Flyer InteractiveCover Story

Remembering the Rogues

Twenty years ago they took the town by storm, then disappeared into Memphis’ pro sports desert.

by Bob Braine

ll right folks, let’s go back 20 years – everybody sing along.

“We’re the Ramblin’ Rogues from Memphis, the biggest kick in town!”

Ah yes, it’s the first line of the theme song for one of this city’s most storied professional sports franchises, the Memphis Rogues. I might assume that everyone knows who the Rogues were, but that could be a mistake. I mean, it has been 20 years.

PHOTO BY RUDI SCHIFFER
The Rogues were a member of the North American Soccer League for three seasons, beginning with the 1978 campaign. Included in their existence was one glorious indoor campaign during which the team lost the championship game against Tampa Bay. As for the outdoor seasons, well, there were far more losses than victories and wonderful fans, but too few of them at the Liberty Bowl. What most Rogues’ lovers remember, however, are the fun and friends that came along with being a soccer fan in Memphis two decades ago. Unfortunately, there’s always the business side in sports, no matter which sport, no matter which decade. The unfortunate Rogues drowned in a sea of red ink.

After changes in ownership, coaches, players, marketing plans, and anything else that might make a difference, the Rogues were sold by second owner Avron Fogelman before the 1981 outdoor season, which the team played in Calgary.

What follows is not an analysis of why the Rogues didn’t make it or why the NASL failed to capture the American sports market or why, heaven forbid, the United States still isn’t ready for soccer!

This is simply a first-person account of the Rogues’ three-year history in Memphis. During those three years, the Rogues became one of the more significant things that has ever come along for this North Memphis boy. Instead of Shelby Forest and the Whataburger on Frayser Blvd., I was hanging out in New York, L.A., and Miami. Instead of Westside Johnny, the Kauerz girls, and Donald “Duck” Jenkins, I was suddenly surrounded by an eclectic, beer-guzzling group of internationals whose soccer-playing abilities were sometimes questioned, but whose love for life was unequaled.

Rogues Radio (L-R): Brame, Card, Schiffer
While working as sports director at WREC-AM in 1978, I got a major break. The Rogues came to Memphis and my station signed on to carry the games, home and away. The next thing I knew, I was color commentator for the franchise opener at Tampa. Never mind that I had never seen a soccer game before. I was providing expert commentary as the Rowdies slipped past Memphis, 2-1. Sitting next to Rogues’ PR man Rudi Schiffer, and play-by-play announcer Kevin “The Wild” Card, I had arrived.

I continued working with Card until the middle of the 1979 season when he left the booth at halftime of a game at the Liberty Bowl. For some reason Card had decided to become the public-address announcer. It was another lucky break for yours truly – I became the play-by-play announcer. A great gig had just gotten better.

It’s been five presidential terms since the journey with the Rogues began, so for me some of the details are a little blurred now. That could be blamed on a few too many doses of Booster Juice (see “Glossary”). It can also be blamed on the theory that things tend to get enhanced, jaded, romanced, altered, ignored, compromised, justified, and glorified with age. For example, I used to tell people the Rogues had 15,000 loyal fans. In reality, it was more like 10,000.

But trust me, I remember enough to know it was fun, the players and fans loved each other, and the experience was life-altering for a lot of people. Introducing the Memphis Rogues, 1978-1980, member of the North American Soccer League and a wild chapter in the annals of Memphis’ sports history.

THE COSMOS GAME

On May 24, 1978, the Memphis Rogues beat the New York Cosmos by a score of 1-0 before a crowd of 11,223 at the Liberty Bowl.

Compare it to Joe Namath and the Jets in the Super Bowl. Memphis beating Tennessee, 21-17. The Miracle Mets. The U.S. hockey team over Russia in the Olympic. Exaggerating, you say?

Well, it really was a big deal. The Cosmos were the defending NASL Champions. They had Giorgio Chinaglia, Dennis Tueart, Carlos Alberto, and Franz Beckenbauer. They had the big-money players and a big-city attitude. The Rogues had one win in their history.

Never mind that Beckenbauer was hurt. Never mind that Alberto was ejected with about 30 minutes left in the game, leaving te Cosmos one man short the rest of the way. Never mind that New York didn’t properly adapt to the smaller Liberty Bowl field, far more narrow than to what the Cosmos were accustomed.

After losing nine straight games to open their history, Memphis had just beaten Dallas 3-1 and now faced the most powerful team in the entire league. And Memphis kicked the Big Apple’s behind, at least, as much as you can via a one-nil score. Tony Field, spurned by the Cosmos, after being named their MVP during the 1977 title run, scored the lone goal in the game and the Rogues had knocked off the champs.

Memphis followed the Cosmos win with four more victories in their next six games. But a pair of three-game losing streaks later in the season killed playoff chances. The Rogues finished 10-20.

Still, for one fabulous night, the new soccer team was on top. Ray Jordan, who covered the Rogues for The Commercial Appeal, said it best, quoting the winning goalkeeper, rookie John Houska.

“The Cosmos have it here,” Houska said, rubbing his fingers together to indicate money. “We have it here.”

He pointed to his heart.

ED-DIE

A lot of people who followed the Memphis Rogues think Eddie McCreadie was the first coach for the team. Actually, he was second, following Malcolm Allison. Allison was fired and McCreadie hired just five weeks before the start of the 1978 season. The new Memphis coach was a Scotsman who moved at warp speed, even by William Shatner’s watch.

McCreadie, then 37, had starred as a player and coach at Chelsea, a hallowed English first-division team in London. He was so good as an attacking left back that he was named to an all-London Team of the Decade. During his playing years (1962-1974), McCreadie appeared for 23 full international matches for Scotland.

McCreadie had a great mind for soccer. Before coming to Memphis, he had played the game at its highest level and followed that with coaching success to match. He brought credibility, craft, and class to the Memphis Rogues

He was also a ringleader in the Rogues’ party patrol. Anyone who thinks that the Rogues were just a bunch of hooligans who happened to play soccer would be wrong. However, the post-game cocktail affairs were pursued with the same vigor as the games themselves, and the Rogues may have led the NASL in after-hours endeavors.

My favorite McCreadie story involves a trip I made to London, where I was treated to a Chelsea soccer match. Before the game, I was supposed to meet Eddie for lunch at the team’s private club.

Upon arriving at the stadium, I stopped to ask a security guard for directions to the dining area. As you might expect, he looked at this Frayserite suspiciously and asked the nature of my business.

“Well, I’m meeting Eddie McCreadie for lunch,” I said.

After giving me a thorough lookover, the man was incredulous as he asked, “You’re meeting Eddie McCreadie?”

“As a matter of fact, I am.”

Still dumbfounded by what he had heard, the man pointed in a northerly direction and I was off to meet Eddie. You can imagine, I was proud to be part of a club that wouldn’t have had me as a member.

McCreadie was fired in May 1979, loser of a dispute with original team owner Harry Mangurian who had not liked the way many things were handled during the NASL players’ strike, which occurred just a month before the ax fell on McCreadie. Memphis was the only NASL team with a majority of its players supporting the strike.

With only one regular suiting up, midfielder Ruben Astigarraga, McCreadie took the strike-torn Rogues to Detroit for a game on April 14, 1979. Distraught over what he was seeing and, perhaps as a statement to striking Rogues watching the game at home, McCreadie suited up and put himself in the game. It was his first action since leaving Chelsea as a player in 1974. The pickup Rogues were blasted, 6-0. It was the beginning of the end for Eddie.

Midfielder Charlie Cooke replaced McCreadie for what was initially defined as an interim basis. Cooke would remain the Rogues’ coach until the team moved to Calgary.

Like McCreadie, Cooke was a legend at Chelsea and brought an attacking mindset from his days as a player. Also like his predecessor, Cooke brought credibility, craft and class.

Eddie McCreadie and Charlie Cooke, two of the Rogues’ three head coaches. Who was that other guy?

THE FANS

The fans went by many names, but the “Rogues Gallery” was the official identification for a support group that would establish a national reputation. Rogues players knew the loyal fans as “The Boosters.”

If ever there was a group of people more caring and devoted to a sports franchise than the Gallery/Boosters, you’d have to prove it to me and many others who experienced firsthand the warmth and joy this group brought to the team and each other.

Twenty years after the Memphis Rogues took the field, the Gallery is still together. They meet regularly for dinner and have, no doubt, taken in a number of games together during World Cup ’98. They had a collective passion for a team and group of individuals that is rare in professional sports. They loved the Rogues and the grateful Rogues loved them back.

Most of the fans didn’t have a long history with soccer, while the players had all spent most of their lives immersed in the sport. Yet the bond between these two groups stands out the most when I recall my history with the Rogues.

Those involved in this part of Rogues’ lore are far too numerous to mention, but there is certainly a special place in the hearts of Rogues players and fans for Ruth Rogoff.

Ruth didn’t just attend games. She called sick players and their family members if they were ill. She greeted everyone before and after each game. No matter the score, no matter the mood, Ruth Rogoff was always there.

The most fanatical Rogues followers could always be found at the airport as the team departed and returned from road games. And that is where Ruth made her special mark. Bearer of “lucky pennies,” Ruth sent each member of the Rogues’ traveling squad a one-cent piece carefully placed on a cardboard background. The frame around the penny included inspirational messages like “Tackle the Tornado.”

Ruth’s bon-voyage notes reminded everyone getting on the plane that she and the others cared about the game and its result. However, everyone knew that Ruth and the Gallery really cared more about the people than the contest. That’s what I remember more than anything – the people, the relationships, the friendships that helped mold all of us.

THE PLAYERS

In no particular order here are my thoughts, observations, and a few stories involving some of the Memphis Rogues.

Bobby Thompson

B.T. was a great defender, practical joke-ster, and one of many people whose name I associate with class from the list of Rogues’ alums. He complement-ed Tony Field very well (perhaps it is the British roots they share that causes me to think of them as a tandem). Bobby was a great guy and tenacious player.

Neil Smillie and David Stride

Two English lads, good looking, disgustingly young, with great speed, terrific talent, and an incredible knack at getting the girls. Let’s just say that there wasn’t a lot of down time for Neil and David.

John Faulkner

Again, class is the main word that comes to mind. A quick and strong defender, Faulkner was probably the main reason Memphis beat the Cosmos in that ’78 shocker. John was routinely assigned to the other team’s top playmaker. He was also primarily responsible for the party in Detroit that caused me to miss two wake-up calls and the team bus to the airport. Back in 1980, a 40-buck cab fare was pretty steep!

Jimmy Husband

The slow way Jimmy talked reminded me of Ringo Starr. “Hellllooo Bub, it’s Jimmmmy Hoosbund,” he’d announce on the phone. Another great guy, and a good scorer as well.

Tony Field

Fieldy. The former Cosmos player. The first star the Rogues could call their own. He scored three goals in the Rogues’ final game against Houston, including one that he “nosed” over for the final foot. He had the game winner against his former team, the Cosmos. He was the first one to toast someone with a post-game drink and he was also the first one back to the practice field the next day. Gave stewardesses hell on road trips. Provided direction and support for teammates.

Roman Rosul

Damn good scorer “for an American.” Great guy with Hollywood looks, Joe Birch hair, and a sense for a defense about to let down. Rah-rah guy with nothing but good intentions and a shot to back it all up.

John Houska

John Hoooooooooooos-kaaaah! All-American boy in every sense. Shutout of the Cosmos is part of his legacy. Being a really nice guy is a bigger part of it. One of two Rogues players caught with their pants down when a female reporter walked into the Rogues’ locker room following the 1980 indoor season playoff win over Minnesota. The other, no surprise to anyone close to the team, was Frantz St. Lot, the native of Haiti. The same Frantz St. Lot who said, “Women get religious when they’re around me. They say, ‘Oh God, Oh God.’”

Bob Stetler

Joined the Rogues in 1980 and shared time in goal with Houska. Big and strong. Good keeper. Great party animal. Flash back to the 1980 season and a big road game at Philadelphia. It’s an afternoon game, a 1 p.m. start and Stetler will be in goal, in front of his hometown crowd no less! Big day, big challenge and a lot on the line so “Stets” will be in bed early the night before, right? Not exactly. It’s 1 a.m., 12 hours before the start of the game and Stetler is banging on my hotel door. “Hey Bobby, what’s going on?” he asks in a sleepy and slurred state.

Later Memphis shut out Philly 1-0. So much for double vision.

Toni Carbognani

“Hey, whattsamatta wit you?” Toni would say that to opposing players, refs, and his own teammates. I love Toni Carbognani. He was a really, really good soccer player. Probably still is. His English sucked from the beginning. Didn’t get a lot better as the years passed, as far as I noticed.

A great passer, Carbo could deliver a ball as well as anybody in the league. Standout player internationally who first made his mark with the Cosmos. Carbognani was a fun-loving guy who, like many people who came to Memphis to play soccer, stayed in Memphis because of Memphians.

Paul Cannell

Cannell came to Memphis with superstar billing and, quite frankly, superstar paychecks by Memphis soccer standards in 1980. He was a goal scorer, flashy and funny. On a plane ride one day he was complaining to me about the quality of officiating in the NASL. “Bob, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys,” he said.

Paul Child

Child arrived in Memphis as one of the NASL’s all-time leading scorers. He had been an All-Star at San Jose, thrilling crowds with his style and charisma. It would be no different in Memphis. He was a great player in those days, always dangerous with the ball and a rallying force for his teammates. Like many other Rogues, he was equally dangerous after the game.

One time Child, Paul Cannell, and I were sitting at a table in a Los Angeles bar when Child began to feel like he was part of a Hogan’s Heroes episode. He reached up and grabbed the hanging lamp above the table and directed it into my eyes as he shouted, “Youuu villl talllk, you vill tallk to me nowww!” Then he ripped the lamp from the socket, exposing live wires and forcing the repairman to the scene.

We found our way to the main bar where the merriment continued. A few minutes later, I saw a man whom I knew to be the owner and, like a fool, I thought it would be a good opportunity to make amends for my friend’s actions.

“Hey, you’re the owner.”

“That’s right.”

“Nice place you’ve got here sir.”

“Yes it is, and I’d like to keep it that way. So, I’d appreciate it if you and your friends would leave.”

So Child, Cannell, and several others piled into a waiting cab just in front of me. Not the first time we’d been kicked out of an establishment together and, as it turned out, not the last. But then, that was part of life when you were with the Rogues. n (Bob Brame is executive director of the Fire Museum of Memphis, scheduled to open in mid-September at 118 Adams.)


Glossary of Rogues Terms

* Booster: Any true, three-year fan of the Memphis Rogues.

* Booster Juice: Any alcoholic beverage consumed in honor of a booster. When the beverage was consumed by a Rogues player or staff member, the words, “Here’s to the Boosters,” were the appropriate tribute.

* Booster Jump: The act of leaping, hopping, or jumping from one bed to another in hotel rooms occupied by the Rogues’ traveling party. On occasion, sofas were used as a substitute for beds.

Rogues management issued a notice of caution regarding booster jumps when a player came frighteningly close to serious harm while performing this exercise. Although he received high marks for style, the player was left hanging out the 12th-floor window of a Chicago hotel. In this case, the use of hands by soccer players was legal. The player was pulled to safety.

* Rogues Gallery: Street name for members of the Rogues fan club. Not all members of the Gallery received Booster status.

* Rudi the Rogue: The one and only Rudi Schiffer, who served as director of public relations for the team before becoming operations manager and then the club’s general manager. Rudi was smooth, flexible, and gifted. He came to Memphis when things got started and went to Calgary when the team was sold. He was a great soccer man. He also had more fun than a sports executive should be allowed to have. Hey, I’m not complaining – I was with him most of the time! More than anyone else, Rudi was “Mr. Rogue.”

* Super Booster: Distinction given an exemplary Booster. Distinction required a vote of three or more Rogues players and/or staff members.

* Vodker & Coke: AKA vodka and Coca-Cola. Cocktail of choice for Rogues coach Eddie McCreadie. When asked why he preferred this interesting combination, Eddie said there were two reasons: “One, I like it. Two, once I’ve been somewhere and ordered a drink, they don’t have to ask me about it again.” Apparently, this enabled Eddie to be served more quickly in crowded situations. *


Rogues’ Legacy Endures

by Rudi Schiffer

Tony Field, the Rogues’ marquee player, signs the dotted line.
In 1978, when I was the public relations director and later general manager of the Memphis Rogues, we had to sell soccer hard and fast in a football/basketball town. Moving to Memphis from Simsbury, Connecticut, I made 36 speaking appearances in the first six weeks on the job, carrying the gospel of soccer to every haven in Shelby and surrounding counties.

When we finally assembled a team, the players carried on through hundreds of public appearances and conducted clinics and camps everywhere we were wanted. It got so bad the player’s union complained we were overtaxing our players. But we had to take this approach because Rogues soccer was a game played in short pants by strange-speaking, Argentinean, English, Scottish, and Brazilian players with a sprinkling of young Americans. It just didn’t fit into the Southern way of thinking about sports.

Little did we realize in the late ’70s that we were sowing the seeds of what soccer is today in Shelby County. The thousands of kids playing in organized leagues and high schools are a direct, if forgotten, tribute to the work of the Rogues. Where the Rogues struggled to draft one local American player in Memphis, you now have hundreds of young men and women going on to college soccer with scholarships.

But while the Rogues are now occasionally listed by the media as another “failed” Memphis franchise, they left a legacy that endures and grows each year.

Today, as I watch my two young grandsons, Sam and Ben Stukenborg, chase a soccer ball in Germantown’s outstanding youth programs, fond memories come back from 20 years ago when the Rogues tirelessly taught youngsters and parents that this was the “Game of the ’80s,” as NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam often said. It wasn’t the sport of the ’70s, or the ’80s, and is just now coming into full-blown acceptance in the late ’90s. After witnessing our sorry play in the just-ended World Cup, the USA still has a long, long way to go before becoming competitive on the international soccer field.

But maybe a strong World Cup showing isn’t as important as thousands of youngsters playing soccer and having fun without a lot of the pressure, serious injuries, and abuse that sometimes creeps into other youth sports.

I remember clinics with striker Tony Field relating to kids who were nearly as tall as this soccer warhorse from England. A David, this small pro slew Goliath one memorable night in the Liberty Bowl, scoring on a scorching 25-yard shot that humbled the mighty New York Cosmos. That 1-0 victory ranks right up there with the greatest upsets in NASL history.

Those kids identified with Tony and our selfless players and those kids became hundreds of coaches and thousands of dads and moms who passed on the soccer gospel. We may not win a World Cup, but who cares, we’re having fun. May it never change. *


Three Rogues Who Stayed in Memphis

by Chad Eatherly

Steve Bradshaw

Tony Carbognani
Drafted to the Rogues at age 18, Bradshaw played in Memphis during the 1980 outdoor season, then followed the club to Calgary. After a year in Calgary, this Memphis native returned home where he played indoor soccer for the Memphis Americans until they moved to Las Vegas in 1984. Bradshaw then studied finance and economics at the University of Memphis.

Today Bradshaw works as a stockbroker at Morgan Keegan. He has coached various schools and soccer clubs and co-founded the Memphis Football Club, a champion of local youth club soccer. Bradshaw sees himself as a member of the second generation of Memphis soccer and is a weekend warrior in an over-30 recreational league.

Tony Field

Field first played soccer at 17 for Halifax Town and working up to Sheffield United, in England’s first division. Recruited to the New York Cosmos in 1976, Field played striker for two years, leading the Cosmos to a 1977 North American Soccer League title, winning the MVP award.

He was traded to Memphis where he was the marquee player for three outdoor seasons. Today Field has a cable access show on Time Warner called Soccer Talk, co-hosted by Tony Stanley, a British native and high-ranking referee.

“The fans didn’t care that much about the results on the field; they cared about the game and wanted to see people get out and play,” remembers Field.

Toni Carbognani

An Argentinean player who spent several seasons in that country’s professional leagues, Carbognani was offered a contract by the New York Cosmos in 1978. He played in New York one year before being traded to the Memphis Rogues in their final outdoor season. Carbognani also played for the Memphis Americans in the MISL.

Memphis stole his heart and he has made the Bluff City his home, playing indoor for the Memphis Storm, running various youth summer camps, coaching with the Memphis Football Club, and now serving as assistant coach for the University of Memphis, under Chris Bartels.

Carbognani is currently working with Richard But at the U.S. Olympic team’s regional camp. Despite an aggressive field approach, Carbognani has always believed in teamwork. In 1983, he told Memphis magazine, “Sometimes a player will say, ‘I no care, I score two goals and I make three assists and we lose: no problem. I played well.’ But on good teams, it doesn’t matter who scores.” *


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