On April 26, 1980, more than 30,000 Tulsans packed into Skelly Stadium at TU to watch the Tulsa Roughnecks' 2-1 victory over the all-star loaded New York Cosmos. Thirty-three years later, Adam Mellor and Shannon Clarke hope that they will be able to tap into that love for the sport in the city. Professional soccer has returned to T-Town.
Mellor and Clarke are the co-owners of the newly formed Tulsa Revolution, who will make their home at the Tulsa Convention Center downtown. The Revolution will pick up the mantle of representing Tulsa in professional soccer from a string of teams that started with the original incarnation of the Roughnecks.
Professional soccer in Tulsa -- and perhaps the entire United States -- owes a debt of gratitude to those wild pioneers who formed the North American Soccer League in the 1970s.
Tulsa Revolution Press Conference
The NASL was created in reaction to a rise in soccer's popularity after the 1966 World Cup was televised in the United States. In its formative years, the NASL was largely seen as a minor league when compared to the rest of world, but all of that would change in 1975. The world's greatest superstar -- a player so famous that belligerents in Nigeria's civil war called a 48-hour truce to watch him -- came to America. The Brazilian supernova, Pelé, had signed a contract with the New York Cosmos.
Other soccer legends such as Franz Beckenbauer and Johann Cruyff would follow, all signing very lucrative contracts. With popularity on the rise, everybody wanted in on the money train, and in 1978, Tulsa found itself as home to one of the league's expansion teams, the Roughnecks.
The Roughnecks were a massive success in a city with little soccer history before their arrival. The team was regularly in the top echelons when it came to average attendances in the league, proving to be a popular draw despite not being a major metropolitan like New York City or Seattle. Tulsa was one of the few successful expansion teams when the league ballooned to 24 teams (its ultimate downfall), but the Roughnecks managed to win the 1983 Soccer Bowl before the NASL called it quits in 1984.
It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason why the Roughnecks were such a popular team, whether it was the foreign players like Billy Caskey or player/manager Charlie Mitchell, the Scotsman who would lay his roots in Tulsa as a restaurant operator and participant in local youth soccer. Or the colorful management of Noel Lemon who famously quipped in 1980, "We've only been in the league two and a half years and already half the teams hate us. Give me another two years and we'll have them all."
There were a few attempts to bring back the Tulsa Roughnecks, with one version of the team playing in minor leagues in the '90s, though most recently the rise of professional indoor soccer has been the newest import to Tulsa.
The Revolution -- the new team -- had a short-lived run in 2008, and is coming back to channel the spirit of the late '70s that made this city one of the centers of American soccer. They will play in the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL), the league name itself reminiscent of the past. Tulsa will be the 20th team in this nationwide league with teams as far afield as Harrisburg, Penn. and even one team boasting its home in Tijuana.
Locally, the Revolution hopes to draw from the massive numbers of youth players, as well as their parents who may have spent a few years of their childhood as Roughnecks fans. Though now most young soccer fans are more likely to follow Manchester United or Chelsea F.C., having a local team of their own may boost attendance numbers. The Revolution hopes to advance the economy of the downtown area as fans flock to their home games during their November to March season.
"We started this team due to our love of the game and the great interest in the sport and the extreme soccer talent in Tulsa," said co-owner Shannon Clark. "We're putting in a lot of effort to bring in the soccer community, especially young kids." When asked what kind of atmosphere can fans expect, co-owner Adam Mellor said he hopes that it's "similar to an atmosphere you might see in the EPL [English Premier League] with fans chanting, and noisemakers."
As of now the team still has no head coach or any players, but that work will be undertaken during the summer. The organization plans to get a mix of both veteran soccer players as well as home-grown talent, with a number of tryouts to be announced that will occur during the summer. Although it is unlikely that Tulsa's Zach Loyd (an MLS player with F.C. Dallas) will join the team, a plethora of talent in the area should provide a competitive side. Tickets will begin to be available in February, and more information about the team can be found at tulsarevolution.com.
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