Mark Lindsay swapped life at Crystal Palace, a club that had just been relegated to the old English Third Division despite boasting an array of talented players and a high-profile manager, for a season in the sun in the North American Soccer League. Before long, he had made a permanent switch to his new club, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Pele and Rodney Marsh.
“I was only 20 when I first came over,” said Lindsay, who still makes his home just outside Tampa. “Basically the coach of the original Rowdies was Eddie Firmani, who had been manager of Charlton for a while and lost his job there and went into the insurance business and was my insurance agent. He landed the NASL job and invited me, Stewart Jump and Paul Hammond to go to America. I decided to come over for four months.
“The way it was originally described to me by Eddie was ‘come over and have a great time, enjoy sunny weather, dolphins jumping around, and oh there’s a few games.’ I came over looking forward to a holiday, which was far from true as we played 30 or 40 games.”
Lindsay returned to England and was on the fringe of the team that reached the semi final of the FA Cup, losing to eventual winner Southampton. He decided that another spell in Florida would boost his career, but his decision had unforeseen repercussions.
“When I went back in 1975 I went to (Palace manager) Malcolm Allison and told him I wanted to go back to Florida and live so my fate was basically made that day,” he explained. “I spent the next six months in the bellows of the reserves!”
On March 1, 1976, Lindsay returned to Tampa Bay and never looked back.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” he remembered. “I already knew Rodney Marsh because he was training at Palace and was thinking about going to play in Belgium. I was in the reserves and he was training with us and came over a few months later.
“It was a dream come true to be able to play with and against that kind of caliber player, the likes of Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto, and it was lot of fun.
“In 1975 we’d won the Soccer Bowl and that was another big part of me wanting to come back. We’d started building from something that started with zero and went to 19,000 fans at games at the end.”
Plying his trade in sunny Florida rather than on the mud soaked pitches of seventies English grounds did have its appealing qualities. Lindsay and teammate Clyde Best were also spared much of the racial hatred that was rife back home and enjoyed the style of play on the other side of the Atlantic.
“I was the first non-white player at Crystal Palace and at the time it was par for the course to be racially abused,” he explained. “You go through playing park football and the abuse is strong enough on the field. Once I got into the Palace first team, the first game I played was away to Stockport in the cup and it was outrageous what was coming from the terraces.
“In other games, even worse was when you were told to warm up as a sub, but I didn’t want to run up and down the sideline two feet away from people who were yelling abuse. Back in that time, it was part and parcel of the game and I wonder how many potentially great or good players chose not to play or tried to and got blocked. So I’m grateful to Malcolm Allison for giving me a chance when there might have been pressure on him not to. Over here you didn’t have that verbal abuse every week.
“What was really neat though was the 35-yard line rule, which changed the game a lot. Even though the way the teams played was different from what you see today, it made it a much more flowing game with movement, passing and more space. The forwards could stand on the 35 all day. It opened up the midfield a lot and players who could pass were afforded the ability to do that.”
Lindsay eventually moved on from the Rowdies, stopping off in Houston, California and Baltimore before ending up back in Tampa where he was clearly destined to play again. And two familiar faces played a part in taking him back to the southeast.
“I think it was fate,” admitted Lindsay. “I was in San Jose and I was trying out with them in ’84 and had a couple of injuries that didn’t repair very well and was trying to make a comeback. The Rowdies played against them at the end of July and I was watching the game and it was 7-1 or 7-0 to San Jose and Malcolm Allison was at the club and so was Rodney Marsh. So I went to see them and we had a drink at the hotel and they asked me if I wanted to go back to Tampa and play. I came in July, but the league folded in September.”
Hanging up his cleats at least in the professional game, Lindsay eventually started working in the IT industry that is still his career focus today. And he occasionally finds his way over to Al Lang Stadium to watch the current Rowdies in action.
“St Pete’s is a good 45 minutes away for me, so there are some games I’ll go and watch but probably three or four per season,” he said. “I should go over and watch more games than I do, but get spoiled by games on TV really.
“It’s good entertainment and there are a lot of people working hard and a lot of passion and that’s where I was a few years ago. I’m grateful to have the sport in town and it can hopefully grow and become as popular as it was back when I played.”
Courtesy of NASL.com
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