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1998-2009 Nashua Pride / American Defenders of New Hampshire

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Atlantic League (1998-2005)
Can-Am League (2006-2009)

Born: 1997 – Atlantic League founding franchise.
Died: 2008 – Re-branded as the American Defenders of New Hampshire.

Stadium: Holman Stadium

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

 

Nashua, New Hampshire has a fascinating but unsteady history with postwar baseball.  In 1946, Branch Rickey placed a Class B Brooklyn Dodgers farm club in the city’s Holman Stadium.  Rickey chose Nashua after his Danville, Iowa farm team refused to take on two promising African-American players, Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella.  The Nashua Dodgers would be the first racially integrated team of the modern era, one summer before Jackie Robinson arrived in Brooklyn.  Nashua also featured a 34-year old first baseman named Walter Alston winding down an unremarkable minor league career.  As player-manager, Alston led the Nashua Dodgers to the New England League title in 1946.  He later won four World Series crowns as manager of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and joined Roy Campanella in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.  For all that remarkable legacy, the Dodgers lasted only four seasons in Nashua, folding in 1949.

Baseball did not return until 1983, when George Como, Jerry Mileur and Ben Surner bought the Holyoke (MA) Millers double-A Eastern League club and moved it to town.  After one season as a California Angels affiliate, Como and Surner signed on with the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates.  During the Pirates three-year run in Nashua from 1984 to 1986, Pittsburgh finished dead last in the National League East three years straight, posted the worst record in baseball in 1985 and became the focal point of an infamous FBI cocaine sting that ultimately ensnared the Parrot Pirate mascot.  In May 1986 Nashua fans purchased only 150 advance tickets for a local exhibition game against the big club from Pittsburgh.  Nashua officials cancelled the game due to lack of interest, piling on more national embarassment for their parent club.  Como and Mileur moved the club to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that winter.

By the early 1990’s, Holman Stadium no longer met the improved standards required by the Professional Baseball Agreement, the set of commandments governing the partnership between Major League Baseball and its farm clubs.  Like many small communities with charming but outmoded Works Progress Administration ballparks, Nashua had been shut out of affiliated ball.  What arrived next were independent leagues, beginning with the low budget North Atlantic League in 1995.  The Nashua Hawks took roost in Holman in 1995.  A year later they were evicted midseason, with City officials padlocking the gates against the club thanks to unpaid bills.

In late 1997, Chris Englisha hedge fund manager from suburban Boston arrived in town representing the Atlantic League, a far more respectable and well-financed independent start-up whose investors were involved in major ballpark construction projects in Bridgeport, Long Island, Atlantic City, Newark and Bridgewater, New Jersey.  The Nashua Pride would be an anomaly within the Atlantic League in many ways.  The team was distant from the league’s New York-Philadelphia axis and there would be no $30 million stadium project in Nashua.  Instead, English and his General Manager Billy Johnson embarked on a renovation of Holman Stadium, which included the installation of 2,800 box seats salvaged from the recently demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to replace the flat concrete slabs of Holman’s old grandstand.

The Pride averaged 1,581 fans over 57 home games on sales of approximately 250 season tickets during that first season in 1998.  Former Major Leaguer Milt Cuyler began the 1998 season in Nashua before earning a September call-up to the Texas Rangers, helping to establish the Atlantic League as a worthy destination for ex-Big Leaguers.

Butch Hobson

The Nashua Pride hit their peak in the summer of 2000.  English and Johnson hired former Red Sox star Butch Hobson as the club’s new field manager.  Hobson was something of a cult figure in New England.  The Alabama native played football for Bear Bryant before coming up with the Sox in 1976.  The next season, Hobson hit 30 home runs batting primarily out of the #8 spot in the line-up, a virtually unheard of feat in the pre-steroid era.  Sox fans tended to forgive Hobson’s erratic fielding (43 errors in 1978), knowing that he suffered from loose bone chips floating in his right elbow. He was known to manually adjust the painful chips between plays.  Hobson only played three full seasons in the majors due to his injury problems, which added to the mystique of what might have been for the handsome cornerman.

Hobson later managed the Red Sox through three fallow seasons from 1992 to 1994.  In 1996, Hobson, an admitted partier during his playing days turned born again Christian, was arrested in a cocaine sting while managing the Philadelphia Phillies triple-A farm club.  Hobson refuted the charges, ultimately pleading no contest and performing community service.  Although the incident may have derailed his opportunity to return to the Majors as a Manager, Red Sox Nation never seemed to hold it against him and he was greeted as a returning hero in Nashua during the summer of 2000.

Buoyed by a veteran roster stocked with former Major Leaguers such as Casey Candaele, Milt Cuyler, Sam Horn, Glenn Murray, John Roper, Ken Ryan, and others, the Pride won the 2000 Atlantic League Championship, sweeping the Somerset Patriots in four games.  At the box office, the Pride drew 140,000 fans – an average of nearly 2,000 per game and an increase of 50,000 fans over the inaugural season two summers earlier.

In addition to a beloved manager and a winning team, the Pride also benefitted from the ever-growing notoriety of The World Famous Monkey Boy, a mischievous dancing mascot portrayed by the Pride’s ticket manager Chris Ames.  Monkey Boy arguably rivaled Hobson in local popularity during the 2000 season and Ames would ultimately take the character with him as a national touring act that continued for many years after he left the Pride.

English commissioned a documentary film crew to chronicle his ball club during the 2000 season.  81-year old Curt Gowdy provided the voice over narration.  After negotiations to sell the documentary to pay cable and Japanese broadcasting interests fell through, a (mostly) family-friendly 58-minute edit was released on VHS format in the spring of 2001 under the title Stolen Bases.  The film owed its title to a central scene where Hobson, upon being ejected, ripped a base out of the ground, autographed it and handed it to a kid in the Holman Stadium grandstand on his way off the field.  Stolen Bases had two private screenings in Nashua and was briefly offered for mail order purchase through Baseball America paired with a Butch Hobson Bobble Head doll.

In 2001, with Pride attendance on the upswing, the City of Nashua approved $4.5 million in upgrades to Holman Stadium.  The improvements included a new steel second level with luxury suites and expanded press box, 2,800 new chairback seats, and new administrative, retail and box office space.  The renovations were completed in time for the 2002 season, but the season seemed cursed from the outset.  Manager Butch Hobson missed time in June for an angioplasty.  On July 4th, 2002 the Pride embarked on a 21-game losing streak, the third longest in minor league history at the time.  Attendance declined for the second straight year to 120,960, from the 2000 peak of 140,000.

In early 2003, the Toronto Blue Jays double-A affiliate in New Haven, Connecticut announced plans to relocate to Manchester, New Hampshire for the 2004 season.  The Pride would now face competition from Major League-subsidized farm clubs located both 15 minutes to the north (Manchester) and fifteen minutes to the south (Lowell Spinners) along the Route 3 corridor.  At the end of the 2004 season, Chris English threw in the towel after seven seasons of operating in the red.

“After they announced Manchester, it became clear we needed to move,” English recalled in 2011.  “The 2000 ALPB Championship was one of the most entertaining years of my life.  But no one could save Nashua.”

English handed the reigns to BKK Nashua, LLC, a consortium of fellow Atlantic League owners including league founder Frank Boulton (the “B” in BKK), Peter Kirk (“K”) and Steve Kalafer (“K”).   With English’s departure, the BKK trio effectively controlled seven of the eight Atlantic League clubs, excluding only Mickey Herbert’s Bridgeport Bluefish franchise.  League founder and CEO Boulton owned the immensely profitable Long Island Ducks and also controlled the Atlantic City Surf franchise.  Kalafer, like Boulton, owned one wildly successful club (the Somerset Patriots) and one troublesome one (the Newark Bears).  Kirk, a highly respected operator with a long track record in affiliated ball, had two Pennsylvania-based Atlanic League expansion teams preparing to debut in gleaming new stadiums under construction in Lancaster (2005) and York (2006).  And collectively, the BKK trio had stepped in to purchase the Camden Riversharks club earlier in 2004 after its founder died suddenly .

In 2005, the Nashua Pride returned to the Atlantic League Championship Series for the third time in Hobson’s six years at the helm.  And for the third time, they would face their arch rivals, Sparky Lyle’s Somerset Patriots.  The Patriots swept the Pride this time around, 3 games to zero.  Off the field, the 2005 season was difficult, as the opening of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats new stadium in nearby Manchester and budget reductions combined to reduce the Pride’s announced attendance to an all-time low of just 1,270 per game.

In the fall of 2005, Frank Boulton arranged a sale of the Pride to local real estate developer John Stabile and engineered the Pride’s transfer to the Can-Am League.  The Can-Am League was another Northeast-based independent loop,  which played a shorter schedule than the Atlantic League in cities stretching from New Jersey to Quebec City.  Nashua became the first of several struggling Atlantic League franchises to be relegated to the lower cost Can-Am League.  Atlantic City and Newark would follow in subsequent years.  The sale of the Pride to Stabile put the franchise in local hands for the first time after eight seasons.

With the jump to the Can-Am League in 2006, the era of recognizable stars in Nashua essentially came to an end.  Between 1998 and 2005, former Major League All-Stars Dante Bichette, Pete Incaviglia, Lance Johnson, Felix Jose suited up for the Pride as did 1989 National League Rookie-of-the Year Jerome Walton and closer Mel Rojas who signed a $13.75 million dollar contract with the Chicago Cubs in 1996, but earned only $3,000/month to pitch for the Pride in 2002.  The Pride also sent several players to the Major Leagues, most notably the future Anaheim Angels All-Star Brendan Donnelly who pitched for the Pride in 1999 and made his Major League debut with the Angels at the age of 30 in 2002.

The Pride lasted three years in the Can-Am League, winning a league title in 2007.  Community enthusiasm and attendance rebounded somewhat under the Stabile family’s ownership, but the team continued to run deficits of several hundred thousands dollars annually.  Hobson departed after the 2007 season to return to the Atlantic League with Peter Kirk’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, but not before trotting out the base stealing trick one more time for Can-Am League fans in Lynn, Massachusetts.

The Pride lasted one final summer without him.  In September 2008, after losing another half million dollars, an exhausted John Stabile sold out to Boston Baseball All Stars, LLC.  Boston Baseball All Stars CEO Lt. Commander (ret.) Terry Allvord had toured the country for years with his U.S. Military All-Stars teams.  Now in control of Nashua’s Can-Am League franchise, Allvord and his partners re-branded the team as the American Defenders of New Hampshire.  The club would also play in uniforms modeled after desert camouflage fatigues.

Allvord’s military-themed promotions quickly crossed the line past conventional patriotic flourishes.  The team’s mascot, a plush soldier in fatigues and war paint was named “Ground Zero” and sported the uniform number 9-11.  The management initially sought to stop play each night at 9:11 PM to play Lee Greenwood’s three-minute long God Bless the USA, even if the game was between pitches of an at bat.  Can-Am League officials quickly put the kibosh on that one.

The gimmick didn’t play in Nashua.  American Defenders crowds often numbered fewer than 100 fans. The team traded or released its best players in midseason to dump payroll.  General Manager Chris Hall, the final holdover from the Stabile regime, was let go in favor of Boston Baseball All-Stars investor Dan Duquette, the former Boston Red Sox GM who fired Butch Hobson in 1994.  In August 2009, the City of Nashua evicted the American Defenders from Holman Stadium, parking a tractor on home plate to prevent the team from finishing its home schedule.  Ironically for an organization that wrapped itself in the flag, the team’s list of unpaid creditors included the Nashua police and fire departments that assigned first responder details for the games.

In 2011, stable ownership returned when Lowell Spinners owner Drew Weber formed the Nashua Silver Knights, a collegiate wooden bat league team.  In a nod to the Pride’s glory day, the Silver Knights booked a return engagement from the World Famous Monkey Boy, which ended abruptly and bizarrely when Chris Ames was assaulted by a member of the opposing Martha’s Vineyard Sharks.  The Silver Knights also held a Nashua Pride reunion night in 2012, which attracted former Major Leaguers Glenn Murray and John Roper, along with former owner Chris English, among others.

 

==Downloads==

2011 Interview with original Pride Owner Chris English

2011 Interview with Chris Ames, AKA The World Famous Monkey Boy

 

 

==Additional Sources==

“Bucs Flop – Even in N.H.”, The Associated Press, May 1, 1986

1978-1980 Houston Summit Soccer

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Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-1980)

Born: 1978 – MISL founding franchise.
Died: May 1, 1980 – The Summit relocate to Baltimore, MD.

Arena: The Summit (15,208)

Team Colors:

  • 1978-79: White, Red & Orange
  • 1979-80: Orange & Maroon

Owners:

 

 

If you can’t buy a championship calibre team, rent one.  It’s an unusual approach in American sports, to be sure, but not unprecedented, particularly in the world of soccer.  Faced with a hurried 1967 launch to keep pace with a competitor, Jack Kent Cooke and Lamar Hunt’s United Soccer Association (USA) consisted of twelve imported European and South American club teams who spent their offseasons playing under pseudonyms in American cities.  In October 1978, Earl Foreman, the former owner of the USA’s Washington Whips, announced the formation of the six-team Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL).  With only two months to assemble rosters before the MISL’s December 1978 launch, two clubs – Houston Summit Soccer and the New York Arrows – elected to lease rosters from nearby North American Soccer League (NASL) outdoor clubs.

Of the two, the Houston Summit took the more fully outsourced approach, striking a lease deal with the NASL’s Houston Hurricane for 15 players to stock the entire opening day roster, plus the Hurricane coaching staff of Head Coach Timo Liekoski and assistant Jay Hoffman.  The Arrows made a similar arrangement with the NASL’s Rochester Lancers, but unlike the Summit, the New Yorkers also signed a few players on their own, including the league’s eventual MVP Steve Zungul.

Summit Soccer took its unusual name from its home arena, the $18 million Houston Summit, constructed in 1975.  The team’s original owner was the Arena Operating Co., the private management company formed to operate the city-owned building by Summit developer and Houston Rockets NBA owner Kenneth Schnitzer.  Arena Operating Co. reportedly took an interest in the start-up MISL to fill winter time dates at the Summit after the shut down of the Schnitzer-controlled Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association during the summer of 1978.  Summit arena President Burrell Cohen served a dual role as President and General Manager of Summit Soccer.

The rent-a-team model worked wonders for both Houston Summit Soccer and the New York Arrows during the 1978-79 MISL season.  The Summit finished the regular season in first place among the MISL’s six clubs with an 18-6 record.  The Arrows tied for second place at 16-8 and went on to win the championship after the Philadelphia Fever upset the Summit during the semi-finals.  Summit forward Kai Haaskivi finished third in the league in scoring in 1978-79 with 39 goals and 64 points, and was joined in the MISL’s top ten by Ian Anderson, Stewart Jump and John Stremlau.  Goalkeeper Paul Hammond posted a 13-3 record and a league-best 4.16 goals against average to earn 1978-79 MISL Goalkeeper-of-the-Year honors.  Liekoski was named Coach of the Year.

In the spring of 1979, the NASL moved forward with plans for a full-fledged winter indoor league of their own, to head off the threat from the MISL.  The Houston Hurricane announced their intention to play NASL indoor soccer in Houston and that they would therefore terminate their agreement to loan players to Houston Summit Soccer for the 1979-80 season.  But the Summit was the only suitable site in Houston that met NASL standards and Arena Operating Corp. controlled it.  When the 1979-80 NASL indoor season kicked off in November 1979, only 10 of the 24 NASL clubs participated.  The Hurricane sat out the season.

Meanwhile, Arena Operating Corp. got out of the professional soccer business.  New York developer Bernie Rodin, a part owner of the NASL’s Rochester Lancers, purchased the Houston Summit Soccer in 1979 for a price reportedly between $500,000 and $1,000,000.

Liekoski departed as Head Coach and Rodin replaced him with former Dallas Tornado player Kenny Cooper.  On the field, Houston Summit Soccer didn’t miss a beat under Cooper.  The club finished the 1979-80 season in first place in the MISL’s Central Division with a 20-12 record.  Haaskivi once again finished third in the league in scoring.  Sepp Gantenhammer replaced the departed Paul Hammond in goal and, like Hammond the year before, earned MISL Goalkeeper-of-the-Year honors.  In the playoffs, Summit Soccer swept the expansion Wichita Wings in the semi-finals to earn a spot in the title game against the defending MISL champion New York Arrows at Nassau Coliseum in March 1980.  The Arrows defeated Summit Soccer 7-4.

Off the field, the Summit ranked near the bottom of the ten-team MISL in attendance in 1979-80 despite two seasons of winning soccer.  Rodin pegged his operating losses in Houston at $750,000 for the season.  In late March 1980 as the Summit advanced through the playoffs, team and league officials acknowledged that Rodin intended to move his club to the Baltimore Civic Center for the 1980-81 season.

On March 27th, 1980 the Houston Hurricane of the NASL filed suit against Houston Summit Soccer, seeking to block the move until Rodin made payments of $94,560 in unpaid player loan fees and other claims.  The suit delayed the move only temporarily and the club’s arrival in Baltimore was made official on May 1st, 1980.  The relocated club took on the new name “Baltimore Blast” and became one of the most enduring and successful indoor soccer teams of the 1980’s.

##

Bernie Rodin sold the Blast in February 1984 to Nathan Scherr, a man who had never seen an indoor soccer game, for $2.9 million.

The franchise that began life as the Houston Summit in 1978 lasted until the original Baltimore Blast folded along with the rest of the MISL in July 1992.  Kenny Cooper moved with the team from Houston and coached the original incarnation of the club for its entire existence in Baltimore.  The name has subsequently been revived by a successor club that also plays at the Baltimore Civic Center.

 

==YouTube==

 

==Downloads==

Houston Summit Sources

 

==Links==

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

###

Written by andycrossley

June 24th, 2011 at 11:16 am

1984 Columbus Minks

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Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mohr

Women’s American Basketball Association (1984)

Born: 1984 – WABA founding franchise
Died:November 1984 – The Minks cease operations in midseason.

Arena: Ohio State Fairgrounds Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owner:

 

 

The Women’s American Basketball Association was the brainchild of  47-year old Columbus, Ohio-based sports promoter Bill Byrne.  Byrne was something of a serial sports entrepeneur.  After holding player personnel positions in the World Football League, Byrne founded the American Professional Slo-Pitch Softball League in 1977.  One year later, Byrne launched the Women’s Professional Basketball League, the first attempt at a nationwide professional basketball league for women.  The WPBL signed the sport’s top American collegians and Olympic stars such as Carol Blazejowski, Nancy Lieberman and Ann MeyersByrne stepped down as Commissioner after two seasons intending to launch his own WPBL expansion franchise, the Tampa Bay Sun.  The Sun never got off the drawing board and the league folded following its third season of play in 1981.

By March of 1984, Byrne was ready to give women’s basketball another shot, hoping to capitalize on the expected strong showing of the USA women at the 1984 Los Angeles summer Olympics.  The WABA, Byrne claimed, would avoid the mistakes of the previous league, such as playing in the winter time, when arena rental fees were higher and competition was greater against men’s basketball, hockey, football and various college sports.  The WABA would play a 22-game schedule in the summer, with 8-12 franchises operating on $300,000 annual budgets.  Player salaries would range from $5,000 to $10,000 per year.

“The pay, the arenas, the travel were all out of whack,” Byrne told George Vecsey of The New York Times, speaking about the WPBL.

But Byrne’s WABA was severely disorganized and under-capitalized from the get-go.  Plans for the summer season were quickly scrapped and the 1984 tip-off was pushed back to the fall.  Of the nine cities represented at the WABA’s college and free agent draft on April 25th, 1984, four dropped out or relocated before the season began.  The United States won the gold medal in women’s basketball in Los Angeles, but only two U.S. Olympians, Pam McGee and Lea Henry, agreed to play in the rickety-looking WABA.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mohr

“Bill Byrne was having difficulty getting owners to put up the money for all the teams,” recalled Minks player Molly Bolin. “He would not let that stop him and believed that if he got the league started, people would believe and the money would fall into place.”

The WABA debuted in early October 1984 with six teams: the Atlanta Comets, Chicago Spirit, Columbus Minks, Dallas Diamonds, Houston Shamrocks and the Virginia Wave.

The Minks set up shop alongside the league office in Byrne’s home base of Columbus, Ohio and had a distinctive throwback feel to the days of the WPBL.   In September 1984 the Minks signed Larry Jones as Head Coach.  Jones, 42, played ten seasons in the NBA and the American Basketball Association between 1964 and 1974.  Like Byrne, Jones lived in Columbus and he had worked for Byrne in the old WPBL office as that league’s Director of Player Operations and Scouting in the late 1970’s.

The Minks star player was expected to be “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin, the all-time leading scorer during the WPBL’s three-year run and a player whose striking appearance was often called upon to market her teams.  But Bolin left Columbus right before the season opener in early October in a dispute over salary and working conditions.

“<The Minks> were staying on an old army base outside Columbus,” says Bolin. “The weather had turned to freezing and we were walking about a mile to the cafeteria and to the gym, but the kicker was they would not turn on the heat in the dormitories for another couple weeks and I was letting the hot water in my shower run to warm up the room.  When some of the girls began to get sick, an owner’s wife took pity on us and moved us into a hotel in Columbus, which was a huge improvement.

“I was offered about the same amount I made my first year <in the WPBL in 1978> so I promptly thanked the coach for ending my misery in Columbus and told him I was leaving.”

Bill Byrne convinced Bolin to return to the Minks several weeks later, with the promise of a larger salary and free housing at the Byrne family home.

The WABA struck a television deal with the Satellite Programming Network, a Tulsa-based syndicator of old movies and talk shows (which later morphed into CNBC in 1989).  Bolin unearthed this rare broadcast footage from a Minks home game against the Dallas Diamonds at the Ohio State Faigrounds Coliseum and posted it on her Youtube page in 2011:

The WABA’s pre-season dysfunction predictably carried over into a disastrous regular season.  The Atlanta Comets ownership pulled out just prior to the opener.  Seven of Atlanta’s unpaid players boycotted a November home game.  The Chicago Spirit drew an estimated crowd of just 150 to their first home game.

The Minks made their home debut on October 9th, 1984, defeating the Atlanta Comets 103-98 in overtime before an announced crowd of 723.  The Minks’ second game on October 30th drew 503 fans and a November 1st match up against the Houston Shamrocks drew just 251.

On November 28th, 1984 Byrne announced that six to twelve games would be cut from the end of the WABA regular season schedule.

“Houston’s 3-15 and there’s no reason in the world to fly them <into Columbus> for $12,000 for a game that won’t affect the standings at all,” Byrne told The Associated Press.  “As far as we’re concerned, these games are being treated just like rainouts in baseball.  If a team is out of the race and has rainouts to make up that don’t affect anybody, they sometimes forget them, and that’s just what we’re doing.”

The following day, disgruntled WABA team owners led by Dallas Diamonds owner and league finance committee chaiman Ed Dubaj forced Byrne to resign.  Dubaj shuttered the league office in Columbus and immediately cancelled the remaining games of the three most financially troubled franchises – Atlanta, the Virginia Wave and the Minks.   The Minks finished their only campaign with a 12-5 record, five games short of completing their 22-game schedule.

The WABA made brave noises about returning in 1985 with a new league office in Dallas led by Dubaj, but was never heard from again after a hastily scheduled championship game between the Dallas Diamonds and Chicago Spirit in December 1984.

 

 

==Downloads==

2011 Interview with Minks star Molly Bolin
Cheryl Orcholski’s WABA Standard Player Contract

1984 Columbus Minks Roster
1984 WABA College & Free Agent Draft Choices (partial)
Columbus Minks article sources

 

==Links==

Women’s American Basketball Association Programs 

###

1986-87 New York Express

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Major Indoor Soccer League (1986-1987)

Born: May 15, 1986 – MISL expansion franchise.
Died: February 17, 1987 – The Express fold in mid-season.

Arena: Nassau Coliseum (16,251)

Team Colors: Orange & Blue

Owners: Stan Henry, Ralph McNamara & Shep Messing

 

The New York Express, Shep Messing told Newsday in October 1986, will be “better run as a business than any team in the history of professional soccer.”  Bold words from the former New York Cosmos star, who brought a Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) expansion franchise to Long Island in the fall of 1986 with the help of two novice sports investors and an unlikely financing scheme.

The MISL granted a franchise to Messing and his partners Stan Henry and Ralph McNamara on May 15th, 1986.  Messing would play the role of local hero and front man.  At the age of 37, he also appointed himself the presumed starting goalkeeper for the Express.  Henry and McNamara were the money men – sort of.  They expected the bulk of the team’s operating capital to come from a sale of public stock.  Henry ran an empire of Pennysaver advertising circulars on Long Island, and served as Board Chairman of the Express.  McNamara was a managing principal at the Long Island brokerage firm of MacPeg, Ross, O’Connell and Goldaber.  He took the title of CFO of the Express and his firm marketed the financial scheme behind the enterprise – a $5.3 million public stock offering intended to finance operations of the club for its first three seasons.

As the broker of record, McNamara had a legal obligation to be more cautious in his forecast for the Express than Messing’s best-organization-in-the-history-of-soccer antics.  “Public offerings are calculated risks,” McNamara told Newsday, “We are going to make an effort to field a team and see what the community will bear.  We think it will work.”

In an effort to differentiate themselves from the MISL’s previous Long Island entry, the bankrupt & heavily Slavic New York Arrows, the Express came out of the gate with the slogan Soccer…American Style and a commitment to build around American players.  Tops on their list was the U.S. National Team captain and former Cosmos star, Ricky Davis, then a free agent after playing out his contract with the MISL’s St. Louis Steamers.

“The whole plan for franchise success was built around Ricky Davis,” recalled Express PR Director Micah Buchdahl, “Not the greatest player at that point, but the one with the great American-born name, demeanor and name recognition.  A few days before the media event to introduce him, I was told he had changed his mind.  We had announced that we would introduce the top American-born player in soccer.  I remember <Express GM> Kent Russell and Shep asking me if it would be a problem if we just said we had meant Kevin Maher.  I told them we’d be totally screwed.

“What happened was the Steamers told Ricky that we had no money and would go bankrupt before the season was out (crazy, right?).  They had convinced him to stay in St. Louis.  At the same time, the Steamers had problems of their own.  They did not have a lease for their arena and there was a “secret memo” regarding an alternate arena and dates.  Someone contacted a writer at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and leaked the memo – which put the stability of that franchise into question.  Ricky came to New York.  The President of the Steamers called me at my aunt’s house and was none too pleased.”

After two road losses to open the season, the team debuted at home on November 21st, 1986.  An announced crowd of 10,570 watched them lose to the Kansas City Comets and drop to 0-3.  The match up for the debut on Long Island may have been a bad omen – Comets majority owner David Schoenstadt owned the New York Arrows in 1984 when the club plunged into bankruptcy.

Express All-Star Chris Whyte

The Express kept losing into December.  When the club reached 0-10, the axe fell on Head Coach Ray Klivecka.  Messing turned to his former Arrows coach, Don Popovic.  Popovic arrived in late December and began supervising training sessions, but seemed in no hurry to sign a contract.

“After being with two clubs in two years, I want to be sure this team will be here longer than one year,” Popovic told The Pittsburgh Press.

Unwilling to sign but also unwilling to leave, Popovic continued to run Express training sessions.  But by league rule, Popovic could not be in the team bench area unless he was under contract.  On one night, Popovic sat in the stands, attempting to orchestrate the match from the front row.

“<Popovic> sat behind the glass and relayed changes to one of the players and sometimes directly to me,” recalled interim Head Coach Mark Steffens.  “He didn’t change a lot of things, just a player switch or two.”

Eventually, Popovic descended to the bench for a single match, despite never signing a contract.  He resigned the same night.

Meanwhile, the stock sale was a bust.

“Let’s just say the money never really existed and the ‘game plan’ for selling stock was less than stellar,” says Buchdahl. “Before the season even started, I think many people knew there was a little smoke and mirrors happening with the financing.  But I also think Shep thought he could convince someone to give us the money we needed.”

In January, Express GM Kent Russell and Assistant GM Joel Finglass bolted for front office roles with the MISL’s Dallas Sidekicks.  24-year old Micah Buchdahl became acting General Manager, presiding over remnants of a staff that no longer received paychecks.  The Express missed their $75,000 player payroll on February 1st, 1987, forcing the league to draw down the club’s $250,000 letter of credit to cover it.

“<Sometime> in the middle of December or January the fella <Stan Henry> called me and asked me to come out on the Island to dinner,” recalled MISL Commissioner Bill Kentling.  “Mitch Burke, the deputy commissioner, and I drove out on a snowy night and had a lovely dinner.  We sort of kept waiting for the reason for the dinner and we got the check and we were paying and he said to us ‘Oh by the way, I’m not sure I can make payroll this week.’

I said “I’m sorry…perhaps we should sit at the bar for a moment and talk about this.” And he was just out of money or chose to be out of money, you’re never sure.”

1986-87 Express Game Program

Messing announced the immediate dissolution of the team and the initiation of Chapter XI bankruptcy proceedings on February 17, 1987 just days after the MISL All-Star Break.  Although the Express finished with a record of 3-23, they did manage to win their penultimate game, a 6-5 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lazers at the Forum on Valentine’s Day 1987.  The Express drew an announced average of 5,212 fans to their 13 home dates at the Coliseum, numbers that Micah Buchdahl admits were routinely fudged.  For their three victories, the Express lost a reported $3 million during nine months of operation.

Buchdahl expropriated much of the club’s office equipment and held it hostage in his aunt’s garage in a failed effort to receive his final five weeks of missed paychecks.  Read his highly entertaining behind-the-scenes account of the Express here.

Express defender Andranik Eskandarian, the former Iranian World Cup and Cosmos star, delivered the final judgement to The Chicago Tribune: “This team should never have been let in.  I don’t think the league is going to last long if it’s going to be like this.”

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Express co-owner Ralph McNamara’s firm closed in the wake of the October 1987 stock market crash.  His broker’s license was revoked in 1991.  In the late 1990’s he reappeared in Clearwater, Florida operating a fake venture capital scam under the alias Ralph Deluise.  McNamara was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 2007.

Shep Messing plead guilty and received probation in 1991 in the wake of a securities probe into an investment scam that targeted NBA players represented by agent Harvey Lakind, including Darryl Dawkins.  He remains a soccer icon in New York and has enjoyed a long career as a soccer commentator and broadcaster for ESPN, NBC and MLSNet.com among other outlets.

Rick Davis was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001.

Former Express Assistant GM Joel Finglass married Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Kelli Finglass (nee McGonagill), who is now the Director of the cheerleaders and a star of the long-running CMT program Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team.

The original Major Indoor Soccer League folded in July 1992.

 

==1986-87 New York Express Results==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
11/14/1986 @ Los Angeles Lazers L 8-7 Program
11/16/1986 @ Tacoma Stars L 4-3
11/21/1986 vs. Kansas City Comets L 4-2
11/28/1986 vs. San Diego Sockers L 4-3 (OT)
11/30/1986 vs. St. Louis Steamers L 6-3
12/6/1986 @ Dallas Sidekicks L 6-2
12/12/1986 @ St. Louis Steamers L 7-1
12/14/1986 vs. Cleveland Force L 7-3
12/19/1986 @ Chicago Sting L 7-2 Video
12/20/1986 @ Baltimore Blast L 7-3
12/26/1986 vs. Wichita Wings L 6-5 (OT)
1/2/1987 vs. Dallas Sidekicks L 8-4
1/3/1987 @ Cleveland Force L 7-4
1/7/1987 vs. Chicago Sting W 6-4
1/9/1987 vs. Kansas City Comets W 8-4
1/10/1987 @ Dallas Sidekicks L 7-2
1/14/1987 vs. Dallas Sidekicks L 5-4
1/16/1987 vs. Baltimore Blast L 7-5
1/18/1987 vs. Tacoma Stars L 6-5 (OT)
1/24/1987 vs. Cleveland Force L 6-3
2/1/1987 vs. Minnesota Strikers L 9-2
2/3/1987 @ Wichita Wings L 7-5
2/6/1987 @ Kansas City Comets L 8-5
2/8/1987 @ Minnesota Strikers L 4-2 Video
2/14/1987 @ Los Angeles Lazers W 6-5 (OT) Program
2/15/1987 @ San Diego Sockers L 6-2 Video
2/17/1987 – EXPRESS FOLD IN MIDSEASON

==YouTube==

Expresss at the Minnesota Strikers on February 8, 1987.

 

==Interviews==

2011 Interview with Express front office executive Micah Buchdahl

2011 Interview with Express interim Head Coach Mark Steffens

 

==Downloads==

1986 New York Express Stock Offering Circular (57MB – download only)

New York Express article sources

 

==Links==

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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