When news broke that City had formed an official partnership with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, many fans would have been forgiven for asking; who? To get the lowdown on our new friends across the pond, we asked Rowdies fan Mike Pendleton to spill the beans. We're all Rowdies fans now.
News broke today on the partnership between Norwich City and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and while we wait for details on exactly what that might look like, the potential for it leaves many on this side of the deal quite excited. For Canaries who might be hearing the name “Tampa Bay Rowdies” for the first time, here’s a bit of a primer on the team and culture around it from a Rowdies supporter perspective.
The original Tampa Bay Rowdies were founded in 1975 and took the area by storm. They were the first major professional sports team in the Tampa Bay area (NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers joined soon after in 1976) and rode a wave of huge popularity during the first incarnation of the North American Soccer League.
Anchored by big names like Rodney Marsh, the Rowdies packed Tampa Stadium rivaling against the likes of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer of the New York Cosmos – the Rowdies went on to win a title in their first season.
The history of football here in the US is spotty and filled with fits and starts, so while many leagues came and went, the Rowdies remained a Tampa Bay constant, playing outdoor and indoor seasons until the club closed up shop after 1993. Major League Soccer (the current US first division) had a short-lived stay in Tampa Bay when that league launched in 1996, but it wasn’t until 2010 when we would see the green and gold live and breathe again.
Our current Tampa Bay Rowdies are entering our 10th season of the modern era. We play in the Eastern Conference of the Second Division USL Championship – a 38 team national league split into two conferences.
After adding another championship in 2012, it’s been a pretty rough few years for Rowdies faithful. Despite being one of the largest spenders in the second division (with one of the oldest rosters) and bringing players like Joe Cole into the fold, the Rowdies have failed to make a significant run at another title and finished 12th in the Eastern Conference table last year, 8 points out of a playoff spot.
Al Lang Stadium is our home ground and has been since 2011. With a capacity just north of 7,000 it’s a cozy home, parked right by the marina on the St. Petersburg waterfront (in my biased opinion, one of the best vistas in US football). The stadium itself has a lot of history – it had been the pre-season baseball home of several big clubs in that sport like the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals until it was finally converted to soccer only in the last 5 years. It’s one of the rare grounds where baseball legends like Babe Ruth and Stan Musial to football legends like Raul and Didier Drogba have all plied their trade.
We’ve got a passionate base of supporters – many of whom who followed the original Rowdies in the 70s. Our largest and original supporters’ group, Ralph’s Mob, was founded with the rebirth of the club in 2010. We chant, we sing, we drink, we paint tifo, and we travel (our nearest road trips are currently more than 8 hours drive). Most importantly, the club and supporter community really feels like a family. Many of us who live in Florida came from somewhere else with allegiances to other sports clubs in the place we grew up. The culture of this team is special though and it allows you to feel like you’re a piece of something with real roots to the area. We’re not the biggest club and we’re not in the top division, but we’re here every Saturday night to be a part of it.
Rumors already point to a young Canary loanee heading our way and the press release notes that imminent news will be coming regarding the two clubs being “currently in talks together around a really ambitious project that we hope will help set a lasting Norwich City footprint in the Tampa Bay region over the next decade”. We’re excited to hear what comes of it.
Until then, COYR and OTBC.