Monday, July 26, 2010

Rowdies Battle Nottingham Forest, 7/25/80

In 1865, the deadliest war in U.S. history -- the Civil War -- came to an end, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolished slavery, and John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

At the same time in England, a group of young men formed a football club that would become known as the Nottingham Forest Reds. They would play their first match in January 1866, beginning a tradition that continues to the present day. A club steeped in history and championships, only two clubs in all of England --Stoke City and Notts County -- are older than Nottingham Forest.

On July 25, 1980, this team so steeped in lore came to Tampa for an exhibition against the Rowdies as part of a three-game North American tour.
The Reds were riding on a high as well, having just captured the prestigious European Cup championship in the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons.

They were clearly one of the best soccer teams in the world, while the Rowdies were 14-11 and chasing Ft. Lauderdale for 1st place in the American Conference's Eastern Division. The contest against Nottingham Forest would give the Rowdies a chance to measure themselves against a top flight club, and perhaps through a good showing, provide some momentum for their playoff push.

The Reds, meanwhile, were preparing for the start of the English League season in August.
Still, Rowdie defender Manny Andruszewski had no doubt the Reds would put their best feet forward.

"People are playing for places," he said. "I don't think they are the type of side who will not take the game seriously."

Exhibition or not, Nottingham Forest had no intention of underestimating Tampa Bay, and were certainly aware of another elite English team that came in to Tampa to play the Rowdies and left with a loss.

In May 1978, the Rowdies defeated Manchester United 2-1 in an exhibition at Tampa Stadium. Although Manchester United played without its starting goalkeeper and several other players preparing to play for Scotland in the World Cup, the victory showed that the Rowdies could compete with an English First Division team.

Mike Connell, who scored Tampa Bay's first goal of the game, said that the result "got the attention of people in Europe and helped establish that we were a serious and committed club."

Head coach Gordon Jago said of Manchester United that "it may be some time before we have a team of this caliber in our area again."

It took slightly over two years, but the arrival of Nottingham Forest signaled that time. If fans were hoping for a wide-open affair with a ton of offense, however, they may have left Tampa Stadium disappointed. Those who preferred a tightly played defensive battle got their money's worth and then some.

All told, 21,857 fans showed up on a humid July evening for a game that ended in a 0-0 tie.

Nottingham played their game to perfection, a patient, defense-first philosophy that sought to capitalize on a frustrated opponent's mistakes.
The Rowdies, meanwhile, avoided the temptation to play into Nottingham's hands and stuck to a defense-first style of their own. That the Reds were without three of their best forwards -- John Robertson, Ian Wallace, and "Mr. Magic" Trevor Francis -- certainly decreased their scoring opportunities.

Nottingham took only nine shots on goal the entire game, and only three required Tampa Bay goalkeeper Winston DuBose to save. He turned way Nottingham's best chance 77 minutes into the game, stopping a one-timer off the foot of striker Gary Birtles to keep the game scoreless. The Rowdies did not fare much better offensively, taking 15 shots with only four getting on goal.

The key factor in the nature of the contest turned out to be the placement of the off-sides line, normally located on the 35-yard, but for this game placed at midfield.

"When you play with the midfield stripe as the off-sides line as we did tonight, it makes for a very defensive game," Jago said after the game.

Mike Connell agreed, saying "there is so much space behind you that you must not give a man room to run."

For their performance, the Rowdies earned plenty of accolades from Nottingham following the game.

"Tampa Bay certainly gave us a hard going-over," said Nottingham Forest head coach Peter Taylor.

"They played us out of our skin. Our players are tired and that is the way it should be. It is very competitive over here, much more than I thought it would be."

Even the fans drew raves from the visiting players.

"The fans were well-behaved," said goalkeeper Peter Shilton. "It was a nice atmosphere, especially compared to some England matches."

The Rowdies were plenty pleased with their own effort, and certainly were not lamenting the outcome.

"It's no disgrace not to score against one of the best defenses in the world," midfielder Steve Wegerle said. "Anyone who wants to moan about that game doesn't know anything about soccer."

On this historic night in Tampa, Rowdies fans were given a lesson in defensive, European-style soccer by one of the best and most-storied teams to ever visit Tampa Stadium.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Catching Up With Tom Foley

Tom Foley, the third base coach for the Tampa Bay Rays since 2002, is one of the longest-tenured members of the organization. He came aboard in 1996 and served as a field coordinator for the first mini-camp in team history. His roots in Tampa go even deeper, however, having spent a season as a member of the Class-A Tampa Tarpons in 1979. A shortstop by trade, though adept throughout the infield, Foley played for the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos, and Pittsburgh Pirates during a 13-year career. Foley recently took some time to talk about his playing career and years spent as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Q. What are your reflections on that season with the Tampa Tarpons?

A. It was a great place to play. I think I went from Billings, Montana, to Shelby, North Carolina, and then to Tampa. I’m from Miami, so it felt like I was home. Everything about it was great. We had a good team, a great manager in Mike Compton, and it was enjoyable. We had a really good club, but I think that might have been the year a hurricane canceled the playoffs or something.

Q. Did you have anyone at that level you looked to as a mentor?

A. Well, we were all young. I don’t think there were too many repeats in that league. We all went up together as a group from one level to the next. But if anyone, I think it would be Mike Compton. He was instrumental in my career. I had him for two years. And the field coordinator at that time in the Reds organization was guy named Ron Plaza. He was a pretty tough cookie. I hated him for two weeks when I first got in the organization. Then I figured him out and realized that this guy can really help me. I just couldn’t let him beat me.

Jimmy Hoff, who was a field coordinator for Cincinnati and is now the minor league field coordinator here, was very influential in my career. Every one of those guys, in their own way, helped me in my career. They helped me as an infielder, showed me how to be a professional, how to act, how to approach each day, how to take a win, how to take a loss, all those things. It was the little things on the field, the little things off the field. Not the big things, because the higher you get the more you know the big things. It’s the little things that make a difference.

Q. You spent six years in the Reds organization before you were traded. At the time did you see the trade as a disappointment or a way to advance your career?

A. It was a shock, first of all. It was the day after the one-day strike in 1985. Pete Rose called me up and let me know that I’d been traded. So I went to Philadelphia and had the opportunity to play. I played about 85 games there before getting traded the next season to Montreal. I ended up spending seven seasons in Montreal, a good part of my career. When you’re traded, you’ve got to realize where you’re going is where they really want you. For one reason or another, it doesn’t have to be that they dislike you on the team that’s trading you, it’s just that they may have somebody else or have a need for something else. You don’t always want to look at it as a negative because you’re being traded. I didn’t, and it worked out great for me.

Q. What was it like playing in Montreal, at the time one of the most unique cities in all of baseball?

A. It’s just like I tell anyone else: it’s what you make of it. If you want to go up there and be miserable, it’s easy to be miserable. If you want to go up there, adapt, and learn their culture, it wasn’t that hard. I met some great people and made some good friends throughout the years. My family and I loved it. On top of that, we had a good group of players there. There weren’t too many guys who whined about it. We’d go to Plattsburgh, New York, to get things they didn’t sell in Montreal like Heinz ketchup, stuff like that. (laughs)

Q. When your playing career came to an end, what did you view as the next step?

A. I felt I wanted to stay in the game. In what capacity, I didn’t know. I retired near the end of July in 1995, and just ten days after that, Chuck LaMar called and told me who he was, who he worked for. I didn’t know Chuck and didn’t know who the Devil Rays were. A little over a month later, we met in Tampa and then I came aboard as a field coordinator. I did that for a couple of years and then became the director of minor league operations. But I really like the uniform. (laughs) That’s why at one point I was the director and a field coordinator, which allowed me to get back out there in a uniform. After the 2001 season, Hal McRae asked me if I would like to be his third base coach, and here I am.

Q. You’ve basically been involved with the Rays since Day One. Who are some of the prospects that have come through the system that stand out to you?

A. Well, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, Josh Hamilton. Pitcher-wise, you see a lot of them here on our club right now. Even the guys who were drafted way low like Travis Phelps – probably one of the lowest draft picks ever in the 89th round – have made it to the big leagues.

We drafted Dan Wheeler in the 34th round of the 1996 amateur draft. I remember when he got called up in 1999 and he became our third draft pick to reach the bigs. I was sitting up in the office sweating while he was down on the field pitching in the game. You just root for those kids ‘cause you live with them.

Our first draft pick ever, Paul Wilder, really didn’t pan out. We had Dewon Brazelton, who really didn’t pan out either. All of them have talent, but it’s pretty tough. I think 90% of all players that are drafted or signed don’t make it to the big leagues. You feel for them, you see what they go through every year. I’ve been through it and lived what they’re going through. It’s a tough deal. It’s not all roses out there when you’re in the minor leagues.

Q. You’ve been the third base coach now for nine seasons. Do you have aspirations to manage or do anything else in the game?

A. It’s my job. I love it out there. I’m involved in the game every day. I’d rather be there than anywhere else on a coaching staff. If something else were to come along, great, but if not I’m fine with where I am.

Q. You’re one of the few people left who were here through all the bad times. Did you ever see this organization coming together like it has the last three seasons?

A. Let’s put it this way. I knew we were getting better and I knew we had talent. I don’t think anybody might have envisioned it happening quite like it did in 2008, but finally at some point you realize that you can compete with anybody. That’s what happened that year and what has happened really over the last three years.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Catching Up With Perry Van Der Beck, Part II

Perry Van Der Beck made history with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1978 as the first high school soccer player ever drafted by a North American Soccer League team. The talented midfielder stood out as an amateur by winning two high school state championships and representing the United States in international competition at almost every level, including the Olympic team. Van Der Beck enjoyed a 19-year playing career, nine of which came as a member of the Rowdies. Today, Van Der Beck serves as the Technical Directory and Director of Player Development for the recently revived Rowdies in the USSF Division 2 soccer league. Van Der Beck recently took time out to chat about everything and anything related to his life’s passion: soccer. The following is the conclusion of a two-part interview with Van Der Beck.

Q. Were you familiar with the Rowdies when you were drafted by the team in 1978?

A. First and foremost, I'm not just saying this because I'm here, but I remember sitting down with a professional player from the St. Louis Stars -- who was one of their international players – and he asked me if I had the option, what team would I play for? I said the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He says, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You could play for Manchester United and you're saying Rowdies?” The very next year, I'm drafted by the Rowdies. That was in January 1978, but I couldn't sign until my high school class graduated. Then I turned 18 and was able to play, but I really didn't know what was going to happen. The St. Louis Stars had the second pick in the draft. They were the hometown team. I met with the manager and he said, "We're going to draft you." So, I'm thinking it's going to be the Stars. Well, my dad calls St. Thomas Aquinas High School and they call me to the office to tell me that I've been drafted by the Tampa Bay Rowdies. We did a whole press conference and then they flew me down here. The Rowdies were averaging 28-30,000 fans a game. Averaging! You had around 50,000 for July 4th.

It was an unbelievable atmosphere walking onto the field. My first time getting into a game was as a substitute in Tulsa. We were up 3-0, and they brought Rodney Marsh off and put me on. As Rodney was coming off the field, he gave me a little high-five and said, "Good luck son." That was my first taste of pro soccer. That first year I only got in two or three games, but I was traveling a lot with the Olympic team. And you know what? I wasn't ready for the first team. You just have to work your way into it. A lot of young players want to play right away, but trust me it takes a lot to work up to it.

Q. You must have learned so much watching the veterans on the team though.

A. That's what I tell players. We're visual. Even as a coach. You're sitting on the bench, you're watching the guys, the communication -- you're hearing that -- the way they tackle, the way they position themselves. Johnny Gorman, Mike Connell, Wes McLeod, all very influential in my career. Coming in as a young player out of high school, these were the senior professionals.

It wasn't easy. Think back to when I was playing. The rule was you had to play two North Americans on the field. Now, MLS only allows three international players at a time. They flipped it. So again, you know what, I was kind of the odd man out. You had to play two, and guess what, they only played two, either at midfield or at the back. The rest of the guys were all international players.

Q. Did you have as a mentor as you were starting out?

A. Very much so. Player wise, let's start with a guy named Bobby O' Leary. He played for the St. Louis Stars, later the California Surf. He was a big mentor for me through my high school years and club soccer until I came down to Tampa.

Players on the Rowdies? Johnny Gorman, Mike Connell, Jan Van Der Veen, Winston DuBose, Rodney Marsh. Those are the players that stuck out in my mind as guys who were looking after me. They were true professionals, good teammates, and Mike Connell was a very good captain. He was a good player, but I'll tell you what, he was boisterous and looked after the team. The same with Johnny Gorman. When he became the assistant coach of the England national team in the 1998 World Cup, you knew he deserved that. So those were my mentors, besides my coaches growing up. My coaches were very good to me, and I fed off them.

Q. You talked before about the attendance and support for the Rowdies. Can you talk about what it was like to enjoy that kind of support?

A. The support that this community gave the Tampa Bay Rowdies is something I'll never forget and I don't know if there'll ever be anything to compare it to again. You looked forward to doing an appearance. Fans were going to be there and they were always cheerful and inspiring. Players were out in the community and they really embraced us, and we embraced them back. That was the marriage that thrived for so long.

What happened to the Rowdies? It wasn't so much the Rowdies as the actual league itself. When I joined the league in 1978, I think there were 24 teams. In 1984, there were only nine, with Tampa being one of them. It just wasn't feasible for the owners to fly their teams all over the place. It needed to be more regional, but that wasn't happening, so they just called it quits there.

People tried to compare it with MLS with the Mutiny. There is no comparison. 70,000 at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. Ft. Lauderdale, sold out. 18,000 standing room only. ABC, Sunday afternoon "Wide World of Sports." Those are the kinds of things I remember that you just don't forget.

Mike Connell was interviewed -- and I don't want to steal his thunder -- but he said it was like Woodstock. It was the timing. People try to emulate it. We've got a great bunch of kids here -- not kids, players -- tied in with some older, experienced players and we've been successful. That's how the Rowdies were, successful from the beginning. I think at one time when George Strawbridge owned the team the record was 121-38. They won five division championships. We always won, especially at home.

Q. How does it feel not just to have soccer back in Tampa Bay, but with the Rowdies brand as well?

A. We're off to a good start. The fact that we've got the Rowdies name not only brings credibility to the team here in Tampa, but also there's a history with the Rowdies. Not just nationally, but back in the United Kingdom. When MLS started, Cornelia Corbett wanted to get involved, but the way the league was set up she had no interest. My understanding is the league didn't want to be painted in the same brush as the NASL because there was some failure there. But, there were some very successful teams like the Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers, and of course, the Tampa Bay Rowdies. They're all coming back now because people remember that, they grew up with it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Catching Up With Perry Van Der Beck, Part I

Perry Van Der Beck made history with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1978 as the first high school soccer player ever drafted by a North American Soccer League team. The talented midfielder stood out as an amateur by winning two high school state championships and representing the United States in international competition at every level, including the Olympic team. Van Der Beck enjoyed a 19-year playing career, nine of which came as a member of the Rowdies. Today, Van Der Beck serves as the Technical Directory and Director of Player Development for the Rowdies in the USSF Division 2 soccer league. Van Der Beck recently took time out to chat about everything and anything related to his life’s passion: soccer. The following is the first in a two part interview with Van Der Beck.

Q. How thrilling was it to be 18 and already in the pros?

A. I was very excited. I lived in St. Louis, and at that time, I had a mentor who was playing for NASL team called the St. Louis Stars. My dream, my life, my passion was soccer. So that's something I wanted to do. I had colleges chasing me, so I had to make a decision.
What inspired me was the league said we'll pay for your college education, we'll set money aside. So it wasn't a matter of me not getting my education, but I wanted to get to the big leagues as soon as I could. That's just the way it was with my life, it's all I talked about. Kicking a soccer ball, going outside and doing things with it was not a chore. There were kids in my neighborhood, teammates of mine who had the same mentality.

Once I got down here, you're right, I was 18 years old. It wasn't that I was going to start or how much I was going to play. It was just being in that atmosphere.

My first contract was actually an amateur contract because I was still eligible to play for the 1980 Olympic team. I got paid about $50 a week to play soccer. Then I got “x” amount of dollars to be director of Camp Kikinthagrass. I couldn't get paid more than $50 because I wanted to qualify for the Olympics. The Rowdies provided me a car, an apartment, so they made it up to me in other ways.

Q. So you really knew that you wanted to go pro and not spend time playing college soccer?

A. I had a situation where I was already involved with the Olympic team since high school. I had been discovered at an early age. I'd played international soccer and seen that lifestyle. Soccer is the global sport. I was an impressionable young player and I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Q. How did that experience prepare you for the pro game?

A. It had a lot to do with it. In fact, I remember playing when I was 16 or 17 years old in the Youth World Cup. I represented the United States in a tournament in Honduras. I'd played in some games to qualify for the Olympics, played in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Suriname. When the United States qualifies, they qualify in the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) region. I've played almost every country in the region, but I've never been to Panama.

To represent your country at the highest level is just a step up. If you look back, in my ten years with the national team I only got 23 caps because we didn't play as often as they do now.

Q. What were your feelings about the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, considering that you were slated to be the captain of that team?

A. It was very tough to accept. Here was an opportunity to represent my country at the highest level of play in another part of the world, which back in 1980, we really didn't know a lot about the Soviet Union. So, one, what an experience, and two, it's the sport I love and now I get to play against other cultures in other parts of the world. I was looking forward to it. In fact, it took a lot of time and effort, a lot of sacrifices.

We played against Mexico in a friendly, beat them 4-0 in Los Angeles. They changed their whole team. They became a professional team. So we went down to play in Leon, Mexico, against their professionals and we lost 2-1. So now, the return leg is in New York. We were going to play before the Cosmos game. Their passports said that they were professional players. Guess what? FIFA says, "You're out, the U.S. is in." So we qualify. I think it was us and Costa Rica, but now you've got the boycott.

For the sport of soccer, you know, I don't care what Jimmy Carter says or does, it was hard for me to comprehend. He was punishing us? But, I look at the other athletes in track and field, volleyball, swimming. They don't have professional leagues. They’ve got to wait four more years before they can compete with the rest of the world. I got to go back to Tampa to play for my team. So, was I upset? Yeah, but you know what? I was able to live with it because I had something to fall back on. Now, that's me being selfish, but I'm being honest.

It was one of those things where we played in Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and in those countries, it's not friendly. It's a hostile situation every time you go. I'm not going to say that at any time I felt my life was threatened, but you know what, it is a hard way to compete. So you go down there, you've done the business, you've qualified, and now, guess what? You're not going.

They gave us all medals, and I've got some awards. Gosh, I have to tell you, it's the highest congressional award any civilian can get (the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded to the 1980 US Olympic Team). So we got honored for it, but
did we get to actually play? No. So, as your career goes on you look back at those things. As a coach you want to impress upon these players that you don't know what is going to happen in your career. Okay? You score a goal here, next day you break your leg. You just don't know.

Q. As an aside, what do you think about Tampa's chances of becoming a host city for the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022?

A. The politics are working right now. If you watched the World Cup, you saw Bill Clinton sitting next to FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Sepp Blatter is the most powerful guy in soccer, and you've got the former President of the United States sitting next to him. As far as I know, the decision has been made -- I might be wrong -- for 2018. I think Bill Clinton came out and said the reason we lost out to Brazil in 2014 is because we never got our act together. There's no doubt in my mind that we had the most successful World Cup ever in 1994, and that we can do it again in 2018. Just give us the opportunity. The talk in South Africa is about the seats that were missing. There were 10,000 no-shows at a game. I’m sorry, but that wouldn't happen here in the United States.