The Memphis Storm (1986-1989) were the third and final attempt to make a buck off of indoor soccer at Memphis’ Mid-South Coliseum during the 1980′s. This rare program is from the Storm’s inaugural match on November 15, 1986 against the visiting Fort Wayne Flames.
The hybrid sport briefly captivated Memphis sports fans in the winter of 1979-80. At the time, the city had a losing, unpopular outdoor soccer team in the North American Soccer League (1968-1984) called the Memphis Rogues. The Rogues drew poorly in the summer time at the Liberty Bowl, but when the NASL experimented with a winter indoor season 1979, Memphians suddenly went nuts for the game.
“We played indoor soccer there when no one knew anything about it and we sold out every game,” former Rogues GM Rudi Schiffer recalled in 2011. “We won the Western Division championship and had a heckuva team. We did that with a lot of promotions and it was wild and exciting and everybody loved it. We sold every ticket in the house. But that all faded when the team moved to Canada.”
Rogues owner Avron Fogelman sold the Rogues later in 1980 and the club moved to Calgary. Outdoor soccer in Memphis was gone for good, but the Rogues’ intriguing success indoors tempted a series of new investors.
First up was Athletes in Action, the Christian sports ministry. Nine months after the Rogues left town, AIA bought a bankrupt Major Indoor Soccer League franchise from Hartford and moved it to Memphis. The club was called the “Hellions” and their logo featured a depiction of Satan. The evangelical group vanquished Satan, renamed the team the “Americans”, and dressed the players in patriotic Red, White & Blue. The Americans lasted three seasons at the Mid-South Coliseum from 1981 to 1984, but never truly thrilled the city the way the Rogues did. In May 1984, new owners moved the Americans to Las Vegas – Sin City.
The Memphis Storm arrived in town as an American Indoor Soccer Association expansion franchise in May 1986. The AISA was basically a low-budget Midwestern bus league at the time. Speculators kept betting on Memphis, but each successive Memphis soccer team was getting chintzier and chintzier. Original Rogues owner Harry Mangurian also owned the Boston Celtics. His successor at the Rogues, Avron Fogelman, was a real estate titan who later owned the Kansas City Royals. By contrast, the neophyte owner of the Memphis Storm was Cameron Trail, a 25-year old whose previous business experience was owning a string of ice cream parlors.
Nevertheless, GM Chris Bartels put together a solid veteran squad, led by Argentinean midfielder and fan favorite Toni Carbognani. Carbognani is the only player to suit up for all three of Memphis’ pro teams in the 80′s – the Rogues, the Americans and the Storm. The Storm lured several other talented vets from the higher-paying MISL, including Oscar Albuquerque, Terry Nicholl, Tony Peszneker and Gregg Willin.
The Storm were competitive for their first two seasons, even winning the AISA title during an abbreviated 1987-88 season, which saw the league reduced to just four franchises. Financial problems set in sometime around the Storm’s third season in 1989. New ownership took over for the club’s fourth season in the winter of 1989-90. They desperately tried to reignite interest in the team by dropping the “Storm” name and reviving the Memphis Rogues brand, but by the Rogues brief heyday was a decade in the past and largely forgotten. The 1989-90 Rogues cemented their fate by finishing a league-worst 6-34 and folded shortly thereafter.