The New England Tea Men were a North American Soccer League franchise that existed between 1978 and 1984 (although between 1980 and 1984 they had moved to Jacksonville and changed their name).
The franchise was established by the Lipton Tea Company, one of two sources from which the club took its name. The other being the infamous Tea Party incident of 1773 in nearby Boston. Based in the town of Foxborough, Massachusetts, the club played its home matches at the magnificent Foxboro Stadium, a 60,000 capacity colosseum. The ground was home to the NFL outfit New England Patriots, but was sadly demolished in 2002 and replaced by the Gillette Stadium. Given that the population of Foxborough itself was just 14,000 people in 1978, this made the stadium over four times larger than the municipality.
The club's first manager was non other than legendary Irish full-back Noel Cantwell, who had played for West Ham and Manchester United and had previously managed Coventry. Cantwell had returned to Massachesetts, having managed a local team briefly in 1972. His task was to build a squad of talented footballers with the generous funds available in just four months. He did this by buying or taking on loan a host of British based professionals, many of them past their prime, and offering big wages. Players to come included former Coventry striker Brian Alderson, West Brom legend Tony Brown and Peterbrough stalwart Jack Carmichael. Alderson and Brown had played for Cantwell before, in England.
Also signed, on loan, were Charlton Athletic's star striker Mike Flanagan and Republic of Ireland and Derby County midfielder Gerry Daly.
|Daly takes on the Cosmos|
In the summer of 1978, with the English Football League season finishing, Daly decided to follow Noel Cantwell across the Atlantic and earn some extra money, playing in America. Unlike many of his new team-mates in Foxborough, Daly was not past his prime, and was still just 24.
The season was quite a success for Cantwell, Daly and co. The Tea Men finished 1st in the Eastern Division, ahead of the likes of Mirandinha's Tampa Bay Rowdies, George Best's Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Johnny Giles' Philadelphia Fury.
Mike Flanagan netted an incredible 30 of New England's 62 goals that season, in just 28 appearances. Daly made just 18 appearances for the Tea Men, and scored 7 goals. Yet such were the quality of his performances that he was still named in the NASL Team of the Year, alongside the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia. He also managed to keep out George Best and Alan Ball.
|Peter Carr (3), Gerry Daly (12), Flanagan (10) and Laurie Abrahams (8)|
It had been quite a maiden season for the Tea Men. Yet, their average attendance of just 12,000 fans (in a 60,000 seater ground) was disappointing, especially compared with the 45,000 average recorded by the Cosmos.
Back in England in the 1978-79 season, Daly's Derby were relegated. Putting this aside for the moment, Daly again decided to repeat the trick by moving to America for the summer, signing again with the Tea Men on loan.
The 1979 season was a big disappointment however, for Cantwell, Daly and the Tea Men. Without Flanagan, who was back with his parent club Charlton, the club struggled for goals. The Tea Men won just 12 matches that season, losing 18, and they finished last in the Eastern Division.
Off the pitch, other problems arose with scheduling. The Bay State Raceway motor-racing franchise had also acquired the use of the Foxboro Stadium. Their race days were on Saturdays, conflicting with the NASL. As a result, it was the Tea Men who chanced an unsuccessful relocation to a smaller ground, and attendances dwindled. They managed to move back to Foxboro, but could only play on Monday nights, which kept attendances down. In fact, the average attendance for the club that year was a paltry 6,500 fans. This naturally made it difficult for the franchise to make profits, which would affect wages and investment.
The 1979 NASL season was won by the Vancouver Whitecaps. Daly himself made 23 appearances and scored 9 goals. After this, Cantwell remained with the club for another year, but the franchise had relocated to Jacksonville, Florida. They reached the Play-Off Quarter Finals in 1981, but never saw any success again.
Following this second stint in America, Daly then 26, decided against following Derby to Division 2 and moved to Coventry City. It is surprising that he decided not to stay in America, like many of his New England team mates, but instead spent the next ten years with various sides in English football. He retired from the game in 1991, and later managed his last club, Telford United, in the early 1990s.