USL A-League (1999)
Born: 1998 – A-League expansion franchise.
Folded: November 1999.
- UMBC Stadium
- Anne Arundel Community College
Owner: A.J. Ali, et al.
The Maryland Mania was a seemingly cursed 2nd Division pro soccer club that existed for only one season in the United Soccer Leagues’ A-League during the summer of 1999. The A-League was the 2nd Division of men’s pro soccer in the United States at the time, competing one level below Major League Soccer.
Over a year before the Mania played their first game, club founder A.J. Ali hired ex-Norwich City striker Justin Fashanu to be the team’s Head Coach. Fashanu was the first black footballer to command a $1 million transfer fee in England as a 20-year old in 1981. Nottingham Forest thought Fashanu could be the heir apparent toTrevor Francis, but his career never quite lived up to his early promise at Norwich City. Fashanu spent the late 1980’s and most of the 1990’s pinballing between short stints in England and lower division gigs with North American clubs in Edmonton, Los Angeles and Atlanta. But Fashanu stayed in the public eye thanks to his status as one of the first openly homosexual players in English football, after coming out to the press in 1990.
In early 1998, Fashanu moved to Maryland to prepare for the debut of the Mania in 1999. In April 1998 he was interviewed by police and later charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year old student in Ellicott City, Maryland. Fashanu disputed the boy’s account – in a suicide note, after fleeing back to England and hanging himself in a garage in early May 1998.
When the Mania finally took the field a year later, Columbia, Maryland native and former New York Cosmos player Darryl Gee was Head Coach. But A.J. Ali fired Gee after the Mania lost their first game on the road, replacing him with former Baltimore Blast star Paul Kitson. After 13 games, the Mania’s record was 1-12 and the team had been outscored 26-4.
Off the field the Mania had even bigger problems. Crowds at UMBC Stadium numbered in the low hundreds at best and the team abruptly moved to a cheaper community college field. The team stopped paying bills and The Baltimore Sun ran an article addressing rumors the club would fold in midseason. Founder A.J. Ali walked away from the team in midseason, leaving behind a pile of unpaid bills and a group of thirteen smarting investment partners.
The team managed the stagger through the remainder of the 1999 A-League calendar, finishing 29th out of 30 clubs in the league with a 3-25 record. The Maryland Mania announced they were out of business in early November 1999 after investors lost $650,000 on the team’s lone season of operation.
Former Mania player/coach Paul Kitson died on August 25, 2005 of a heart attack at age 49.