Tommy Ord (lower left) had a dream season for the Lancers in 1975. (Courtesy of the Lancers)
By Michael Lewis
Tommy Ord might not have had a reputation of a Pele, Franz Beckenbauer or Johan Cruyff, but he had his own way of making history, even if he didn’t set out to accomplish it.
When he was traded by the Rochester Lancers to the Cosmos for $75,000 in 1975, it was the highest transaction in North American Soccer League history between two clubs at the time.
He also had the distinction of being the only player who performed in two milestone NASL matches that involved Pele.
Ord passed away in Newcastle, England Tuesday. He was 68. The former Lancer suffered a stroke several years ago and was in poor health recently. He is survived by a wife, daughter and brother.
The news sent shockwaves through Lancers Nation, past and present.
“Tommy was one of my favorites of all times, my regrets to his family, friends and teammates,” current Lancers owner Salvatore “SoccerSam” Fantauzzo said.
Ord’s long-time friend and former teammate, George Gibbs, made the announcement on his Facebook page Tuesday morning.
“Today I have just received some very sad news about my very close friend from school days through playing professional soccer with in England and the United States,” Gibbs wrote. “My dear mate Tommy Ord has passed. I am at a loss for words at the moment. RIP Tom. We shared so many fun times together in our youth. You will always be in my heart ❤️. Love you Tom. Now you can score those wonderful goals above. …”
Gibbs later said on this writer’s Facebook page:
“Fantastic friend, player, person, great sense of humor. Proud to call him my friend. RIP Tom.”
Ord had the distinction of playing in the NASL game that featured Pele’s first goal in 1975 and in the Black Pearl’s final competitive match in 1977. The former was a 3-0 defeat to New York at Holleder Stadium in Pele’s third league match. The latter was in the Seattle Sounders’ 2-1 loss to the Cosmos in Soccer Bowl ’77. Ord scored the Sounders’ lone goal.
Nelson Cupello, a rookie in 1975, said Ord was “very quiet. On the field, didn’t say much, didn’t do much but his actions did a lot of talking and I really admire that.”
London natives Ord and Gibbs played together as teenagers at Cardiff City before things went south for the latter. Gibbs said Ord was instrumental is resuscitating his soccer career. In his book, Here There and Back Again, Gibbs said returned to London “with my football career in tatters and feeling very depressed of failure.” He and Ord worked at Maybanks as a truck driver mate, as he called it, picking up wastepaper and recycled paper products. They helped the company team win a tournament in the Netherlands.
The duo hung out together. “We went nightclubbing together, pub crawls after birds [girls] and challenged each other kicking the ball about together,” Gibbs wrote in his book.
Ord made three appearances for Chelsea in 1973, scoring a goal in three appearances.
— Chelsea Graves Society (@CFC_Graves_Soc) December 16, 2020
Ord ventured to North America in 1973 and played with the Montreal Olympique, scoring six goals, two against the Lancers. Following a club tradition of adding players who excelled against them, the Lancers added Ord in 1974.
Despite playing for a team that finished with a 6-16 record, Ord enjoyed one of the best seasons by a North American Soccer League striker. He scored 14 goals and added four assists in 18 appearances, without much help up front He played a part of 18 of the team’s 29 goals, an astounding ratio.
“He was one of these guys, you look at him and he doesn’t look like a soccer player,” Cupello said. “But he could score goals. He had that knack of anything around the 18. You give him a little window and Tommy put that ball in the net.
“If he wasn’t scoring, we’re in trouble. He was that one player on a bad team that stood out. 197575 one Pele came as well. The Cosmos were in in that ‘Let’s build a team’ and Tommy seemed to fit perfectly for that striker to score goals.”
It seemed that everything Ord touched that season turned to goal. In early June, he had an epic battle with Cosmos captain and center back Werner Roth. That included a tussle and a half between the two rivals when the ball was on the opposite end of the field. Roth grabbed Ord’s neck while the Rochester striker elbowed his marker in the stomach. Anything to get an edge.
Ord had the final say in that match, tallying twice in a 3-2 win at Holleder. The Englishman snapped a 2-2 deadlock with a penalty kick late in the match. Ord was about to go one-on-one with goalkeeper Sam Nusum, but he was tripped by Roth. “I couldn’t keep up with him,” Roth told this reporter then. “I had to take him down. It was the only thing to do.”
Ord fired his shot to Nusum’s left.
“They almost didn’t allow me to take the shot,” he said. “I was out of breath and some of the fellows didn’t think I had enough energy to shoot.”
Roth praised Ord. “He’s got a good shot,” Roth said. “He’s their big gun, so we were specifically concentrating on him. You have to have one man on him at all times because he’s difficult to cover.”
Less than two weeks later, Ord became Roth’s teammate.
In late July 1975, the Lancers dealt Ord to the Cosmos for $75,000, the largest transfer fee in the NASL until then. That might sound like peanuts compared to today’s fees, but it was considerable in those days.
It was a controversial trade because Ord was the absolute star of the team, which had very little to offer.
Former Lancers business manager Jim Paglia shared the inside story of how Ord was traded to the Cosmos in late July 1975 when the team stopped at a restaurant off the New York Thruway so it could have a post-game deal after a game in Toronto. As business manager, Paglia was responsible for picking up the check.
“Boarding the bus after the meal, Mr. [John] Petrossi, a notoriously frugal man who owned the team, asked if all the players were aboard so we could head back to Rochester.
“ ‘No, the Brits are still in the restaurant eating. Tommy and George Gibbs were not done with their meals,’ I said.
“A little perturbed, John said, ‘What’s taking them so long? What did they order?’ I said, ‘They had what they usually get, steak and eggs and also ordered ice cream sundaes or banana splits.
“John said, ‘What did I order?’
“John, you got what I’ve seen you eat every morning for breakfast: dry toast, a poached egg and tea.”
“He persisted. ‘And what did you get?’
“I got scrambled eggs and an English muffin like you’ve seen me eat at each of our daily breakfast meetings.”
“Without missing a beat John said, ‘That’s why tomorrow you’ll still be with the team and they won’t.’
“The next day, he instructed me to put both their contracts out to the league over the Telex machine and Tommy was snatched up by the Cosmos not long after.
“It was a sad day in my soccer career.”
Only five days after his trade to the Cosmos on July 25, Ord not only played against the Lancers, but he was also a one-man show eliminating them from contention from the NASL playoffs by scoring twice in a 2-0 win at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island in New York City.
“I was a bit nervous before the game although I knew I should and could play well,” Ord told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Before the game I knew I could score at least two goals.
Both goals were scored in almost identical circumstance as the striker twice converted rebounds of forward Mordechai Shpigler shots past former teammate, Lancers goalkeeper Ardo Perri.
“I enjoyed playing against my former teammates,” Ord said. “I thought it was going to be an easy game for me. I had an advantage because I had new players surrounding me. It was different. They were there to get me and I was out there to get them.
“It’s funny, though. Every time I was bumped by a Rochester player, he’d say he’s sorry.”
It turned out to be the only two goals he scored for the Cosmos as Ord made six appearances for New York that season. With striker Giorgio Chinaglia joining the team, the Cosmos dealt Ord to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver, in turn, traded the Englishman to the Sounders late in the 1977 season, himself up for that goal against the Cosmos.
Ord never reached the heights he enjoyed with the Lancers, playing out his career with the Tulsa Roughnecks and Atlanta Chiefs in the NASL and Buffalo Stallions and Phoenix Inferno in the Major Indoor Soccer League through the 1981 season.
But he climbed rare mountains that no other player could ever duplicate.