Philly Soccer History - 1980

The ‘80s: 1980

In the winter of 1979-80, a number of Fury players suited up for the Philadelphia Fever of the Major Indoor Soccer League. When the MISL started a year before, two teams dominated play by virtue of the fact they were essentially indoor versions of NASL clubs. The regular season champion, the Houston Summit, were the outdoor Houston Hurricane in indoor clothing. Similarly, the league’s playoff champion, the New York Arrows, were made up almost exclusively of players from the NASL’s Rochester Lancers. The runner up in the playoffs that year had been the Philadelphia Fever, a team made up almost exclusively of local amateur players, along with two seasoned pros, Joe Fink and Fred Grgurev.

Apparently deciding that it could not compete with this roster, the Fever took the logical step of “affiliating” with the Fury. As a result, the Fever were able to add Bob Rigby, Brooks Cryder, and several other Fury players to the roster. Unfortunately, this came at the expense of many of the local players who had been so popular with Fever fans the year before, such as ex-Atoms Bobby Ludwig, Skip Roderick, and Lew Meehl. As it turned out, the arrangement yielded few results, and the Fever missed the playoffs. It also kept fans away; although the Fever had led the league in attendance in 1978-79, it finished near the bottom of the pack in 1979-80. Like the Atoms before them, the Fever had underestimated the value of a local identity in trying to accumulate talent for a championship run. The fans never again regained interest, and the team would fold after thew 1981-82 season.

As a result of the arrangement, the Fury were able to acquire another ex-Atom, all-pro defender Bobby Smith. Also, Fever coach George O’Neill served as the Fury’s assistant coach, replacing ex-teammate Derek Trevis.

The first year of the new decade was a make-or-break one for the Fury. However, the club entered the year with much optimism. Along with the hiring of Firmani, the team could look forward to a nucleus that included Bob Rigby, Bobby Smith, John Dempsey, Fran O’Brien, and Tony Glavin. The Fury also acquired Kensington native Dave McWilliams from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, adding another local connection. In addition, the team could look forward to another year of Pat Fidelia’s exploits.

And, of course, the fans could look forward to another year of David Robb’s goal scoring feats. However, the new coach would soon reveal himself to be a raging egotist. One of his first moves was to summarily dispatch Robb to Vancouver for cash. Thus, in one fell swoop, any chance of maintaining the fan interest generated by the 1979 playoff run disappeared.

Firmani assured all that would listen that Robb would barely be missed, since two of his “discoveries,” Bob Vosmaer from Holland and Ossama Khalil from Egypt, would develop into major goal scorers. The fact that Philadelphia fans were not thrilled that their hero had been replaced by two players whose names could not be pronounced was apparently lost on the club’s rock-and-roll ownership, as well as on new general manager Tom Fleck. Adding to the Fury’s woes was that his English club loaned Frank Worthington out to Tampa Bay for 1980, leaving the club without both of its top goalscorers.

Also, the team ignored the fact that Franklin Field provided a really good atmosphere for soccer, and again played in cavernous Veterans Stadium.

The Fury were dead on arrival in 1980. Starting the season 1-7, and drawing only 9,574 fans to the home opener, the team finished 10-22, missing the playoffs for the first time in their brief history. An embarrassing average of 4,778 fans attended each match.

After the season, the team was sold to Molson Breweries, who moved the team to Montreal. Playing with essentially the same roster as in 1980, the Montreal Manic averaged 23,704 fans a game in 1981, and drew over 50,000 fans to its playoff matches.

As it was, the entire North American Soccer League would itself be gone within five years. The many factors contributing to its demise have been well documented, and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say, by 1985 professional major league soccer had ceased to exist in the United States.