News and reviews of Rock n Roll Soccer

ROCK N ROLL SOCCER: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League, by Ian Plenderleith. This is the blog to back the book hailed as "fantastic" by Danny Kelly on
Talksport Radio, and described as a "vividly entertaining history of the league" in the Independent on Sunday. In the US, Booklist described it as "a gift to US soccer fans". The UK paperback edition published by Icon Books is now available here for just £8.99, while the North America edition published by St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books can be found here for $11.98. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Marsh has overshadowed Pelé, no doubt about it"

Tampa Bay Rowdies coach Gordon Jago said of players like Rodney Marsh that “you have to accept them the way they are. Only a fool would try to submerge those assets.” Yet the 1970s were full of fancy-footed, flair players who were adored by fans but submerged by managers and clubs who couldn’t afford to let a single unruly player look bigger than the club, no matter how special his talents. Spurned by the tactically dull English game and the post-Victorian disciplinary norms of its custodians, many of the more individualistic British players found the North American Soccer League to be a far more receptive platform for their charisma-driven style, both as a footballer and a personality.

Chapter 4 of Rock n Roll Soccer examines at length the largely successful NASL careers of Marsh and George Best, looking to resurrect their reputations after having fallen out with Manchesters City and United respectively. While both had their issues with team bosses and coaches in the USA just as they had done in Britain, the two players were also uniquely suited to bringing the NASL the kind of panache and publicity that it was craving during its heady expansion years in the mid 1970s. Here are the opening paragraphs to ‘Marsh and Best: Entertaining the USA’:

Marsh and Best: hair and flair
Rodney Marsh stopped the game, although referee Peter Johnson hadn’t blown his whistle. The Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder fell to his knees, stretched out his arms and gestured at the ball in his possession. Come and get it, he was saying to the New York Cosmos, a team that was losing 4–0, and whose pivotal player, Pelé, was not having his greatest day. Come on, come and get it – I know you can’t, but try anyway.

It was the 1976 season, and the first visit by the Cosmos to the upstart Tampa Bay Rowdies since Pelé’s signing the previous year. The New York team, fresh off the plane from an exhibition game in the Dominican Republic, looked distinctly out of sorts, playing in front of a national TV audience and a regular-season League record crowd of over 42,000. They finished exhausted, outplayed, and soundly beaten by five goals to one. The talking point of the game was not, however, the exemplary hat-trick that Derek Smethurst put past New York’s hapless second-choice goalkeeper Kurt Kuykendall. It was Marsh, down on his knees, taunting a team that featured the greatest player of all time. 

The Englishman, playing his first NASL season, opened up and flaunted a full bag of tricks that day. There were cheeky back-heel passes, nonchalant dummies, and a flawless back-heeled lob over his own head down the left wing that saw him breeze past a floundering opponent. On another occasion he effortlessly robbed an oncoming Cosmos player of the ball, then passed it forward down the line to a teammate, all the while holding his left boot, lost in action moments before. Marsh fully exploited the vast space in midfield that the Cosmos and the 35-yard offside line (see chapter 7 for more on this NASL innovation) permitted him, prompting CBS’s co-commentator Paul Gardner to say at the end of the afternoon, ‘Marsh has overshadowed Pelé, no doubt about it.’ When he left the field shortly before the end of the game, he received a standing ovation… 


  1. Loved the book! Is there any footage of Marsh's taunting? I've found a 3-minute recap of the game, but that bit's been left off.

  2. Hi Bill - very glad to hear that you enjoyed the book, and thanks for posting. I have DVD footage of the game I bought off Dave Brett Wasser, who offers a wide collection of old soccer games going back several decades - his website's at: