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.