Rowdies Replay: Putting the ‘England’ in ‘New England’

1978 Rowdies team picture from

My APBA Soccer replay of the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ 1978 North American Soccer League season saw the lads head to Foxboro, Mass. for their second game and first road match of the campaign.

The expansion New England Tea Men, owned by the Thomas J. Lipton Co.1Which was founded in 1890, and is now one of the Unilever brands., bussed in 1,000 Lipton employees from New Jersey to witness the team’s first-ever NASL match. They and the other 10,360 or so folks who came to Schaefer Stadium on an early spring Sunday saw 13 Englishmen 2Plus Tampa Bay’s Adrian Alston, who was born in England but was an Australian citizen. between the two teams, playing in the region famous for the start of the American Revolution.

The early Rowdies were built on players from the UK, and their abilities and personalities endeared them to Tampa Bay-area sports fans. In later years, the club moved away from players from the British isles and toward more Latin Americans. Tampa has always moved to a Latin beat, but the “Fannies”3Which means something completely different in England. who fell in love with the Rowdies early on fell off as the Brits did, and as the team sank in the standings.

You can forgive fans for feeling winning was their birthright, as the Rowdies had one of the most successful births of any expansion team in NASL history. They won the first Soccer Bowl in their debut season of 1975, and actually had a better team in 1976, but one that couldn’t get past the eventual league champion Toronto Metros in the playoffs.

The 1977 season was one of turmoil for the franchise, as original coach Eddie Firmani abruptly quit in midseason before turning up shortly thereafter as the new coach of the rival New York Cosmos. It was the Cosmos who put the 14-12 Rowdies out of the 1977 playoffs, so Tampa Bay was at a crossroads as the 1978 season began. With new coach Gordon Jago at the helm, the Rowdies had to convince fans they hadn’t just been a flash in the pan.

The 1978 season was the first one I followed closely4After discovering sports in the fall of 1977., and it was the one in which the Rowdies’ phenomenon really caught fire. It didn’t happen all at once, though, as a quick start turned into mediocrity by midseason before a late kick turned them back into contenders.

But that will all come later, if it comes at all in this replay. What happened in match number two, as the Rowdies traveled to New England, is below.

Tea Men Can’t Bag Win in NASL Debut

FOXBORO, Mass. (April 9, 1978) – Despite playing with a man advantage for the final 26 minutes of their first North American Soccer League match, the New England Tea Men dropped a close and controversial 1-0 decision to the Tampa Bay Rowdies in front of 11,360 fans Sunday afternoon at Schaefer Stadium.

The controversy came with seven minutes to play and 10-man Tampa Bay clinging to that one goal lead: Ringo Cantillo went down after a foul by Rowdies defender Mike Connell inside the penalty box.

Or was it?

Rowdies-New England action from 1978
Tampa Bay’s Rodney Marsh (with hoop-socked legs in the air) upends New England goalkeeper Kevin Keelan in a photo taken in 1978 by the Boston Globe‘s David L. Ryan.

After initially dashing to the scene of the foul at the edge of the box and with fans on their feet in anticipation of a penalty kick, a tie game, and potential overtime, referee David Socha5I actually have no record of who the referee was in this game, but Socha was an NASL referee that year, based in Hartford, Conn. and as good a candidate as any for the narrative. Work with me here. instead made a beeline for his closest linesman. After the two officials conferred (and with some “encouragement” from Rowdies captain Rodney Marsh), Socha pointed to a spot just outside the box and signaled a free kick instead of the potential game-tying penalty.

“It was absolutely a penalty,” said Tea Men head coach Noel Cantwell. “That call was diabolical.”

“The referee said it was outside the box,” Connell noted with a grin, “so it must have been outside the box.6In truth, I was able to use all of the Rowdies’ “Clutch Points,” an APBA artifice, to have the referee wave off the penalty after the dice said that yes, the foul had taken place inside the box. There is no corresponding Clutch Points move the Tea Men could have used to swing the decision the other way, unfortunately.

The ensuing free kick ended up in a missed shot, and though the Teas earned a pair of corner kicks in the ensuing minutes, they were unable to score and the short-handed Rowdies held on for their first win of the season7By the same margin as in the real-life game, though that was 2-1..

“I don’t think too many teams will beat them here,” said Marsh, who is still scoreless after two matches and was largely marked out of this one by New England’s Peter Carr8You can man-mark in APBA Soccer, though I have not done it yet. But for sake of the narrative, saying Marsh was well-marked is easier than explaining why the randomness of the sim has not gone Marsh’s way to this point.. “They have a quality side.”

Tampa Bay’s goal came off the foot of Canadian midfielder Wes McLeod less than eleven minutes in. McLeod, who tallied his team’s only goal in their 2-1 shootout loss to Memphis a week ago, dribbled around three defenders before spinning and unleashing a right-footed shot that beat New England goalkeeper Kevin Keelan9Who would end up coaching the Rowdies on an interim basis just four years later. to the far post. It was one of only three shots on goal between the two teams over the course of 90 minutes.

And, of course, the shot never taken because of the referee’s decision is one the Tea Men will rue all season long.

The Rowdies’ three-game, season-opening string of expansion opponents finishes April 16 when they travel to Detroit to take on the Express. New England travels to Philadelphia April 15 to face the Fury.

		1	2	-	F
Tampa Bay	1	0	-	1
New England	0	0	-	0
TB  -  McLeod 2 (unassisted) 10:52
  1	Goals	    0
  8	Shots	   14
  2	SOG	    1
  1	Saves	    1
  2	Corners	    5
  6	Fouls	   11
  2	Offsides    1
Cautions  -  TB Auguste (18:36), NE Carr (75:09)
Ejection  -  TB Robb (64:07)
Tampa Bay  -  Hammond, Crudo, Connell, Papandrea, Auguste (caution 18:36)
(Fleeting 45:00), McGuire, Marsh, McLeod, Wegerle, Robb (ejected 64:07), 
Alston (Paddon 72:05)
New England  -  Keelan, Carr (caution 75:09), Simpson, May, D'Errico, 
Weller, Cantillo, Alderson (Abrahams 45:00), Powell, Gibbins (Flanagan 72:05),
A  -  11,360

After needing more than three hours to play the first game of this replay, I was able to cut that to just over two hours the second time out. (Granted, this game didn’t go into overtime and shootout, but I felt good about shaving more than an hour off the time.)

After two matches in 1978, the Rowdies were 2-0 with four goals scored and two allowed. After two replay matches, they’re half as good (1-1) and have scored and allowed half as many goals (2-110The shootout “goal” in the result of the 2-1 loss to Memphis wasn’t a real goal, the NASL just awarded a team goal to make results easier to understand.). But overall, it’s been fun and pretty realistic for homebrewed cards. We’ll see how the third and future matches go.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch