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 Tampa Bay Rowdies

Reflecting on the Founding of the Rowdies 50 Years Ago

June 19, 2024 - United Soccer League Championship (USL)
Tampa Bay Rowdies News Release

"I know you have heard this before. When a new team comes in it says it will have a winner. But we'll make this a winner."

Those were the words of Beau Rogers on June 19, 1974 when he and former schoolmate and longtime friend George W. Strawbridge Jr. stood in front of local media with North American Soccer League Commissioner Phil Woosnam to announce that pro soccer was coming to Tampa Bay. The announcement was held at Hawaiian Village, a now defunct restaurant that was located less than two miles away from Tampa Stadium, where the team that would come to be known as the Tampa Bay Rowdies would kickoff their inaugural season the following year.

Rogers had fair reason to be bullish on his chances at building a winner in Tampa Bay. In 1973, he led the Philadelphia Atoms to a championship in the first NASL season as general manager. Rogers would go on to achieve the same success in Tampa Bay while serving in the same role, guiding the 1975 Rowdies to a championship title, as well as NASL Indoor championships in 1976, 1979-80, and 1983.

In addition to his duties as general manager, Rogers also had a minority ownership stake in the Rowdies, while Strawbridge held majority ownership. The two Philadelphia natives had often spoken about teaming up to launch a soccer team together. Strawbridge, who helped establish the Buffalo Sabres in 1970 as one of the National Hockey League team's first owners and board members, had narrowly missed out on winning the bid for Philadelphia's NASL team a few years before.

Strawbridge was the son of stockbroker George W Strawbridge Sr. and Margaret Dorrance, the daughter the owner the Campbell Soup Company Dr. John Thompson Dorrance. In addition to his sports interests, Strawbridge was the Vice President of Summit Airlines and an adjunct professor of Latin American History and Political Science at Widener University.

Tampa Bay was a market on the rise in the 1970s. Rogers and Strawbridge started meeting with Commissioner Woosnam shortly after the National Football League announced they had awarded a team to the area that would also play at Tampa Stadium. The Rowdies would beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the field first, though. Coach Eddie Firmani was hired as the first coach in Rowdies history to lead the team for their Indoor tournament in January of 1975 at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg, followed by the outdoor season starting in April.

"Tampa is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States..." offered Commissioner Woosnam as a reason for the NASL choosing the market as the league's 16th team. "It is now recognized as a major league sports market of great potential and the new franchise will create a tremendous rivalry for the Miami Toros [rebranded as the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1976). With owners who are knowledgeable and experienced in the professional sports field, we believe that Tampa Bay and all of central florida will be developed into a major soccer market."

At the initial press conference announcing the team, Rogers predicted the team would average 10,000-11,000 in the stands in their first year. The Rowdies ended up averaging just over 12,000 on their way to the championship. Through the recruitment of talented stars like Clyde Best, Derek Smethurst, Mike Connell, Rodney Marsh and countless more in those early years as well as grassroots community initiatives, the Rowdies became a smash hit in Tampa Bay and a globally recognized name in global soccer.

"We set no time limit and money limit," Rogers remarked on the group's commitment to Tampa Bay at the outset of their venture. "We are convinced the pro soccer program will go here or we would not have sought the franchise. The sport is catching on elsewhere after a slow start. We understand the education and indoctrination program ahead of us, but it's all part of our game plan. We are here to stay."

Eventually Rogers and Strawbridge's stewardship of the Rowdies ended in 1983. However, the foundation they help lay left in indelible mark on the landscape of our region. Even through the turbulent ebbs and flows of American soccer, the Rowdies legacy has endured through the last 50 years and continues today.

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