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April 8, 1978 – New England Tea Men set for debut

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The day before the New England Tea Men’s inaugural home game at Schaefer Stadium, the Boston Globe noted: “The football field lines have been erased. The soccer field has been laid out – 110 yards long and 65 yards wide – and the eight-foot high, 24-foot wide goal posts (sic) are in position. Next to seeing what the potential is in this hastily assembled 17-man English-dominated roster, the second question is: Who’s going to show up?”

On April 9, 1978, the Tea Men lost, 2-1, to the Tampa Bay Rowdies before an 11,360 crowd that included “1,000 Lipton Tea employees bussed in from New Jersey.’’ Both Tampa Bay goals were chipped over Kevin Keelan, Jim Fleeting heading in from Rodney Marsh, then Dave Robb breaking a 1-1 deadlock in 87th minute. The Tea Men’s Roger Gibbins finished a header after Lawrie Abrahams headed on Dennis Wit corner in 86th minute.

The Tea Men had to put things together quickly – they had been awarded a NASL franchise three months previously. Noel Cantwell and assistant coach Dennis Viollet (whose 32 goals in 36 games in the 1959-60 season remains a Manchester United record — documentary film “A United Man” recently released) guided the Tea Men to a 19-11 record and a first-round playoff appearance.

Two American citizens were required to start for the Tea Men: Dave D’Errico at left back and Harvard assistant coach Kevin Welsh at left wing. The Tea Men also signed former Brown University star Ben Brewster, who was coaching Boston College, three days before the match. Mike Flanagan made his NASL debut as a late replacement for Ringo Cantillo, then went on to be named the league’s MVP, scoring 30 goals in 28 games.

In 2003, Fleeting’s daughter, Julie, would score for the San Diego Flash in a 1-1 draw with the Boston Breakers in a WUSA match – making the Fleetings the only father-daughter combination to convert goals at the professional level in Foxborough.

TODAY IN NEW ENGLAND SOCCER HISTORY

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