Dick Howard made an impact with the Rochester Lancers in their inaugural season in 1967.
With Dick Howard stepping down from his role as Canadian correspondent on the Soccer is a Kick in the Grass radio show, we thought it would be proper to highlight the start of his professional soccer career in North America, with the Rochester Lancers. This excerpt from Michael Lewis’ book, ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers, was used with permission.
Though there were only four games remaining in the 1967 American Soccer League season, the Lancers wanted to avoid finishing in the cellar and face relegation to the Premier Division in 1968. They continued to bring in new players. They signed Don Prozik, Dave Thomson and a talented, young goalkeeper named Dick Howard, who most recently performed for the Hamilton Primos (National Soccer League of Canada).
With Sal DeRosa sitting on the Rochester bench for the first time on Nov. 19, the team reached yet another milestone, as Nelson Bergamo converted the club’s hat-trick in the team’s first rout, a 5-0 triumph over the Baltimore Flyers. It was the Lancers’ fifth successive home victory and the team’s first shutout. The only downside was the fact that a season-low 508 spectators (which would become a franchise-low) witnessed the romp in the wind and 34-degree temperatures. It also snowed a bit.
Bergamo, who had had tallied 12 goals, started his one-man showcase in the 29th minute, intercepting a back pass from Freddie Sutherland to goalkeeper Allen Cupid. Five minutes later, the Brazilian forward out-dribbled four defenders to double the lead. Davie Thomson interrupted the Bergamo goal extravaganza, meandering past two Flyers to score the first of his two goals for a 3-0 advantage in the 40th minute. The Flyers found themselves with more problems when Brian Pillinger suffered an injury and couldn’t continue. Because they had brought 12 players and used their only sub in the first half, the Flyers were forced to play with 10 men. Thomson, who most recently performed with Sudbury Italia in the National Soccer League, connected on a Bergamo feed from 25 yards in the 64th minute. Bergamo finished off the onslaught by converting a five-yard rebound in the 68th minute.
Center back Dennis Jones, who endured that nightmare, multiple own goal game against Baltimore three weeks prior, anchored the backline. Howard did not have much work to do. A shutout in his first game with the Lancers was quite appropriate, because was nicknamed Mr. Zero for his ability to keep the opposition off the scoreboard. Howard got the nickname while recording clean sheet after clean sheet for Hamilton.
Born as Richard James Howard in Bromborough, England on June 10, 1943, Howard always wanted to be a soccer player, but he promised his parents that he would finish school first.
“My father said, ‘Look, before you have any crazy ideas about turning professional, get a job, get a career,’ ” he said. “So, I went to get a diploma in physical education, became a phys-ed teacher. He was sorry to see me leaving England to come to North America. But I said, ‘Dad, I have to do it. It’s a great opportunity.’ He was always very supportive of that. He was happy because he knew I was crazy about the game, that I always wanted to play.”
Howard played a year with Chester in the old English Fourth Division before leaving for North America. He traveled to Toronto and taught for a year before his career began to take off, first with Hamilton, then with the Lancers, Detroit Cougars, back with Rochester and then with the Toronto Metros in the North American Soccer League. Howard went on to have a Hall of Fame career in soccer as a Canadian international goalkeeper and coach, TV announcer and FIFA instructor.
“One of the things that very much was part of my psyche coming to North America was that the game was just starting to be developed in North America,” Howard said. “There were rumors of the North American Soccer League starting up and I thought, ‘Well, I might as well be there at the start.’ I was prepared to help spread the game, almost as a missionary. Of all of the clubs I played, I was not only a member of the playing staff, but I also was director of youth development. I got a great deal of satisfaction of doing that work, whether it was in the Rochester area, starting the [youth] leagues, meeting with coaches, running camps. The same thing in Detroit. I organized a program every day where we sent players out. There were some marvelous situations where you went into areas of Detroit, where they didn’t know a soccer ball from a basketball, and the soccer ball became basketballs in a gymnasium. You had to try to convince the players that no, use your feet. It was a similar challenge in Rochester.”
After playing for Hamilton, Howard, Mitchell and Thomson, a Scotsman, joined Sudbury Italia.
“We got to know each other,” Howard said. “They said we’re going to play in some games in a league in the United States and we’re playing for a team in Rochester, the Lancers. One thing led to another. At the end of the 1967 season, I joined Charlie and Davie, flying over the day before the game, going to the YMCA in downtown Rochester, have steak and eggs in the morning and off to playing a game in Aquinas Stadium or a couple of games we played on the road. It was quite the trip. We felt quite privileged that we were being flown over by this club. The money wasn’t great. We understood what was happening. Charlie Schiano and Pat Dinolfo were such dynamic individuals.”
Thomson, born on Valentine’s Day
Howard secured his second clean sheet in as many games in the home finale against the Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals before 1,268 at Aquinas on Nov. 26. The Lancers, however, could not find the back of the net against goalkeeper Walter Tarnawsky in the team’s first scoreless draw in history. It also was Howard’s 17th shutout of the year in all competitions for Rochester and Hamilton. The result extended the Lancers’ unbeaten streak to six. Despite playing the final 15 minutes with a man advantage after Philadelphia’s Peter Stubbe was sent off for constant arguing by referee Tommy Clements, the hosts couldn’t score.
It’s funny how life works. After compiling two consecutive shutouts, Howard finally allowed a goal, but received a standing ovation from the fans when the referee called the game late in the second half a 2-1 victory at Washington Britannica on Dec. 3, the team’s first win in five attempts. An ASL opponent solved Howard for the first time in the 17th minute on Billy Fraser’s goal. Rochester equalized as Roberts outjumped two defenders to head home the goal in the 32nd minute, before the Lancers were given credit for a goal on a shot that was deflected by a Washington fullback into the net three minutes into the second half.
In an interview more than four decades later, Howard recalled that match like it was yesterday.
“I remember one trip on Dec. 3, 1967. We had to go to Washington to play a game,” he said. “This is before the days of charters and flights and things like that. We had to take this long bus journey. It was 13-14 hours from Rochester. We arrived just before the kickoff. We played a Washington team with a notable player — Peter McParland, who played in the F.A. Cup final for Aston Villa, very talented player. They had an experienced squad. we managed to eke out a 2-1 win against all odds in that game. it certainly made the journey back on the bus a lot more enjoyable than if we lost heavily. That was probably a significant game for me because there were scouts from the Detroit Cougars at that game. Shortly thereafter they got in touch with me and said, ‘Would you be interested in playing in the North American Soccer League?’ They already had signed an experienced goalkeeper in Jim Standen of West Ham United in England. They wanted a North American goalkeeper to back him up in that respect. It sounded great. Brand new league, lots of interest, excitement. I ended up going to the Motor City.”
If you want to find out more about Dick Howard and the original Rochester Lancers, you can purchase the book, ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers here: