Monday, August 3, 2009

Rodney Marsh Bids Farewell, 7/30/79

On July 30, 1979, the face of the Tampa Bay Rowdies decided it was time to walk away. Rodney Marsh – to this day one of the most memorable personalities this area has ever seen -- announced his retirement effective at the end of the season.

The 34-year-old had just come off a two-goal performance on July 28, a 5-2 victory over Detroit at Tampa Stadium. He chose the team’s weekly Monday afternoon Centre Circle luncheon to drop his retirement bombshell. While not entirely unexpected given his age and desire to transition into a coaching career, the timing of Marsh’s announcement left many surprised.

“I have been thinking about (retirement) for quite some time,” Marsh said. “This is a very, very sad day for me. I have had four tremendous years in Tampa.”

What a four years those were.

Signed by original Rowdies owner George Strawbridge in 1976, Marsh brought an immediate flair to the organization. A former captain of Manchester City's English Premier League team and member of the English national team, Marsh also became one of the biggest names in the entire North American Soccer League.

In short, Tampa had its first bona fide superstar.

Marsh’s time here started out shaky, being named captain of the team by GM Beau Rogers over the objection of then-head coach Eddie Firmani. He had his captaincy stripped by Firmani less than two weeks later, a move that permanently soured their relationship. Still, he scored 11 goals in 21 contests in 1976 while helping the Rowdies to a division championship.

Along the way, he began earning the adulation of Rowdies fans for his passion and personality, on and off the field. In a time when athletes and fans still freely mingled at local bars or clubs, after home games one could always find Marsh out on the town surrounded by “Fannies,” the team’s celebrated die-hards. They took to Marsh because he personified the character of the team: charismatic, brash and in-your-face.

George Strawbridge once said Marsh “showed soccer can be fun, and above all, entertaining, which is exactly what the Rowdies are about.”

The Rowdies and Marsh, however, suffered down seasons in 1977. Marsh recorded just eight goals in 24 games, and Eddie Firmani quit during the season to become the head coach of the New York Cosmos. The Rowdies finished 14-12 and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

The fortunes of both the Rowdies and Marsh turned around in 1978 with the arrival of head coach Gordon Jago from England. With stability restored under Jago, the once-again team captain had his best season, notching 18 goals in 26 games. He led the Rowdies to an American Conference title and a berth in the Soccer Bowl championship game.

At the time of his retirement, Marsh netted 11 goals through 20 games and had the Rowdies, in first place at 19-7, poised to make another deep playoff run. His recent two-goal performance showed he still had the ability to take over a game. That is one of the reasons, Marsh said, that he chose to hang up his cleats.

“I think it is better to quit when people say, ‘why now?’ instead of ‘why not now?’ My belief is that I should quit when I am at the top.”

Marsh shuddered to ever think of Rowdies fans seeing the team’s two-time MVP on a bench instead of on the pitch, or merely playing out the string as a shadow of his former self. So, he decided to exit on his own terms.

As a tribute, the Rowdies announced that they would host a testimonial game for Marsh following the conclusion of the season. The first of its kind in America, the event would give the fans a final chance to honor Marsh. The game – held at Tampa Stadium on September 14 -- would turn out to be an affair to remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment