Overview         Home  

 

Birmingham Bandits logo

 Team And League History

 
  

April 1978

  
         
    Mobile businessman Billy Lyons announces that he has purchased a franchise in a new indoor soccer league scheduled to begin play the summer of 1978. Other cities reportedly are New York, New Jersey, Toronto, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta, Shreveport, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New England. The new league will be named the Super Soccer League. Their brand of indoor soccer would be similar to hockey, with five players and a goalie.

The president of the SSL is Jerry Saperstein, the son of the Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein. The SSL's Vice President of Operations is William R. Putnam. Putnam was the owner of the Birmingham Americans, who won the World Football League's first and only World Bowl in 1974. Putnam said the SSL's Director of Player Personnel, Norm Sutherland, was currently touring Europe to sign 200 to 300 players to stock the franchises.

Lyons is president of Riley Chemical Corporation and is the brother of former Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Sage Lyon. He was a part-owner of the Barcelona, Spain franchise of the International Basketball Association. "We were very successful, but couldn't play politics and were forced to sell out," Lyons said.

  
         
  

May 1978

  
         
    Lyons announced that the lease agreement with the Civic Center's board meets his approval. If a contract is signed, the team will play between 16 and 20 games in the Coliseum in July, August and September beginning in 1978.   
         
    Gordon Fearnley was announced as head coach by Lyons. Fearnley is from Yorkshire, England, and is the youngest head coach in professional soccer in the United States.

Fearnley said, "This is my first trip to Birmingham. I've never really thought about living here. Guess I'll have to now. But I'll tell you what, once I stepped off the plane I've met nothing but terrific people."

Addressing the differences in indoor soccer versus outdoor soccer, Fearnley said, "One of the things that seems to be boring to fans is the midfield play in outdoor soccer. We've virtually eliminated that factor with indoor soccer. With a shorter field, you'll see more action. The goalie, much like in hockey, will be the key man." Indoor rules also include a time penalty box and power plays, just like hockey. He continued saying, "The rules are really simple. There are not that many changes. A lot of outdoor rules apply."

A total of 12 franchises will make up the SSL. The cities named were Birmingham, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Atlanta, Boston, Shreveport, Miami and Washington, DC. The first game is scheduled for the first week of July. They will play 32 games, 16 at home and 16 away. Each team will have 14 players. Only 6 will play at a time. A player draft will be held next week, with 10 players to be selected from a pool of 150 by each franchise.

Alaina Jones, Director of Public Relations, said the team still doesn't have a name but, "the contest is still going on to name the team. We expect to have a name very soon."

Lyons said, "The Saperstein name is magic all over the world. This new league is going to work, too. The entire league is 100% associated with success from the top to the bottom. We have good people throughout the league. We want to have a winner the first year for Birmingham. Birmingham deserves a winner. We've got a lot of things going for us that other new leagues didn't have. In fact, we took mistakes from others and learned from them."

Lyons also claims the SSL has signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox for a 5 year television package. Lyons said, "By next Thursday, we'll have an earth-shattering announcement to make. And after that, we hope to make another announcement that would be quite interesting."

After the press conference, Fearnley asked about Birmingham's nightlife saying with a smile, "I'm a bachelor, you know. And you might say I enjoy socializing."

  
         
    Jones announced the team would be known as the Birmingham Bandits and that the SSL had signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox for them to televise 5 league games in 25 of the 50 major television markets in the United States. She also announced that Birmingham would play in one of those games. In addition to the 5 regular season games, league playoffs and the championship game are included in the package with Twentieth Century Fox.

At the SSL's first draft, the Bandits drafted 10 players. John Hazel of Scotland was Birmingham's first pick. Of the 10, 4 are from Scotland, 1 from the United Kingdom and 5 are from the United States. Players will begin to report in next week.

At this time, only 8 teams are listed as being ready to begin play in July; Birmingham, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Atlanta, Shreveport and Washington, DC.

  
         
  

June 1978

  
         
    The Bandits first home game has been moved back to July 13th.   
         
    There are rumors that the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC and New York franchises will be forced by the league to turn in their franchises due to financial and scheduling problems.   
         
    Fearnley makes an appearance at the Alabama Sports Writers Convention at Pine Harbor to promote the Bandits.

"Soccer is growing in the United States, because it has great selling points. First, soccer is one of the least expensive games to play. All you really need is a ball. Second, the game can appeal to so many different people of different shapes and sizes. And third, girls can play the sport. In Alabama, I know we'll have to compete with football, but I think soccer can catch on. I really don't think our success will depend on having a winning team. It'll be determined by how exciting we are," Fearnley said.

"Our first draft was held a few weeks ago in New York. Of the 12 players I had on my list, we got six. I went after the hungry players, not the stars. That's why market prices are so low. I don't intend to ignore the American players either. League rules say we have to split our roster and have 7 Americans and 7 foreign players. That's a good rule because the future of the game here is to bring these American players along. The World Cup games are going on now in Argentina. I would be very surprised if America didn't have a world team in the 1982 games which will be played in Russia," Fearnley said.

Last year Fearnley was playing in the North American Soccer League with Fort Lauderdale. "I came to Birmingham for two reasons. I wanted to coach and I think indoor soccer is a great opportunity," Fearnley said.
  
         
    Jones, now the Bandits General Manager, announces the SSL will consist of 6 teams and that each team would play a 26-game season. The 6 teams are the Birmingham Bandits, Atlanta Wallbangers, Shreveport Balls, Miami Mad Dogs, New York Spirits and an unnamed San Francisco franchise.

Jones said, "There will not be any more franchises withdrawing from the Super Soccer League. It was in the financial best interests of the league for some teams to wait a year before beginning competition. We think it's better to begin with 6 and work our way up to 12 teams than it is to start with 12 and end up with 6. We think a lot of homework has been done on organizational matters and, as a result, the league will be better for it in the future."

Ticket prices will be from $3.50 to $4.50 and the Bandits are scheduled to play four exhibition games against international all-star teams.

  
         
    Jones responds to persistent rumors that the SSL is folding by saying, "We're going to be around. There is no uncertainty about us or the league. We're not going to fold. It seems every new league has it's problems. We're no different. We're a stable franchise and we are not in financial trouble. In fact, when we purchase something, it's done on a cash basis. We want to show Birmingham and the people in the state we're here to stay. We have too much invested now to leave the city. We kinda like Birmingham. It's a terrific city."

Jones did go on to admit the Bandits could delay their first season until next year and said, "If we do, it will not be because of financial problems per se. It will be because of time. One problem the league has come to face is getting things squared away for play this year. Although the Super Soccer League was formed over a year ago, wheels have only been turning for a couple of months. I think a lot of owners, not us, have found it's pretty tough to get players and print tickets and settle on a site to play their games in 3 or 4 weeks. But you know, that's not a bad problem when you think of it. We have teams to play this year and we have teams waiting to buy into the league. I like a problem like that. And Birmingham doesn't have to worry about the Super Soccer League. We're going to be around."

  
         
    Saperstein announces the SSL will postpone their inaugural season until April of 1979. Saperstein said, "What it boils down to is that some of the teams were ready to play and others weren't, and you can't start a league on that basis. This is not a happy time. We're going to have to go back and regroup. This decision is in the best interests of league directors, teams and fans."

Lyons said, "We feel the decision not to play until April of next year is a sound one. We're especially pleased with the decision because it gives the league an opportunity to firm up the 12 franchises we had originally intended to go with."

  
         
  

July 1978

  
         
    Jones said no one in the organization has been paid for the last few weeks, including front office workers and players. Jones said, "It has now been 6 weeks since we've been paid. We're broke, we're hungry and we're totally confused. What has happened, is that we've been mislead regarding the status of the Super Soccer League. To the best of our knowledge, we no longer have a team. At least that's the word we got from Mr. Lyons."

Head Coach Gordon Fearnley said, "We have repeatedly notified Mr. Lyons of our financial plight. It seems we called him practically every day asking him for money. I know one thing, we've got to have money to operate a franchise in this city. We thought we had security. We were mislead on that fact."

Saperstein said, "As for the position of the league at this time, we're going ahead as we planned. We expect to open our season in April of 1979. Nothing has changed there. We do plan, however, to hold a league meeting the third week in July in Chicago. And we're expecting Birmingham to be represented there. We've run into some problems, but that's because of time. I'm impressed with Birmingham as a major league city. We think the Super Soccer League is an exciting product and we plan to have a league that begins play next year. My family has been in professional sports for over 70 years. I don't have to defend myself or my family. We're going to have a Super Soccer League."

  
         
    Lyons responds heatedly to Jones and Fearnley's accusations saying they "are totally and 100% hogwash. This is all ridiculous. For one thing, those players shouldn't be paid because they were never signed to a contract. I never authorized Alaina to bring those players into town. I repeatedly told her we didn't need the players in yet because it looked as if the league wouldn't begin playing until next year. She's been paid $2,800 for 6 weeks work. I have a $500,000 line of credit and I'm bringing proof of that with me to Birmingham. I just hope I haven't been hurt beyond repair. I want a franchise in Birmingham. I still believe in the Super Soccer League. If Birmingham, after what has come out, doesn't want a soccer franchise, then I'll take it to Jackson, Mississippi, or somewhere where a team can get favorable response."   
         
    Lyons cancels a scheduled press conference to repudiate all of the accusations made against him, due to an illness in his wife's family. He did find time to consult an attorney to discuss a possible suit against the Birmingham News for printing the interview with Jones and Fearnley, however.   
         
  

Epilogue

  
         
      The Super Soccer League was unable to get started mainly because it could not stabilize its franchise situation and never played a single game.   
         
 
   Email Gene Crowley

Last Update: January 31, 2013