Monday, September 8, 2008

Catching Up With Rodney Marsh, Part II

Rodney Marsh will be forever linked to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. For many years, Marsh was the team’s most recognizable face and a fan-favorite. The one-time captain of the Manchester City Football Club and member of the English national football team, Marsh played for the Rowdies from 1976-79, and then served as head coach from 1984-86. Marsh also spent more than a decade in the team’s front office, serving as the club’s chief executive. Today, Marsh is enjoying retirement and proud to still call Tampa his home. He recently sat down to talk about his career and time with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The following is Part Two of my interview with Rodney Marsh.

Q. You were captain of the Manchester City team, so was there anything extra special about playing Manchester United in Tampa in an exhibition game in May 1978?

A. Definitely, to establish a credibility factor. The fact that we beat Manchester United in Tampa gave us worldwide credibility. People all over the world were saying North American Soccer League was a minor league -- and it was -- but the fact that we could compete with Manchester United was definitely a turning point.

At the time in Tampa, there was somebody who was championing our cause. His name was Tom McEwen, the Tampa Tribune sports columnist. He would write articles about the Rowdies and Manchester United that went around the world. Previously, we had a hard time getting in the American national newspapers. Then because of the Manchester game, we'd be in newspapers in London and throughout the world with Tom McEwen's byline writing about the Rowdies in Tampa Bay.

Q. Did the win over Manchester United help legitimize the NASL around the world?

A. I think that was part of it. But also at the same time, Pele signed with the New York Cosmos about six months before I joined the league. He gave the league massive, massive credibility. He's the greatest ever to play, still is in my opinion. So there’s the Manchester United game, there was an American All-Star team that played against other countries and we did well with that. So there were a few things that added together. The Cosmos would beat teams. They would play teams like Chelsea and win those games. So the more that you did, the more credibility you got.

Q. So by having stars like Pele and yourself in the league, with some international success you were then able to recruit other top players to come over to the United States?

A. After I signed, we signed about a dozen British players within a year. One of the reasons I came -- not withstanding all the other stuff -- was because of Pele. He gave the league credibility.

Q. Using the current example of David Beckham coming to play in Los Angeles, do you think that move has had the same impact on Major League Soccer?

A. No. All over the world, when he signed, people were saying this is serious. America signed David Beckham. This is for real. It was a brilliant, brilliant signing, but the league had no Plan B. You've got David Beckham in Los Angeles playing to a sold-out stadium, and when he goes to play in Dallas, they get big crowds. But without him, everyone else is on their own. The league doesn't have the next stage of players to sustain the interest. It was an enormous mistake, because if you add David Beckham, then a couple months later you need to sign someone like (Zinedine) Zidane to play in New York. If David Beckham doesn't play well, or gets hurt, or is away in England doing something else, then it's back to square one very quickly. MLS should have hired me for a few months as a consultant, because I would have told them this: If you do things in isolation, you'll always fail. You have to follow up, and they didn't have that.

Q. 1978 was a big year for the Rowdies, advancing all the way to the Soccer Bowl championship. What stands out about the playoff run now 30 years later?

A. It was refreshing. It was one of those things that you capture in your life, and it's a moment in time that you remember and never lose the image in your mind because it's so vivid. When I scored the final shootout goal against Ft. Lauderdale to get us into the championship, everybody invaded the pitch. There were people tugging at my shirt, there were players getting their shorts ripped off, and somebody took my gold medallion off my neck. I never saw that again. It was just one of those once in a lifetime things. You throw it all in a cocktail and that's probably the reason why I'm still in Tampa today.

Q. How would you best sum up your experience playing and managing in professional sports?

A. When I look back on my time with the Rowdies, as a player and as an executive, I'd gone 16 years and seen the gamut of everything. There is one phrase I would use, which in my opinion will never change as long as sports are played. I find it amazing that players don't get this. "Nobody is bigger than the team." I don't care who you are. It seems like about 20 years ago, or maybe a little bit longer than that, is when we started to see this "I" and "me" syndrome in life. It was like, to hell with everyone else, as long as I'm okay, I want this. It wasn't about "we" anymore. We've become an "I" and "me" society.

I was born just after the World War II. Back then it was "we are we." There is no "I." We are only we. I like that saying. Players today would do well to remember that. It doesn't matter how big you are, it doesn't matter how famous you are, it doesn't matter how good you are. In five years time, the Green Bay Packers may have somebody come along bigger than Brett Favre. For all he is today, someday he'll just be a memory, and the Packers will still be in Green Bay. No one person is bigger than the game.

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