be 28 games long, with each team playing each other 4 times.

The English investors looking to bring the New Jersey Americans to Miami were named as the artist Barry Leighton-Jones, and broker Stanley Worshore. Both of them were based in South Florida, and co-owned the Fort Lauderdale Saints soccer team of the semi-professional Southern Soccer League.  Jones was quoted as being “very excited” about the move, with a “60-40” chance in favour of the teams move. Even if the team didn’t make the move in time for the 1980 season, they would be prepared to wait for 1981.

The Americans Head Coach and GM, Ron Newman

Before the franchise had been sold the potential English ownership group had begun discussions with Ron Newman about taking the job. Newman had been a successful coach and player in the higher profile North American Soccer League (NASL) with the Dallas Tornado and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. He had also had a championship winning season in the ASL as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Newman had been dismissed at the Strikers Head Coach after the 1979 season, although he was in the process of filing papers against the Strikers ownership to collect the money he was owed on his contract. Newman was very interested in the Americans job, and convinced that the sale and move of the team would happen.  He also thought a franchise in Miami could work, although he had frowned about soccer’s potential in Miami before, due to the poor performance of the Miami Toros in the NASL. The media did not quite share his belief however, pointing to the Toros failure, and wondering whether South Florida was a strong enough soccer market to support the Americans and the Strikers.

Despite Newman’s enthusiasm, he was still keeping his options open, speaking to the owners of the New York Eagles of the ASL, and another potential new ASL franchise in Charlotte about their vacant Head Coach positions. The NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes were also chasing him.

By Mid-January 1980 Newman was leaning towards taking the offer made to him by the Americans. The offer of a 5-year contract, worth $200,000 a season (plus bonuses and incentives) would make him the highest paid coach in North America. The deal to move the Americans to Miami was done, but Leighton-Jones and Worshore said that they would not complete the deal without Newman agreeing to coach the team. Newman eventually agreed the deal in February and took the position, also assuming the position as the team President. Fellow Brit Brian Tiler was named as Assistant Coach, having  played for and managed the Portland Timbers of the NASL, as well as having a lengthy playing career in England.

The team’s roster contained few stars. Newman’s son Guy followed his father from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to play in the defence. One of his first signings was English goalkeeper Brian Parkinson, who had won an ASL championship with Newman at the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Other signings were American players Ernie Buriano, Ernst-Jean Baptiste, and Charlie Greene. Welsh defender Bob Delgado was signed from English side Port Vale after a 281 game league career and installed as captain. Holdovers from the New Jersey Americans roster were midfielder Denny Vaninger and Nigerian striker Solomon Hilton. 33 year old Scottish midfielder and ex-Tampa Bay Rowdies player Stewart Scullion was also signed to give the team some experience. The players with the team were reputedly some of the better paid players in the ASL.

Before the season kicked off Newman had stated that his role with the Americans was the toughest task he had faced in soccer. Due to the short time before the franchises relocation and the start of play (roughly 2 months) he had found it hard to find the players he wanted, as well as an acceptable office to work out of. Despite managing in the ASL before, he also stated that the league was a bit of a mystery to him, with regards to the level of play and finances. He was hoping for crowds of around 3,000 for the early fixtures, steadily rising to 6,000 during the season.

Pre-season games were quite plentiful, playing the U.S. Olympic team, as well as fixtures against local amateur teams such as Miami Dade. Their fixture against the Pennsylvania Stoners caused some controversy however. The game was played in Charlotte and intended to show the Charlotte public what ASL soccer was all about, with the hope that a franchise could be established in the city in 1981. During the first half, and 1-0 down, Denny Vaninger punched the Stoners midfielder Paulo DaSilva in the face, getting sent off in the process. Then after a foul against his son Guy, Ron Newman charged on to the pitch in his suit to remonstrate with the referee.  It was also reported that he “threatened Pennsylvania players and match officials with his umbrella”. The Americans ran out 2-1 winners, although their style of play was described as defensive and boring. In order to establish the franchise in the minds of South Florida soccer fans, the players were doing a huge amount of public engagements, from coaching clinics to visiting local churches and hospitals.

The team’s inaugural game was away against the Pennsylvania Stoners on the 20th of April, a fixture that they lost 1-0 due to a Roman Urbanczuk goal in the second period of overtime. The Stoners broke their attendance record, with 8,300 fans attending the game. Like the reports of their performance in the pre-season encounter between the teams, the game was defensive with both sides mustering only 9 shots on goal between them during the 90 minutes. Newman defended his team, instead criticising the pitch at the Stoners stadium, saying it was impossible to play on. Their second fixture was due to be against New York United away, but the game had to be postponed due to New York being unable to post the $100,000 bond required for them to use Shea Stadium.

After their first game, the Americans signed Haitian international forward Manu Sanon from Belgian club Germinal Beerschot. He signed a 3 year contract and was expected to be a key player for the team. Their first home fixture was against Cleveland Cobras on the 30th April which they lost, and attracting around 2,000 fans.

On May the 4th the Miami Americans were due to play an exhibition match against the Trinidad & Tobago national team; however it descended into farce when the Trinidadian failed to turn up. Instead the Americans played an inter-squad game in front of roughly 300 fans. Still at least the Americans were guaranteed to win this game, as by their 6th game the Americans had only won 1 ASL game, beating the Golden Gate Gales away in San Francisco 4-1. Their attendances were also stalling, with a 2-2 draw at home against the Gales attracting only 1,843 fans, over a thousand less than Newman wanted.

The attendance figures weren’t the biggest problem however. The team’s co-owner Barry Leighton- Jones had started saying that if the ASL failed to improve they would move the franchise to Jacksonville for the 1981 season. Leighton-Jones also stated that the team was going to lose $1,000,000 dollars over the season, and that Newman was to blame for the team’s slow start due to spending too much time sat behind the President’s desk rather than working with the team.  Newman responded saying that these remarks had hurt the credibility of the franchise, and that he had had to spend all his day apologizing to sponsors and fans, as well as being called to explain the comments before the ASL at a league meeting. He also insisted that there was no way the team would relocate, and that Leighton-Jones remarks were made as a frustrated fan, rather than as an owner. Newman insisted that he got on with the co-owner, and that his remarks had maybe been a misguided attempt to get more fans on board. According to goalkeeper Brain Parkinson, the team were fairly insulated from the comments, and that they were fully concentrated on performing better on the field.

In early June, Newman was being linked with the Head Coach position of the NASL’s Portland Timbers, with a meeting between him and Timbers’ General Manager Peter Warner after a Timbers game.  Newman had expressed a desire to leave the Americans, but said it would be up to NASL teams to contact him. After losing out on the Timbers job to Vic Crowe, the Atlanta Chiefs had also reputedly spoken to him. He was concerned about the financial viability of the Americans, amidst rumours that the ownership were ready to jump ship. And that the team was ready to fold. On a positive note, English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom joined the team. He had been a steady goalkeeper in England and signed from Sheffield United.

On June 19th, after only 9 games at the helm Ron Newman resigned as Head Coach and President. He stated that he would still be available to offer advice to the team whilst he searched for a new job. His 9 games in charge had yielded 2 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses. One of the team’s directors, Richard Marx (not the long haired pop star) stated that he was sorry to see Newman go, but with the Americans finances being quite perilous it was an economic necessity.

To replace Newman, his Assistant Coach Brian Tiler was appointed for the remainder of the season. The team’s Business Manager Jerry Sagehorn was promoted, and would take over as General Manager, assuming a lot of Newman’s off-field responsibilities.

Tiler’s first game in charge saw them win 2-1 over New York United in Shea Stadium in front of Ron Newman who watched from the stands.

On June the 25th, six days after Newman’s departure, the English ownership group had reputedly agreed to sell the franchise to two Rhodesians, Stan Noah and Archie Oliver for an undisclosed purchase price. Noah and Oliver stated that there would be a “substantial infusion of capital” into the team. They also attempted to re-hire Newman as Head Coach, but baulked and reinstating his $200,000 a year contract.

Results improved under Tiler, but the attendances dwindled, with only 843 fans turning out to see them beat the California Sunshine 2-1. Neil Ramsbottom was playing well in goal, and getting good reviews for his performances. Against the Sunshine he turned out straight from hospital, where he had been with bruised ribs and a stitched up face. The infusion of capital that the new owners had promised didn’t seem to materialise, with the team’s roster basically being limited to just 13 players. Top striker Manu Sanon left and joined Ron Newman and his new NASL team, the San Diego Sockers, and after selling him the Americans would lose 7 of their next 8 games. With him also went the Americans Haitian fans, leaving attendances plummeting.

Americans Haitian striker Manu Sanon

Off the field the chaos continued however, with newly promoted General Manager Jerry Sagehorn quitting, and being replaced by Allan James, the Americans PR officer. According to Brian Tiler, Sagehorn just couldn’t take the aggravation of working with the financially crippled franchise any longer. The Director Richard Marx was named as President.  Brian Tiler was also fed up working with the franchise, but vowed to continue as a professional. He claimed that the new owners wanted him out to save money and hadn’t even spoken to him in a long time.

The financial situation was also being discussed by the players, with Bob Delgado stating that he didn’t know if there would even be a club next week, let alone next year. He had just put rent money down on an apartment, and at best if the team folded would only get 2 week’s severance pay. What made it worse was that a week early the new ownership had said every member of the team would get a new 12 month contract, but now the ownership was even backing down on completing the entire purchase of the team. Stan Noah and Archie Oliver instead had apparently bought a controlling interest in the Columbus Magic, one of the Americans ASL rivals. This was met with some scepticism given the events in Miami, and also due to the pair of them reputedly trying to save the Sacramento Gold who were in financial difficulty. The Gold folded, but were resurrected and funded until the end of the season by the ASL.

In early July the ownership were set to fire Tiler and replace him with George Rada, the Head Coach of the semi-professional Florida outfit, the St. Petersburg Kickers, but the players objected and Tiler’s job was saved.

On July 23rd though Tiler quit and Rada was named as the new Head Coach. The ownership had stated that they wanted an American coach instead of a foreigner. Captain Bob Delgado, and striker Denny Vaninger were named as Assistant Coaches, in addition to their place on the playing roster.

At the start of August English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom requested to be released from his contract so he could return to his pregnant wife in England. He had played 14 games for the Americans and was replaced by the back-up keeper Richie Poole. 18 year old Fort Lauderdale High graduate Mitchell Mordas was signed as the new back-up. A week after this, Haiti international defender Ernst-Jean Baptiste also left the club to return to his sick wife in Haiti and midfielder David Bluem also left. New additions to the roster were new goalkeeper Armand Cordoba, defender Daniel Gaston, midfielders Mike Cogan & Jean Tienne, and strikers Louis Rodriguez, and Kenny Pavlioski. The forwards were needed as striker Denny Vaninger had been banned by the league for the rest of the season, having been sent off in the Americans last 3 away games.

The Americans win record was boosted by their home game against the Columbus Magic being awarded to them as the Magic could not afford the travelling expenses. This was the second game where the Americans had profited from another team’s misfortune, with the Sacramento Gold also forfeiting a game during the season. Remarkably, despite the Americans own financial problems, the Americans were still in with a shout for the playoffs.

For the Miami Americans last ever home game they were thumped 8-2 by the Cleveland Cobras in front of a crowd of around 200 fans. Defender Ernesto summed up the feelings of the entire roster by stating that they didn’t care. The players had not been paid, and the money situation was so bad that even though they still had a chance of making the playoffs, Miami officials were praying that they didn’t because it would cost more money. Bob Delgado stated that of they did make the playoffs he wouldn’t stick around, instead he’d be back in England.

The Americans did not have a successful season, finishing third in the American Conference, thus missing out on the playoffs. They won 10 games, drawing 3, and losing the other 15. They scored 54 goals and conceded 45, giving the Americans a total point’s tally of 97.

After the season the Miami Americans folded, along with the other new franchise the Golden Gate Gales.

Los Angeles Lazers

The Los Angeles Lazers were a professional indoor soccer team who played in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) between 1982 and 1989. They played their home games at the 15,893 capacity Forum in Inglewood, a city in south western Los Angeles County.

The Lazers franchise was awarded on the 26th June 1982 by MISL commissioner Earl Foreman, having previously operated as the Philadelphia Fever for the MISL 1981-82 season. The franchise was sold to real estate magnate Jerry Buss who moved it to Los Angeles where his sports empire was based. Buss owned 90% of the franchise, with another 10% belonging to Gene De Piano, President of the Rancho Bank of San Dimas. Buss had started in sports as one of the owners in the World Team Tennis League before buying the Los Angeles Lakers NBA franchise and the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL. He also owned the Forum where all of his sports franchises played.  The Lazers were the MISL’s 13th franchise, and if the ownership had paid more attention to superstition may have gained an inkling into the future performance of the franchise.

Buss named his 25 year old son John as the Lazers President. His Vice President was named as Bill Sharman, who was the President of the Lakers. The former Assistant General Manager of the Kings, Parker McDonald, was named as General Manager.

For the Lazers inaugural 1982-83 season, Englishman Peter Wall was named as head coach. Wall was new to indoor soccer, but had played over 250 league games in England, as well as featuring for the St. Louis Stars & California Surf in the NASL. Whilst plating for the Surf he also handled the Head Coach role for the last 3 seasons of the franchise’s existence.

The team’s roster for its first season had a familiar look to it for fans of the NASL. English defender Clive Charles signed, along with American international Poli Garcia. Other standouts would be future American international defender Cle Kooiman, Bermudan international forward Clyde Best, English midfielder Don Tobin, and Greek defender Gus Mokalis. The goalkeeping position would be shared between Americans Gary Allison and Kirk Shermer.

The Lazers were placed in the MISL’s Western Division, lining up against the Wichita Wings, Kansas City Comets, St. Louis Steamers, Phoenix Inferno, and 2 teams from the outdoor NASL, the Golden Bay Earthquakes and the San Diego Sockers.

The Lazers debuted on November 5th, with a home match against the Phoenix Inferno, which ended in defeat. In fact the Lazers didn’t start the season well, losing their first 9 games straight. Even motivational pre-game talks by Jerry Buss seemed to have little effect. They slightly changed the roster after the 9th game, with Argentine forward Eduardo Marasco (9 games 5 goals) leaving and English defender Lee Cornwell coming in. They didn’t register their win until they beat the Memphis Americans in December; nearly a month after the season had started. For their next game out they reverted to type, blowing a 4-1 lead to lose 9-7 to the Wichita Wings.

The fans veered from being supportive of the team, to booing them after performances. By the 21st game the team had a record of 3 wins and 18 losses. The team also had problems with injuries, sometimes only naming 14 players for the game, instead of the 16 allowed. Wall told the press that he was unsure what the Lazers had to do to win a game, and how many chances they needed to score. He suggested that the team “should start going to church”.

On January 19th, General Manager Parker MacDonald quit, with President John Buss assuming his role on a temporary basis.

The Lazers first season was not a successful one, finishing dead last of the Western Division with the worst record of any team in the MISL. OF the 48 game season, the Lazers won only 8 games and losing the other 40.They scored the fewest goals of any team (191) and had the second worst record for goals conceded (286). The teams leading goal scorer was Poli Garcia with 41, whilst Don Tobin lead the way with 29 assists. Garcia was the leading points scorer overall with 65.The only bright spot was that goalkeeper Kirk Shermer was unanimously named the MISL ‘Rookie of the Year’ by the Professional Soccer Reporters Association. The average attendance was a measly 3,963, far short of the 7-8,000 needed for the team to break even. The Lazers were also branded as “failures” by Basketball superstar Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, who was in a contractual dispute over money with Jerry Buss.

Despite the poor debut season, Wall was appointed a new 2 year contract as Head Coach in the close season.

For the 1983-84 season the team operated a slightly smaller roster for the second season, with quite a few changes. The key players from the previous season (Best, Kooiman, Tobin, Garcia & Shermer) were retained, but with some new additions. In came Brazilians Beto & Batata, Englishmen Stuart Lee & Mark Lindsay. Other players coming back for a second season were English defenders Lee Cornwell and Alan Kelley, Colombian striker Willie Molano, and Greek defender Gus Mokalis. Despite winning the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award the previous season, goalkeeper Kirk Shermer was reduced to the bench, behind new English goalie Mike Mahoney.

Just after the start of the season the Brazilian Batata signed a 3 year contract. The 28 year old midfielder’s transfer fee from Mexican side Club America was reputedly $250,000, and he was also named as Assistant Coach. His reputation was greatly enhanced by the fact that he had played alongside Pele for Santos in Brazil. He debuted with 3 goals in an 8-3 victory over the New York Arrows. In February Batata and forward Poli Garcia were both named to the MISL Western Division’s All Star team.

The team was again placed in a slightly smaller Western Division, this year lining up against the Wichita Wings, St. Louis Steamers, Tacoma Stars, Kansas City Comets, and the Phoenix Pride for a playoff position.

The Lazers opening game of the season was a 6-2 win away at the newly formed Tacoma Stars in front of 12,284 fans, more than the Lazers would ever play in front of at the Forum .Their first home game came against the Kansas City Comets.

The team’s record was much improved on their debut season, finishing 3rd in the division after the 48 game regular season, thus qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. The regular season ended with an even 24 wins and losses, scoring 223 goals and conceding 239. The Lazers fell in the first round of the playoffs however, losing in a best of 5 series against the Wichita Wings. Poli Garcia again led the way on the field, scoring a team-high 39 goals and making 33 assists for a total points score of 72. The Brazilian duo of Beto and Batata also had strong debut seasons. This meant he rated as the 7th best points scorer in the MISL. Attendance rose slightly, but was still a disappointing 4,405 average. Peter Wall was rewarded for the Lazers better performance, by being named runner up as ‘Coach of the Year’.

The 1984-85 season saw the Lazers start with a few new additions to the roster. Gone were Don Tobin, Clyde Best, Kirk Shermer, and Mark Lindsay. Newcomers were the Yugoslav striker Zoran Savic, South African defender Nathan Sacks, and the Canadian defender Greg Ion.  Wall was again Head Coach, as the team had made a steady improvement on the field over the 2 previous seasons. Ron Weinstein was named as Vice President for the Lazers. Gary Hindley was named as Assistant Coach of the team.

The team started their 3rd season in the Western Division, but with again a slight re-jigging of the teams. Familiar foes were the Tacoma Stars, Wichita Wings, Kansas City Comets, with the San Diego Sockers. Completing the line up were 2 new franchises, the Dallas Sidekicks, and the Las Vegas Americans (previously the Memphis Americans). Overall the MISL was stronger than previous seasons. The collapse of the NASL had led to a lot of experienced players seeking contracts, as well as 4 teams quitting outdoor soccer to play indoors. It also ended the bidding war for talent that had erupted between the leagues, and cemented the MISL as THE professional soccer league in America.

The Lazers again finished 3rd in their division, with an exact replica of the previous year’s form, 24 wins and 24 losses.  Even their goals scored and conceded were nearly the same, scoring 232 and conceding 230. They qualified for the Quarter Finals of the playoffs where they were whitewashed 3-0 by the Baltimore Blast, going down 4-3, 12-3, and 5-4, thus ending their MISL title chances for another season. The teams leading goalscorer this year was the Englishman Stuart Lee with 42 goals, whilst Poli Garcia again held the assist crown with 31. Lee ended up as overall leading points scorer with 57, 2 clear of Colombian forward Willie Molano. Peter Wall was however named as MISL ‘Coach of the Year’, which seems a little surprising considering the teams rather average performance. The crowds had again picked up, with an average of 5,062 attending the Lazers home games. This was still disappointing as the Forum held over 3 times that amount.

The Lazers returned for the 1985-86 season with Wall still at the helm. The roster had changed little apart from the departure of last season’s top scorer Stuart Lee, and the Yugoslav Zoran Savic. Newcomers were English midfielder David Madden, one-time US prodigy Darryl Gee in midfield, and the German midfielder Kai Steffen. The goalkeeping line-up was unchanged with Englishman Mike Mahoney as number one, and American Tim Harris as back-up.

Bill MacDonald was named as the Lazers Play-by-Play announcer in the close season.

The Western Division had lost the Sidekicks to the Eastern Division, with the St. Louis Steamers moving the opposite way, and the one season Las Vegas Americans who had folded.

Midway through the season with the Lazers not performing well, President Jim Buss stated that the entire roster were playing for their Lazers careers, and only 8-10 players had a chance for a new contract.

This seemed to have an effect on the team, as during an away fixture against the St. Louis Steamers, Peter Wall was ejected in the 4th quarter for throwing water at the referees. He went to the Lazers locker room, but returned later in the quarter to shout instructions from the stand behind the goal. Also, Lazers Brazilian players Batata and Val Fernandez were ejected for lying down on the field play, joining Willie Molano and Cle Kooiman in the sin bin. This game saw the Lazers set the MISL record with 12 penalties, totalling 30 minutes. Due to this St. Louis set the record for most power play goals in MISL history (Power play goals are when the scoring team has an advantage in terms of number of players on the field due to penalties). By the final 3 minutes of the game the Lazers had only 3 players on the pitch. MISL commissioner Francis Dale said the league would be investigating the Lazers conduct and issuing fines if required.

The season also saw tempers fray between the San Diego Sockers and the Lazers. During a game on February 11th, with the Sockers leading 7-4, Sockers coach Ron Newman withdrew his goalkeeper for a 6th attacker with only 3 seconds left to play. This incensed Peter Wall after the game, who said it was “uncalled for”. Newman had been accused of running up scores against beaten teams, which was kind of against an unwritten law between coaches in the MISL. Newman said he was purely using the time to experiment with his line up.  When the 3 seconds of play resumed Lazers defender Greg Willen kicked the Sockers forward Ade Coker, which Newman stated was “one of the worst things i’ve seen in soccer”. When the final hooter went, Wall approached Newman and jabbed his fingers in Newman’s eyes resulting in a brawl between the 2 teams. At the All-Star game a week later Newman attempted to shake hands and apologize, but was snubbed by Wall. Before the teams next encounter in April, Wall stated that the game would be “a blood bath”. In fact the game passed off peacefully and Newman and Wall shook hands at the end of the game, making their peace.

The 48 game season was not a successful one for the Lazers. They finished the 48 game season with a record of only 13 wins and 35 losses, meaning they were dead last of the Western Division. They scored only 197 goals (2nd worst by one goal), and conceded a season high 270 goals.

Poli Garcia was the team’s highest goal scorer with 36, whilst the Brazilian Batata registered most assists with 39. Garcia was the team’s leading point scorer with 57. The average attendance fell back to 4,470, far short of the MISL’s 8,696 average for the season.

The team decided to retain Peter Wall as Head Coach for the 1986-87 season, but the feeling was that the team would soon have to start performing better for him to keep the job. The team’s Assistant Coach Gary Hindley left to become Assistant at the Chicago Sting, and was replaced by the Lazers recently retired goalkeeper Mike Mahoney.

The 1986-87 season would see the team have a lot less settled roster, with 33 players having game-time with the Lazers. Mike Mahoney’s, place on the roster was filled by the American David Brcic, with Tim Harris as back up. Also one of the teams key players, the Brazilian Batata, was traded to the Chicago Sting for future considerations and $5,000. English striker Stuart Lee returned after a season’s absence, and the Lazers also signed American defenders Paul Kitson and Jim Gabarra.

For the first time the Western Division did not lose or gain and teams, so the opposition would be familiar, however the regular season had been expanded to 52 games instead of 48. Another bonus was ESPN covering more MISL games than ever, with 18 matches available this season. A concern for the league was the improving performance of a rival nationwide indoor soccer league, the AISA (American Indoor Soccer Association). It looked as if a new bidding war for players was going to erupt between the 2 leagues.

1986 Los Angeles Lazers TV advert.

In January, with the team underperforming, Peter Wall was dismissed.  According to the Lazers president Jim Buss, the sacking of Wall was the first step in a new direction for the team. Buss stated he would “do whatever it takes to improve this team and make it a winner”.  Buss also stated that Wall was a terrific person and a good friend, who had been an excellent spokesperson for the Lazers and soccer as a whole in Los Angeles. Goalkeeper Mike Mahoney was named as interim Head Coach. Under Wall’s charge the Lazers had a record of 75 wins and 134 losses. A fair few coaches expressed interest in taking the position, including Don Popovic and John Kowalski. In the end Wall’s replacement was named as the American coach Keith Tozer, who stated that he was surprised to be given the role as he felt the other candidates were far more experienced. Tozer was brought over from the Louisville Thunder of the rival AISA. He had acted as player-coach of the Thunder, but would take up a strictly coaching role with the Lazers.

Tozer’s first 7 games yielded only one win, but the team had undergone wholesale changes, with Tozer promising even more as he seeked to reduce the average age of the roster. In came English defender Chris Whyte and American midfielder Michel Collins from the fading New York Express. Also incoming were Nigerian forward Thompson Usiyan (Minnesota Strikers), Chris Chueden (trade with Cleveland Force for Paul Kitson), and Don Ebert and Steve Pecher from the St. Louis Steamers (traded for Poli Garcia and Jim Kavanaugh). Usiyan was traded for Canadian defender Greg Ion and a 3rd round draft choice.

The season was again a disaster for the Lazers, for the 2nd season running finishing dead last of the Western Division. Their 52 game season yielded only 16 wins, and 36 losses, scoring 183 goals and conceding 254. The teams leading goal scorer was Stuart Lee with only 31 goals, whilst Canadian defender Greg Ion registered most assists with a paltry 18. Lazers’ mainstay Poli Garcia only featured in 20 games, scoring 9 and making 5 assists. The overall leading points scorer was Stuart Lee with 41, which was pretty abysmal. The average attendance was largely unchanged, standing at 4,647. The Lazers poor performance was becoming a source of concern for the league. They were the largest market area, but still underperforming on the field and in the stands.

There were wholesale changes to the Lazers roster for the 1987-88 season after the poor form of the past 2 seasons. The only notable players to avoid the purge were defenders Jim Gabarra and Chris Whyte, striker Thompson Usiyan, goalkeeper David Brcic, and midfielder Michael Collins. Out went Stuart Lee, the long serving Cle Kooiman and Lee Cornwell, Brazilian defender Beto and Colombian striker Willie Molano. Gus Mokalis left for San Diego in a trade for 3 draft picks. In their place came strikers Chico Borja and NASL legend Paul Child, American midfielder Mark Frederickson and defender Mike Windischmann.

The MISL Western Division was unchanged for a second successive season, so the Lazers had a mountain to climb considering the dismal performance of the team in their last 2 campaigns. The regular season was again expanded, this time to 56 games. A bright point for the decade old MISL was the 2 year TV deal signed with the FNN/SCORE network. The deal included a Friday “Game of the Week”, a weekly highlight show, the playoffs and championship game, as well as the end of season all-star game. Each team’s salary cap was set at $1,275,000.

The season began with controversy when new striker Chico Borja was arrested for allegedly punching a 13 year old Tacoma Stars fan in the mouth following a game in Tacoma. Borja could have been imprisoned but the charges were later dropped.

Nearing the end of the season the bidding war with the AISA for talent had really heated up, as was begin to take a toll on some of the more precariously financed franchises. The league asked the MISL Player’s Association (MISLPA) to accept a plan to reduce the player’s salary compensation cap. After negotiations an agreement was reached for a 2 years stabilization deal.

The Lazers had a complete turnaround this year, recorded the franchises best ever stats. They finished the season in their highest place (2nd), with their best record (31 wins and 25 losses) and in the process scoring 291 goals and conceding 266. Disappointingly however they again fell at the first hurdle in the playoffs, being whitewashed by the Kansas City Comets 9-6, 4-2, 7-5. The teams leading goal scorer was the Nigerian Thompson Usiyan with 52, narrowly topping Chico Borja’s 47 goal return. Borja however made the most assists with 52, and finished as overall leading points scorer with 98, placing him 4th overall in the MISL scoring chart (Usiyan came in 7th). Attendances were a franchise high average of 5,879 per game.

During the close season the MISL and the MISLPA again met to discuss the financial ill-health of a number of the league and franchises like the Lazers. An agreement for a 4-year collective bargaining agreement was made with the players, which imposed a salary cap of $850,000 per team for the forthcoming season. Jim Buss had originally stated that he was going to close the team rather than play in a league with less than 8 teams, but after the talks decided to keep the team operational. They paid their $400,000 letter of credit to the MISL for the forthcoming season.

After his good debut performance, Keith Tozer was retained to coach the team for the 1988-89 season.

The roster again had a major overhaul, with only Jim Gabarra, Cha Cha Namdar, Michael Collins, and Mark Frederickson being retained. Top scorers Usiyan and Borja left the team, and were replaced by the Englishmen Gary Heale and Steve Kinsey. They also signed Canadian indoor goal machine Hector Marinaro, defender Fernando Clavijo, and American midfielder Daryl Doran. The goalkeeping duties would be shared between Jim Gorsek, A.J. Lachowecki, and Kris Peat.

The MISL had lost 5 franchises in the close season due to financial ill-health, so the 2 divisions were merged to form one national league of only 7 teams. The Lazers were lining up for a 48 game regular season against the San Diego Sockers, Tacoma Stars, Wichita Wings, Dallas Sidekicks, Baltimore Blast, and the Kansas City Comets.

The Lazers finished their last season in 6th position, and missed out on the playoffs. Their record was 21 wins and 27 defeats, scoring 218 and conceding 222. The team’s leading goal scorer was Marinaro with 47, and Heale registered the most assists with 29. Overall leading point’s scorer was Marinaro with 75, which left him 5th in the MISL leading point’s scorers, with Heale a further position back. The team’s average attendance was 4,356.

After the season the Lazers folded due to heavy financial losses.

MISL regular season record:

348 games played, with 137 wins and 211 losses. They scored 1,535 goals, conceding 1,767.

MISL playoff record:

10 games played, with 1 win and 9 losses. They scored 45 goals and conceded 66.

All-time leading goal scorer: Poli Garcia (165 goals)

All-Time assist maker: Poli Garcia (117 assists)

Most regular season appearances: Poli Garcia (228 games)

Their total average regular season attendance over the franchise history was 33,082 –leading to a season average of 4,726 fans per game. As the team needed to draw upwards of 7,000 to break even, this shows how much money the Lazers were losing every season.

Buffalo Blizzard

The Buffalo Blizzard were a professional indoor soccer team who played in the NPSL (National Professional Soccer League) between 1992 and 2001. The MSL (Major Soccer League, formerly the Major Indoor Soccer League) had hoped that the Blizzard would join them, upping the number of active franchises and making the league a viable concern. The Blizzard turned them down and opted to join the NPSL instead, even though it was a less prestigious league.

The Blizzard were founded and owned by brothers Seymour H. Knox III and Northrup R. Knox, and Robert and Melinda Rich. The Knox brothers also owned the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, whilst the Rich’s owned the minor league Baseball franchise the Buffalo Bisons. The Knox brothers were great philanthropists and heirs to the Woolworths chain of shops. Northrup Knox is also chairman of the Marine Midland Bank. Melinda Rich was the President of the Rich Entertainment Group, and has sat on the boards of many companies and foundations. Michael DeRose was a Limited Partner in the Blizzard, and owned DeRose Food Brokers Ltd, he was also the ex-owner of the Buffalo Braves NBA franchise. Another limited partner was John Bellanti, previously the owner of the Buffalo Stallions MISL franchise, who had made his money in the oil and lube business. He was also named as the team’s President. The ownership group was named the Greater Buffalo Soccer Inc.

Ex-professional player Jim May was named as the franchise’s General Manager and Vice-President .May had played in goal with the Buffalo Stallions in the MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League), and owned the Sportsplex indoor soccer facility in North Tonawanda. Chris Schoepflin was named Community Director.

Their first home arena was the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium between 1992 and 1996, which had a capacity of 16,433. The Blizzard shared the arena with the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League, and the Buffalo Stampede of the In-Line Roller Hockey League. The arena was owned by the City of Buffalo. The ownership hoped to get an average 8,500 fans to attend per game. The rent for the Auditorium was set at $65,000 per season.

The first Head Coach of the franchise was Englishman Trevor Dawkins, who had been coach of the Cleveland Crunch the previous season. Dawkins wanted a competitive team right from the start, saying that there were enough decent players available. Scotsman David Hoggan was signed from the Cleveland Crunch in a dual role as player and Assistant Coach.

The Blizzards inaugural season was in 1992-1993. This was a golden year for the NPSL as with main competitor the MSL folding, the teams were not in a costly salary war and had all the best players available. The Blizzard were placed in the 7 team American Division, lining up against the Baltimore Spirit, Canton Invaders, Cleveland Crunch, Dayton Dynamo, Detroit Rockers, and the Harrisburg Heat. WMBX-AM covered all 40 Blizzard games on the radio, Clip Smith did play-by-play, and Sean McCrossan did analysis.

Their inaugural roster featured defender Ralph Black, English forward Paul Dougherty, Kris Kelderman, and Buffalo brothers and indoor soccer legends, Randy and Rudy Pikuzinski. Randy was signed in a trade with the Chicago Power that took Chuck Codd, Russ Prince, and Ko Thandabouth to the Power. Other notable names included goalkeeper Jamie Swanner, who had been part of the hugely successful Canton Invaders team in the AISA/NPSL.

The first game for the Buffalo Blizzard was a stunning 15-7 victory over the Denver Thunder in front of 10,953 fans. Rudy Pikuzinski scored 5 goals on his debut.
The Blizzard were strong offensively through the season, but struggled in defence.
After the regular season the Blizzard placed 3rd in the American Division and qualified for the playoffs. They won 23 and lost 17 of their 40 games, scoring 570 goals and conceding 503. In the playoff quarter-finals the Blizzard were paired against the Cleveland Crunch. Despite winning the first game of the best-of-three series 20-13, they lost the final two 12-6 and 13-6 and were eliminated.
The teams leading player was Rudy Pikuzinski who scored the most goals (67), registered the most assists (36) and scored the most points 165. This left him finishing 4th in the leading NPSL points scorer list. He also made the NPSL All-Star team.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,068.

For the 1993-1994 season the Blizzard were again in the American Division, this time without the Detroit Rockers who had been moved to the National Division. The NPSL signed a deal for some games to be aired nationally on ESPN. Peter K. O’Connell was named as Assistant General Manager to Jim May.

New faces on the roster included Argentinian Ernie Buriano. Draft picks included Chris Majewski and Nino Galich.

The Blizzard opened the season on November 6th with a game against the Kansas City Attack. They won, with Dave Hoggan scoring a hat-trick in front of a record attendance for a home Blizzard game of 12,873.
They broke the attendance record during the season when 13,262 fans showed up to see them play the Dayton Dynamo.

After the 40 game regular season the Blizzard finished 3rd again in the division, and qualified for the playoffs. They won 19 goals and lost 21, scoring 499 and conceding 515. For the second year running they faced the Crunch in the 1st round of the playoffs. They lost the first game 24-16, won the second 16-12 before going down 13-8 in the decider.

Their average attendance for the season was 8,435.

After the season Trevor Dawkins was sacked as Head Coach on June 22nd 1994, along with his assistant David Hoggan. VP Jim May said that he felt the team had “taken a step backwards in the 1993-1994 season”, and that they had underachieved. Dawkins was replaced with 31 year old Peter Skouras. Skouras was a Greek-American and after the NASL folded had spent 5 years playing professionally in Greece with Olympiakos, Diagoras, and Volos (although in 5 years he only made around 15 appearances). Chris Schoepflin was promoted from Community Director to PR Director. Jim May vowed to make the team more aggressive and high scoring, as well as having a younger roster.

For the 1994-95 season the NPSL American Division line-up was unchanged.

The roster included defender Michael Collins, Gino DiFlorio, and Canadian goalkeeper Rob Marinaro, brother of indoor soccer superstar Hector Marinaro. To rival him for the goalkeeping position was Canadian national team player, Pat Harrington. Harrington was signed because the Blizzard had traded Jamie Swanner to the St. Louis Ambush for their goalkeeper Jeff Robben, cash, and a 3rd round draft pick. Robben failed to report for training so they signed Harrington who cobined olaying with being appointed an Assistant Coach (although Robben did end up playing 10 games for the Blizzard that season).

Coach Skouras was saying he now that the squad that take the team to the “next level”.

The Blizzard won their home opener on November 6th 20-14 against the Chicago Power in front of 7,678 fans. Paul Dougherty scored 4, and new signing DiFlorio 3. It seemed their new brand of attacking football was working. In their 3rd game however they were crushed 26-8 (their record defeat) against the St. Louis Ambush and new Head Coach Skouras was fired and replaced by General Manager and Vice-President, Jim May.
May’s first game was a hard fought 22-16 win against the Detroit Rockers in front of 8,475 fans.

In December the Blizzard scored a coup by signing current U.S. international outdoor goalkeeper Tony Meola. He had failed in a tryout with the New York Jets and was looking for a club. In Meola’s debut away at the Dayton Dynamo he looked shaky s the Blizzard lost 13-11, but looked far better in his home debut against the Detroit Rockers. Attendance for his debut was up to 9,283, the biggest so far that season. Also in December the Blizzard signed forward Andy Crawford from the Detroit Rockers, and Gino DiFlorio received a season ending injury when he tore his right Achilles tendon in a game against the Canton Invaders.

In January Meola announced that he had taken a lead role in the off Broadway play “Tony and Tina’s Wedding”, and left the squad on February 17th after 5 more games. One of these games was the record 23-0 win over the Dayton Dynamo. The Blizzard also played one of their regular season games in Massachusetts at the Centrum. The match was seen as a way of the NPSL seeing how soccer fans would respond to NPSL football in the area, perhaps paving the way for a new franchise. When the Blizzard were making their push for the playoffs they signed Nigerian-born U.S. international striker Jean Harbor.

After the 40 game regular season the Blizzard barely made the playoffs, finishing 4th in their division. They won and lost 20 games, scoring 579 goals and conceding 552. For the 3rd year running they faced the Cleveland Crunch in the 1st round of the playoffs, and for the 3rd year running the Crunch eliminated them. The Crunch won the first game 22-10, lost the 2nd 21-19 in overtime, before winning the deciding game 19-15.

English forward Paul Dougherty was the Blizzards highest scorer with 81 goals, 31 assists, for a total of 171 points. He ranked 6th in the NPSL in scoring that season.
Ernie Buriano retired at the end of the season. The Blizzard began looking for a new Head Coach to replace Jim May, who would be kept on as General Manager and Vice-President. Team President John Bellanti said that they were looking for a “top-flight coach”.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,283.

The American Division for the 1995-1996 season was slightly re-jigged. Along with the regular Baltimore Spirit, Canton Invaders, Cleveland Crunch, and Harrisburg Heat, came the expansion Tampa Bay Terror, and the Cincinnati Silverbacks who had moved from Dayton.

Their search for a new Head Coach had not paid off, so Jim May was left in charge for the 1995-1996 season. Peter O’Connell left his position of Assistant General Manager to set up his own business. In the expansion draft the Blizzard lost Mike Britton to the Tampa Bay Terror, who in turn traded him to the Wichita Wings. Goalkeeper John Howard was signed from the Milwaukee Wave in return for cash and a 1st round draft pick. Veteran Argentine defender Oscar Pisano was signed from the Las Vegas DustDevils, having previously played for the Buffalo Stallions.

During the season Mike Gosselin joined from the Cincinnati Silverbacks in a trade for Matt Kmosko. Todd Pettigrew was signed from the Canton Invaders for a 3rd round draft pick. The Blizzard featured in their highest ever scoring contest in December, when they beat the Cleveland Crunch 28-21 in front of 5,588 fans. Also in December Rudy Pikuzinski was suspended by the Blizzard for 3 games for “conduct detrimental to the team”. The Blizzard lost these three games. Goalkeeper Rob Marinaro was sold to the Harrisburg Heat for cash, as he had slipped to 3rd choice behind Pat Harrington and John Howard.

A mid-season audit showed the Blizzard owed the Memorial Auditorium $61,000 in 3 seasons worth of ticket surcharges. The Blizzard broke their attendance record when 13,354 fans came to watch them play the Harrisburg Heat on a School Kids Day promotion. On March 26th, President John Bellanti confirmed he was in negotiations to purchase the team. Also in March the Blizzard acquired 2 players from the Canton invaders, English defender Denzil Antonio, and Argentinian forward Marcelo Carrera for cash and future considerations.

The Blizzard won 21 and lost 19 of their 40 regular season games, scoring 562 goals and conceding 586. They again qualified for the playoffs and were again facing their nemesis, the Cleveland Crunch, in the 1st round of playoffs. Consistently, they went out after 3 games, losing 25-15 in the first game, winning the 2nd to keep them in it 20-17, before winning the decider 17-11.

The Blizzard’s leading goal scorer was the again the Englishman Paul Dougherty with 50 goals. Argentine Marcelo Carrera was the leading points scorer with the team, making 43 assists and scoring 125 points. Andy Crawford set a team record by scoring in 26 consecutive games. Defender Rudy Doliscat and Canadian midfielder Mauro Biello were named on the NPSL All-Rookie team.

After the season finished Paul Dougherty left the Blizzard and the NPSL to move to the CISL (Continental Indoor Soccer League) with the Houston Hotshots. The CISL was a summer league. He had played 149 games and scored 221 goals.

Their average attendance for the season was 6,364.

In the off-season co-owner Seymour Knox III died in Boston from cancer. The Blizzard persuaded the City of Buffalo to lower their rent at the Memorial Auditorium by $15,000 per season after arguing that the team was losing money and the rent was too high. Rent was now set at $50,000 per season.

For the 1996-1997 season the NPSL was split into two conferences with two divisions in each. The Blizzard were placed in the North Division of the National Conference, alongside the Detroit Rockers, Edmonton Drillers, and the Toronto Shooting Stars. The Shooting Stars were an expansion franchise and the Drillers had just moved from being the Chicago Power.

The ownership changed before the season, with President and co-owner John Bellanti leading an ownership group (Blizzard Inc.) who bought the franchise from the Knox Brothers and the Rich family. Bellanti was the owner and CEO of Battenfield Grease & Oil.

Jeff Eisenberg was named as the team’s new President, having moved from being the Vice President for Sales at the Buffalo Sabres.

Jim May was replaced as Head Coach by Gary Hindley, and May returned to his previous positions of General Manager and Vice-President. New owner Bellanti put the pressure on Hindley saying that the 1996-1997 season was not a rebuilding one, and that he wanted to “win, win now, and win big”. Hindley signed a two-year contract with an option for a 3rd.

The Blizzard changed their home arena for this season, moving to the HSBC Arena after the closure of the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, where they would play until they folded in 2001. The Arena’s capacity was 18,690 and the Blizzard shared it with the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, the Bandits of the National Lacrosse League, the Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena Football League, and the Buffalo Wings of the Roller Hockey League. The Arena was owned by the City of Buffalo and Erie County, New Jersey.

A key signing for the Blizzard was striker Doug Miller, who would alternate between the Blizzard indoors and the Rochester Rhinos outdoor. He would go on to play 165 games and score 208 goals.

The Blizzard started poorly, losing their first 4 games for the first time in the team’s history (although they were 4 away games. The played without much visible spirit, enthusiasm, or skill and even lost 20-5 against the expansion Toronto Shooting Stars franchise. The Rockers broke their all-time attendance record again, with 13,903 fans turning up to see them beat the Detroit Rockers 16-11 in their home opener. They won their next 3 games before going down to the St. Louis Ambush at home in front of 6,016 fans. The teams had brilliant home form, but were woeful away from the Marine Midland Arena.

During the season the Blizzard signed English veteran striker Steve Kinsey, initially on a series of 15 day contracts, before signing for the whole season. Argentinian striker and indoor veteran Carlos Salguero was brought in as Assistant Coach, and played in one game for the team. He was also to be the Director of the summer soccer camps for the Blizzard.

Gary Hindley was sacked in March and replaced until the end of the season by General Manager and Vice-President, Jim May. Hindley had a 16-16 record in his time as Head Coach, and had not fulfilled owner John Bellanti’s charge to win immediately and big. May’s first game in charge was a record breaking 37-5 win over the Columbus Invaders in front of 8,748 fans.

The Blizzard finished their 40 league season topping their division for the first time ever, this putting them straight into the National Conference semi-finals. They won 21 of their regular season games, conceding 19, scoring 545 games and conceding 469. For the first time in the playoffs they weren’t paired against the Kansas City Attack. They lost in straight games against the Attack 18-12 and 13-11.

The Blizzard’s leading goal scorer was Doug Miller with 53 goals and the most overall points, 114 (13th in the NPSL). Gino DiFlorio registered the most assists with 33. Canadian goalkeeper Pat Harrington led the lead in goalkeeping stats, conceding an average of only 9.76 goals per game.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,974. Their lowest attendance was the 4,346 fans who turned up to watch the playoff decider against the Kansas City Attack. This was the 3rd lowest attendance in the Buffalo Blizzard’s history.

After the season Argentine Carlos Salguero was appointed Head Coach on a permanent basis and retired from playing. Rudy Pikuzinski was named to a dual player/Assistant Coach role. They said that their first job was to find the team more goal scorers. In the front office, Kimberly Venti was named Director of Communications, and Claudio Ferrara Director of Administration.

The Blizzard signed a deal with radio station WNUC to broadcast all of their home games in the 1997-1998 season. Mike Schopp was named as the play-by-play announcer.

For the 1997-1998 season the line-up of the North Division changed, with the Montreal Impact replacing the Toronto Shooting Stars.

Newcomers on the roster included goalkeeper Bill Andracki, forward Jimmy Glenn, and indoor veteran Nassim Olabi.

For the new season the Empire Sports Network announced it would televise the Blizzard’s home debut opener against the Montreal Impact.

They signed defender Thor Lee on a seasons loan from the Anaheim Splash of the CISL.

Like the season before the Blizzard were unbeatable at home, but suffered the worst opening away run in the team’s history, winning 1 and losing 6 of their opening 7 away games. The Blizzard broke their all-time attendance record again when a mammoth 15,644 fans turned up to see the play the Philadelphia Kixx. The match was spoilt when they lost 13-11.

After the 40 game regular season the Blizzard topped the North Division for the 2nd season running, winning 21 games and losing 19. They scored 495 goals and conceded 504, and went straight into the National Conference semi-finals in the playoffs. Yet again they fell at the first hurdle, this time to the Wichita Wings, losing in straight games 19-16 and 15-14.

The Blizzards leading player was Rudy Pikuzinski who scored 53 goals, made 38 assists and scored a total of 139 points, placing him joint 7th in the NPSL that season.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,834.

Carlos Salguero was sacked after the season over a disagreement over whether he would appear at the Buffalo Blizzard’s summer camps. Jeff Eisenberg resigned as President to concentrate on other things. Jim May gave up his role of General Manager to Michael Ferguson, who was also named Vice-President. Ferguson had previously been GM of the minor league Jamestown Jammers baseball team. May became Vice-President of Soccer Operations.

The North Division for the 1998-1999 season consisted of the Blizzard, the Detroit Rockers, and the Edmonton Drillers.

At the start of September Carlos Salguero’s successor was named, ex-head coach of the Cincinnati Silverbacks, George Fernandez. In the press conference Fernandez said that he had joined because of the “job security”, regardless of the fact that the Blizzard had got through 4 head coaches in 5 seasons. He signed a 3-year deal with the Blizzard. Before the Silverbacks, Fernandez had coached the Anaheim Splash in the CISL.

The Blizzard also signed a substantial one-year shirt sponsorship deal with the food promotion company the RMI Group. Shirt sponsorship deals were quite uncommon in American sports.

Rudy Pikuzinski, who was rumoured to be retiring, signed a new 2-year deal. In some roster changes Canadian Marco Rizi did retire, and Evan Whitson opted to sit out the season for personal reasons. In came defender Ricky Rodriguez, who had played for Fernandez at the Splash. Forward Bernie Lilavois was signed from the defunct Silverbacks, and in came midfielder Danny Barber.

In their first home game of the season the Blizzard beat the St. Louis Ambush 21-14.
During the season defender Michael DiNunzio came out of retirement to sign a series of 15 day contracts. Forward Bernie Lilavois was traded to the Harrisburg Heat for Jim Hesch and Byron Mitchell.

The Blizzard finished the 1998-1999 season 2nd out of three teams in the North Division, winning 22 games and losing 18. They scored 573 goals and conceded 560. This put them into National Conference semi-finals in the playoffs, where they were paired against the St. Louis Ambush. They went out again at the first hurdle, winning the first game 16-13, but losing the next two games 12-10 and 12-11.
Doug Miller was the team’s leading player, scoring 92 goals (highest in the NPSL that season), making 23 assists and scoring 194 points, placing him 2nd in the NPSL for that season. Miller made the 6-man NPSL All-Star team.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,068.

For the 1999-2000 season the Blizzard moved into the American Conference, and were placed in the Central Division, lining up against the Cleveland Crunch and the Montreal Impact.

Doug Miller, after his showing the previous season, was rewarded with a new 4-year contract.

The Blizzard’s home opener was against the Montreal Impact in front of 10,412 fans. The season started abysmally for the Blizzard losing 6 out of 7 games at one point. Early defeats were caused by injuries with the Blizzard only having 11 fit players, but the results didn’t improve when the players came back. Team legend Rudy Pikuzinski was released and promptly retired. He said that Fernandez sacked him because his negative attitude was affecting the other players. The Blizzard acquired forward Brad Smith from the Baltimore Blast for future considerations.

At the end of February, George Fernandez was sacked, and replaced by Englishman Paul Kitson for the final 12 games of the regular season.

They finished bottom of the 3 game division, and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in their history. In their 44 game season they won 19 games and lost 25, scoring 495 goals and conceding 617.

Their average attendance for the season was 6,587.

Although he failed to get them into the playoffs, John Bellanti was very happy with Paul Kitson during his 12 game spell and said he would be in charge for the next season. Kitson won 5 and lost 7 of his games in charge.

Mike Ferguson resigned his dual role as General Manager and President to concentrate on other interests. The Blizzard signed two new players, Dewan Bader and Travis Roy.
The last season of the franchise 2000-2001, was played in a re-formulated NPSL. The NPSL was split into two Conferences, with no Divisions. The Blizzard were in the 5 team American Conference, lining up against the Baltimore Blast, Cleveland Crunch, Harrisburg Heat, and the Philadelphia Kixx.

Ex-player Ernie Buriano was named as Assistant Coach, and Mike Ferguson took up a GM/Vice-President of Business Operations role with the Wichita Wings.
The first half of the season was terrible for the Blizzard, winning 7 and losing 13 of their 20 games. However, in the second half of the season they turned it around with a 15-5 record to reach the playoffs.

The Blizzard won 22 and lost 18 in their 40 game regular season, placing them 2nd in the Conference and sent them into the playoffs. They scored 513 goals and conceded 464. Matching their previous years playoff record they went out in the Conference semi-finals to the Baltimore Blast 9-8 and 18-13.

The Blizzard’s leading player was Doug Miller – he scored 47 goals, made 27 assists, and scored 118 points.

Their average attendance for the season was an all-time low for the franchise, 4,635.
After this season the NPSL collapsed, with the league claiming it was no longer financially viable. Six of the strongest franchises formed the new MISL, but the Blizzard folded when owner John Bellanti declined to apply to join the new league.
Randy Pikuzinski who had played in every season for the Blizzard was signed in the dispersal draft by the Harrisburg Heat, but opted to retire instead.

In total the Blizzard played 364 regular season games, winning 188 and losing 176, scoring 4,688 goals, and conceding 4,720. In the playoffs they played 21 games, winning 5 and losing 16. They scored 275 goals and conceded 349. They never made it past of their first playoff series in any season. The Blizzard were known as the “.500” club referring to their middling record in every season, roughly equalling games won and lost.

The Blizzard’s all time leading appearance maker was Randy Pikuzinski with 352 games. Leading goal scorer was his brother Rudy, who scored 317 times over 8 seasons.

Their total regular season attendance over 9 seasons was 63,238, making for an all-time average of 7,028 fans per game. The highest individual season average was 8,435 in 1994-1994, and the lowest was 4,635 in their final season, 2000-2001. Their record attendance for a single game was the 15,644 who saw them play the Philadelphia Kixx in the 1997-98 season.

Buffalo Storm

The Buffalo Storm were a professional soccer team who competed for only one season in the United Soccer League (USL).

For the 1984 Buffalo Storm campaign they were placed in the Northern Division along with the New York Nationals and the Rochester Flash. Francisco Escos was named Head Coach.

The 1984 roster included:
Goalkeepers – Peter Grillo, Otto Orf, Wieslaw Surlit
Defenders – Mike Corney, Dennis Mepham, Oscar Pisano, Chuck Schumpf
Midfielders – Ernie Buriano, Mike Garrett, Neils Gulbjerg, Pat Occhiuto, Mark Sansona, Karl Tausch
Forwards – Herve Guilliod, Randy Pikuzinski, Rudy Pikuzinski, Carlos Salguero
Most of the players played indoors with the MISL (Major indoor Soccer League) Buffalo Stallions.

After the regular season they topped the standings, with 11 wins and 13 loses from 24 games. They scored 48 goals and conceded 41. Topping the league put them straight into the USL semi-finals where they met the Fort Lauderdale Sun. They lost their first two matches 3-0 and 5-1, thus eliminating them.

Carlos Salguero was their highest goal scorer with 11 goals.

After this season they folded.