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Mmm, love that d�tente
J. D. Reed
March 14, 1977
When Leningrad Zenit came to Tampa, the Rowdies improved foreign relations
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March 14, 1977

Mmm, Love That D�tente

When Leningrad Zenit came to Tampa, the Rowdies improved foreign relations

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"You can do all the promotion you want," he says, "but if you don't cut it on the field, you're dead. A winning team makes any front office look good."

The team itself works as busily promoting Rowdyism as the front office. Various Rowdies appear on the local PBS stations, for instance, doing public-service spots. In one, Alex Pringle, the Scottish defender and the first player the Rowdies signed, is shown being ejected from a game, the referee holding a red card over his head. "You too have to stop on the red," goes the warning about crossing streets. Aside from the usual spate of soccer clinics, speaking engagements and ribbon-cuttings at new auto dealerships—all of which the players undertake with grace and humor, for the Rowdies are marvelously accessible—there are more ambitious projects, such as one in which they took over an eighth-grade class and gave a course on how to operate a sports franchise.

If all this sounds like a cross between a successful Junior Achievement Company, a Dale Carnegie course and paradise, nothing is perfect, not even the Rowdies. Even though Coach Eddie Firmani scouts the English league for players that fit the Rogers mold—those who have a flair and are willing to sign contracts that call for off-season promotional and educational work ("our Fannies love to hear those English accents")—it is interesting to note what happens to players who occasionally choose to break the mold.

Last season, Stewart Scullion and Clyde Best, a Scot and a Bermudian respectively, groused and fomented a good deal of trouble because they wanted to be paid on the English system—bonuses for wins, more money for winning away, much more for playoffs, etc. Superstar Rodney Marsh gave up his team captaincy rather than get involved in the fray. The result was that neither Scullion nor Best, both of whom had been important to the team in a statistical sense, was signed this year.

Derek Smethurst, 29, a South African-born forward who bounced around the English second and third divisions before landing with the Rowdies three years ago, does fit, although he has reservations. "This is a whole new life in soccer for me," he says, "and I'm happy for the chance. I think sometimes we maybe do too much promotion and appearances. Sometimes I wish we weren't quite so accessible."

But whatever else they do, the Rowdies put on a good show. After treating the Soviet team to bags of oranges, free Levi's—a must for visiting Iron Curtain players—plus a barbecue at the home of television actor Robert Conrad, Beau Rogers Productions saved its best show for Saturday night's game.

Before the near-capacity crowd, on a humid evening, the smiling Wowdies presented each Zenit player with a bouquet of yellow and green roses and a kiss, and each Rowdy handed his Soviet counterpart a small statuette of a soccer player, a Rowdy promotional item called Stoney Maloneys.

On the field, however, the Rowdies were outclassed—though barely—by the innovative Soviets. Playing exactly the same style as the Rowdies—hard-charging, short passing, tenacious at midfield—the Zenit side confused the locals, whose intelligence had led them to expect a dour, mechanical, team-play game from the Zenits.

Although Arsene Auguste. 26, a Haitian defender, did a remarkable job of marking the Soviet first-division goal-scoring leader Alexander Markin, he couldn't keep him from setting up the only goal of the game. Charging in, Markin got off a hard head shot that rebounded from the crossbar. He headed the ball again to Forward Viacheslav Melnikov, who was lurking by the corner of the goal mouth, and Melnikov put a low, dribbling shot into the corner of the net, past Rowdy Keeper Paul Hammond, 13:44 into the second half for the only goal of the game.

By NASL standards, the Rowdies played as well as the Soviets, the fifth-ranked team in the soccer-mad U.S.S.R. It was a "fun" night, as Rogers would put it, and also first-rate soccer—exactly the combination that has made the Rowdies' operation a success.

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