Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1978-1980 New England Tea Men

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North American Soccer League (1978-1980)

Born: 1978 – NASL expansion franchise.
Moved: November 1980 (Jacksonville Tea Men)


Arena: Providence Civic Center (10,754)

Team Colors: Red, Gold & Blue

Owners: Thomas J. Lipton, Inc.

Soccer Bowl Championships: None


In January 1978, Thomas J. Lipton, Inc., better known as the Lipton Tea Company, purchased an expansion franchise in the North American Soccer League.  The NASL was riding a wave of expansion in 1978 – a speculative bubble as it would turn out – sparked by the spectacular three-year run of Brazilian superstar Pele at the New York Cosmos, another corporate owned club.

Lipton’s club set up shop in Foxboro, Massachusetts and adopted the nickname New England Tea Men, in a nod to the area’s revolutionary roots and, of course, its corporate overlords.  Lipton Vice President of Marketing Derek Carroll took the reigns as club President with a $1.5M operating budget and $600,000 allocated to sign players from around the world.

One little-noticed signing was an English striker named Mike Flanagan acquired on loan from Charlton Athletic.  Flanagan came out of nowhere for the Tea Men, scoring 30 goals in 28 games and earning NASL Most Valuable Player honors in 1978.  The rest of the squad was also unexpectedly strong for a club put together on just four months notice.  The Tea Men tied the Tampa Bay Rowdies for first place in the NASL’s American Conference Eastern Division with a 19-11 record.  The Fort Lauderdale Strikers eliminated the Tea Men in the first round of the 1978 NASL playoffs.  At the box office, the Tea Men drew an average crowd of just over 11,000 to Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the home of the NFL’s Patriots.

The Tea Men had a rougher go of it in 1979.  Flanagan got into a contract dispute back home with Charlton Athletic and ultimately with the Tea Men themselves.  The saga of Flanagan’s status dragged on for much of the 1979 season, with the Tea Men even prematurely announcing his return in June 1979.  Ultimately, Flanagan never returned to the United States again after his MVP campaign in 1978.  Meanwhile, the Tea Men were evicted from Schaefer Stadium by order of a judge due to a dispute with a neighboring dog racing track.  Forced to play on short notice at urban Nickerson Field in Boston, attendance plummeted nearly 50% as did the team’s record.  The 1979 Tea Men finished 11-13 and out of the playoff hunt.

In December 1979, the Tea Men signed on for the NASL’s first winter indoor soccer season.  Only ten of the league’s twenty-four teams chose to take part. The Tea Men probably wished they had stuck with the majority.  Playing at the Providence Civic Center, the indoor Tea Men found new ways to prolong the agony of the bitter 1979 campaign, staggering to a 2-10 last place finish.

The Tea Men gave up on New England in November, 1980 and relocated to Jacksonville, Florida’s Gator Bowl.  Still owned by Lipton, the franchise retained the Boston Tea Party-inspired name, although it made little sense in Florida, which remained a Spanish territory unti 1821.


New England Tea Men Shop

Tea Men Replica Jersey by Ultras

Ian Plenderleith’s definitive account of “The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League


New England Tea Men Memorabilia



Tea Men Video

1979 Lipton Tea Commercial featuring Kevin “Cat” Keelan and teammates.

The Tea Men in indoor action against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, via Kenn Tomasch at  December 22, 1979.

In Memoriam

Forward Brian Alderson (1978-1980) passed away at age 46 in 1997.

Former Tea Men Head Coach Noel Cantwell died of cancer on September 8, 2005.  He was 73 years old.

Dennis Viollet spent all seven seasons on the N.E./Jacksonville Tea Men coaching staff, the last two as Head Coach (1983-1984).  He died of cancer at age 65 on March 6, 1999.  Viollet was a survivor of Manchester United’s Munich Air Disaster on February 6, 1958.

Keith Weller, a midfielder during the New England seasons from 1978-1980, died of cancer in 2004 at age 58.



2011 Interview with Jacksonville Tea Men owner Ingo Krieg

1979 New England Tea Men “Soccer-at-a-Glance” Viewing Guide



North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs



One Response to '1978-1980 New England Tea Men'

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  1. One of the reasons for the demise of the indoor league was the refusal of NASL League officials to consider more indoor games and to allow full field dasher board advertising. The additional revenue and tha full year contracts for players could have taken us out of the red within two years…..No vision for the indoor-outdoor mix at that time.

    Dick Kravitz( former Tea Men GM)

    11 Sep 11 at 10:20 am

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