In Florida, Ronnie Sharp is The Pied Piper of Soccer; in Mexico, El Rubio Escoc�s, or the blond Scotsman. But the Miami Toros midfielder does not care what they call him, as long as they call him. "I like to be noticed," he says, and he is, for the first time in his life, everywhere, unavoidably. One Miami matron asked him, "What language do you speak in Scotland, and how long did it take you to learn English?"
Before a recent game Sharp told a reporter, "We're gonah coom ow here tonie an ge em froostrayid," which, as usual, he played a major part in doing. What is not usual is that people noticed. They were Floridians, and they had been weaned on sports statistics—RBIs and rushing yardage—and in soccer they want goals. Midfielders do not, as a rule, score, but as of last week, after only nine games, Ronnie Sharp had seven assists, more than any other player in the North American Soccer League, and most of them came on real boomers, long spectacular passes from way upfield. No NASL midfielder outruns Sharp, either, though he smokes a pack of Kents a day; and always, wherever he is on the field, he creates an almost eerie sense that something dramatic is about to happen.
It is difficult to gauge Ronnie Sharp's value to his team, except to say that it is growing. Last year he had only one assist and two goals in 20 games (he has one goal this year so far), and still was fourth in the league's Most-Valuable-Player voting, behind three high-scoring forwards. Sharp's teammate Steve David, who was second in last year's Rookie-of-the-Year balloting, currently leads the NASL in scoring with 10 goals, so it is not surprising that the Toros have a 7-2 record, second best in the league.
Says Toro Coach Greg Myers, "Ron puts in 90 minutes of go-go-go every game. He runs, keeps running and never quits."
Says another Toro midfielder, Alan Tinsley, "Ron supports you all the time."
How Sharp became Pied Piper is another story. He teaches soccer to children in Miami and Fort Lauderdale grade schools, as part of a Toro off-season community-relations program. His students howl at his accent and ooh at his footwork. "I think you're cute," come the notes from 8-year-old girls. In a game he invented, he dribbles the ball while three youngsters try to steal it. If they do so inside 20 seconds Sharp has to do 20 push-ups. Of course, he can plan how many he will have to do, but he admits, "I let the girls steal the ball, so the boys will try harder."
At first, Sharp went to the schools alone, showing instructional films and talking soccer. Finally other Toros joined him, and in 13 months they have demonstrated and taught soccer skills to more than 150,000 kids. But there is only one Pied Piper, or as Greg Myers says, "Ron's the first link between the team and the community." In April, after one of his classes, a soccer father told Sharp, "You won't believe it, but my son goes to school with his soccer cleats on," which is the kind of thing Ronnie Sharp likes to hear.
"I go to the school because I love kids," he says, "not because I have to. I love it when they shout my name. That's the best thing about this country; you come here a nobody, you work hard and you get respect."
Hard work is nothing new for Sharp, but respect is very new, from without and within. Only four years ago he was languishing on Cowdenbeath, a second-division team in Scotland, earning $25 a week. He was unmistakably gifted, but his heart was not in the game, or in anything. He had joined Gamblers Anonymous, out of desperation. Name the game—casino, pitching pennies, the horses—he played it. He was in debt, his wife of 3� years had recently divorced him because, he admits, "She couldn't stand the uncertainty. I got my football wages at nine Thursday night, my bus left at 9:30 and sometimes I had to borrow the fare."
Sharp also worked the 6 a.m. shift in a coal mine. Most of the men in his family had been miners, and like them he appeared headed for black lung, or a disabling injury. At 17, in fact, while working beside a friend he calls "Higgins," he heard a rumble and saw the shaft overhead give way, killing Higgins and leaving his eight children fatherless. Sharp left immediately and never returned—to that mine, at least. He held non-mining jobs, too: washing windows, delivering coal, construction..."about a hundred of them," he says.