Dragan (Don) Popovic when he coached the New York Arrows.

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

It is with great sadness to report that Lenny Lipton, who wrote the lyrics for the classic folk tune, “Puff the Magic Dragon” has died. He passed away in Los Angeles on Oct. 5. Lipton was 82.

Folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary made the song famous.

While I covered the Rochester Lancers back in the stone age, I decided to pen a soccer version of that hit since the North American Soccer League team was coached by a man named Dragan Popovic. In the soccer universe, Popovic was known by his Americanized name of Don, but it was too good to pass up his given name. Popovic was a passionate coach and it allowed us to write headlines such as Dragan breathes fire after a loss.

Popovic’s nickname was Pops.

I wrote this piece for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle before the Lancers kicked off the 1977 season. I playfully wrote that I had the help of a former soccer player named Iambic Pentameter a bit. Seriously, some members of the staff helped me with a couple of lines.

Alex Loj, the first D&C writer who covered the Lancers in their American Soccer League days, jokingly introduced me as someone who wrote songs about the Rochester coach.

Pops the Magic Dragan

Pops, the magic Dragan, lived by the sea

And frolicked in the summer mist of old Monroe County


Lonesome Chuck Schiano loves that rascal Pops

And gave him cash to buy  players – None of them were flops




the Lancers they did travel, throughout the NASL

Nickie stopped the shots and Stollie he raised hell

Pollihan, Fernandes – They all could play this game

Teams would quake and shutter when Pops roared out their names




The Lancers won the title, but their joy did not last long

After 11 years in Rochester, something was very wrong

One grey night it happened, the Lancers were no more

They were sold to a group from Buffalo – along Lake Erie’s Shore


Pops, his dreams were shattered, his favorite players gone

Now all that’s left of good-ole Pops is the lyrics to this song

Without all his close friends, Pops could not have his way

So,  Pops, that Mighty Dragan, he split for San Jose


Pops, the magic Dragan, lived by the sea

And frolicked in the summer mist of old Monroe County

Pops, the magic Dragan, lived by the sea

And frolicked in the summer mist of old Monroe County


For non-Rochester soccer fans, a few things need to be explained.

Chuck Schiano is Charlie Schiano, the team’s chairman of the board. He received the name Lonesome Charlie as the lone Republican on the Democrat-dominated City Council.

Nickie is Nick Mijatovic, who was the 1979 NASL defender of the year.

Stollie is the great, late Mike Stojanovic, a former Canadian international and one of the best NASL strikers ever

Pollihan is Jim Pollihan is a former U.S. international defender. He scored the first goal in professional indoor soccer history with the New York Arrows and had nice, long, successful career in indoor soccer (Major Indoor Soccer League and National Professional Soccer League) as a coach and general manager.

Fernandes is Manuel Fernandes, a Portuguese star striker who did not show up for the 1977 season for a variety of reasons.

Why the mention of a move to Buffalo? Mike Geraci offered to purchase the Lancers after the 1976 season, but his bid was rejected. The team continued to compete in the NASL through the 1980 campaign.

As for Popovic going to San Jose, well, it seemed I predicted the future because he wound up coaching the Golden Bay Earthquakes (formerly the San Jose Earthquakes) in the 1983-84 NASL seasons.


If you want to learn more about Popovic and other personalities, you can order Michael Lewis’s book about the team’s history:



Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.