This 1982 North American Soccer League match pitted the early season front runners in the NASL’s Eastern and Western Divisions. San Diegans and NASL officials could only hope the game would be a preview of Soccer Bowl ’82: the hometown San Diego Sockers, already tabbed to host the league’s title game in late September, and the New York Cosmos, the league’s sexiest box office attraction and biggest media market.
San Diego was a risky choice to host the league’s signature event. The Sockers were a mediocre draw at best, despite fielding a competitive club most years. For the past three seasons in a row, the Sockers had been eliminated in the playoff semi-finals, one step short of the Soccer Bowl. The NASL’s best bet for a sold out Soccer Bowl at 50,000-seat Jack Murphy Stadium would be for the Sockers to finally take the next step in 1982.
The Cosmos defeated the Sockers in both of the clubs’ previous matches, including a 5-0 shellacking at Giants Stadium in 1980. That streak wouldn’t change on this evening. New York got first half goals from Steve Moyers and Giorgio Chinaglia which was enough to hold off the Sockers 2-1. Polish World Cup veteran Kaz Deyna scored for San Diego in the second half.
New York and San Diego would meet again in the postseason, but the clash came in the semi-finals rather than the Soccer Bowl. The Cosmos pulled off a two-game sweep and the Sockers went home one round too early for the fourth consecutive year. With the Sockers on the golf course, ticket sales for Soccer Bowl ’82 suffered accordingly and the final between the Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders on September 18, 1982 was played before an embarrassing crowd of 22,634.
This match was broadcast nationally on the USA cable network and locally back in New York on WOR-TV.
American goalkeeper Arnie Mausser of the Jacksonville Tea Men is pictured on the front of the evening’s KICK Magazine game program. It was the only time the middling Jacksonville club earned a cover story during the club’s brief (1981-1982) existence in Florida.
The New York Cosmos flew south to the Gator Bowl for the 1982 regular season opener fending off questions about the “Jacksonville Jinx”. The Lipton-owned Jacksonville Tea Men – a club of little distinction, formed out of the NASL’s expansion orgy of the late 1970’s – held an odd mastery over the four-time champion Cosmos. The Teas came in with a seven-game winning streak against New York, including all four indoor match-ups the previous winter and three outdoor matches dating back to early in the 1980 season when the Teas still played in New England.
“It’s one of those crazy things that’s unique to sports,” Cosmos captain Giorgio Chinaglia explained in his club’s pre-game news release. “We can’t seem to beat that team. Every game against them goes right to the wire, but something strange always happens against us. They just seem to have our number up until now.”
The other storyline of the match was Chinaglia’s quest to become the first 200-goal scorer in the history of the 15-year old NASL. Chinaglia – appropriately, but coincidentally, featured on the cover of the evening’s match program (above right) – scored an incredible 29 goals in 32 games the previous summer, en route to 1981 NASL MVP honors. Chinaglia put that drama to rest early, opening the scoring and notching his 200th in the 33rd minute off a cross from Chico Borja.
The Teas equalized early in the 2nd half on a penalty kick by Ricardo Alonso. Alonzo banged the woodwork on his initial attempt, but referee Edward Bellion ruled that Cosmos goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier moved early. Bellion had warned both teams before the match of a league directive to crack down on goalkeepers moving their feet before the ball was kicked on penalties. Bellion awarded Alonso a second chance and the young Argentine converted to tie the match at 1-1 in the 50th minute.
The teams traded second half goals and arrived at the 80-minute mark knotted at 2-2. In the 82nd minute, Bellion awarded a penalty to the Cosmos after Teas goalkeeper Arnie Mausser knocked over New York’s Rick Davis in the penalty area. Chinaglia trudged across the sloppy, puddle-strewn pitch to the penalty mark. His shot was low and hard, but Mausser guessed correctly and made a diving save. Then referee Ed Bellion stepped forward and once again ruled that the keeper had moved early. Chinaglia didn’t miss on the mulligan and his 201st career NASL goal proved to be the game winner. Cosmos 3 Teas 2.
The Cosmos were typically a big draw wherever they travelled in the NASL. But Jacksonville was a weak soccer town to begin with and the steady rains that held all day and all through the match wiped out the box office. Only 4,537 turned up at the Gator Bowl, which was the smallest gathering of the 18 outdoor matches the Teas had played in Jacksonville to that point. It was also likely one of the smallest crowds to watch the Cosmos anywhere since the club signed Pele seven years earlier.
The Jacksonville Jinx was officially over for the Cosmos and the teams went their separate ways. The ‘Mos would win their fifth and final NASL championship in 1982. The Tea Men finished tied for the worst record in the league. After five years of red ink, Lipton dropped their support of the Teas at the end of the season and the club left the NASL to play a couple of anonymous seasons in lower division leagues.
In January 1978, Thomas J. Lipton, Inc., better known as the Lipton Tea Company, purchased an expansion franchise in the North American Soccer League. The NASL was riding a wave of expansion in 1978 – a speculative bubble as it would turn out – sparked by the spectacular three-year run of Brazilian superstar Pele at the New York Cosmos, another corporate owned club.
Lipton’s club set up shop in Foxboro, Massachusetts and adopted the nickname New England Tea Men, in a nod to the area’s revolutionary roots and, of course, its corporate overlords. Lipton Vice President of Marketing Derek Carroll took the reigns as club President with a $1.5M operating budget and $600,000 allocated to sign players from around the world.
One player signed was a little known English striker named Mike Flanagan acquired on loan from Charlton Athletic. Flanagan came out of nowhere for the Tea Men, scoring 30 goals in 28 games and earning NASL Most Valuable Player honors in 1978. The rest of the squad was also unexpectedly strong for a club put together on just four months notice. The Tea Men tied the Tampa Bay Rowdies for first place in the NASL’s American Conference Eastern Division with a 19-11 record. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers eliminated the Tea Men in the first round of the 1978 NASL playoffs. At the box office, the Tea Men drew an average crowd of just over 11,000 to Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the home of the NFL’s Patriots.
The Tea Men had a rougher go of it in 1979. Flanagan got into a contract dispute back home with Charlton Athletic and ultimately with the Tea Men themselves. The saga of Flanagan’s status dragged on for much of the 1979 season, with the Tea Men even prematurely announcing his return in June 1979. Ultimately, Flanagan never returned to the United States again after his MVP campaign in 1978. Meanwhile, the Tea Men were evicted from Schaefer Stadium by order of a judge due to a dispute with a neighboring dog racing track. Forced to play on short notice at urban Nickerson Field in Boston, attendance plummeted nearly 50% as did the team’s record. The 1979 Tea Men finished 11-13 and out of the playoff hunt.
In December 1979, the Tea Men signed on for the NASL’s first winter indoor soccer season. Only ten of the league’s twenty-four teams chose to take part. The Tea Men probably wished they had stuck with the majority. Playing at the Providence Civic Center, the indoor Tea Men found new ways to prolong the agony of the bitter 1979 campaign, staggering to 2-10 last place finish.
The Tea Men gave up on New England in November, 1980 and relocated to Jacksonville, Florida’s Gator Bowl. Still owned by Lipton, the franchise retained the Boston Tea Party-inspired name, although it made little sense in Florida, which remained a Spanish territory unti 1821.
Jacksonville lured the Tea Men south with a pledge of 14,000 season tickets, but the pledge never materialized. The Associated Press reported that the Tea Men sold less than 4,500 season tickets after arriving in Florida. By the end of 1981, Lipton’s patience with the NASL was wearing thin. The league had blown its national television contract with ABC and was now shedding franchises at an alarming rate. Lipton lost a reported $7M on the club between 1978 and 1981, including $1.7M during the first ten months in Jacksonville. In September 1981, the Tea Men were on the verge of folding before Lipton posted the required $150,000 bond with the league to stay in for the indoor season.
The Tea Men averaged a relatively strong 6,375 fans for indoor soccer at the Coliseum that winter. A group of local businessmen led by attorney Earl Hadlow struck a deal to lease the club from Lipton and operate it for the 1982 outdoor season. The momentum died when the team moved outdoors, however. On the field, the Tea Men regressed from the 18-14 playoff club of 1981 to a last-place 11-21 finish in 1982. Fan support dwindled as well. The Tea Men drew only 7,160 fans on average to the 68,000-seat Gator Bowl in 1982, second worst in the 14-team NASL. Hadlow’s group ran out of money during the season and returned the Tea Men to Lipton, who immediately began looking to unload the club once and for all. Deals were announced to sell the club to investors in Milwaukee, then Detroit. Both fell through.
In early 1983, local businessman Ingo Krieg rescued the Tea Men yet again and entered them in the lower level American Soccer League. The nonsensical Tea Men name endured, despite the fact that Lipton had finally pulled out entirely. The ASL had a long and rather weird history dating back to the Great Depression. Similar to the NASL, the ASL had gone on an expansion spree in the mid-1970’s, convinced that soccer’s moment had arrived. By the time Krieg and the Tea Men arrived in 1983, the ASL was in its death throes. Rebounding from 1982’s on-field disappointment, the Tea Men won the final ASL championship in 1983.
Dissatisfied with his partners in the league, Krieg lead an insurrection in early 1984, peeling away the Dallas and Detroit franchises to form the United Soccer League in the spring of 1984. The Tea Men regressed to an 11-13 record and missed the playoffs. After countless near death experiences, the Tea Men folded once and for all after the 1984 campaign.
Forward Brian Alderson (1978-1980) passed away at age 46 in 1997.
Former Tea Men Head Coach Noel Cantwell died of cancer on September 8, 2005. He was 73 years old.
Dennis Viollet spent all seven seasons on the Tea Men coaching staff, the last two as Head Coach (1983-1984). He died of cancer at age 65 on March 6, 1999. Viollet was a survivor of Manchester United’s Munich Air Disaster on February 6, 1958.
Keith Weller, a midfielder during the New England seasons from 1978-1980, died of cancer in 2004 at age 58.