I’ve already booked my room for the NASL’s 50th anniversary event in Frisco, Tex., in October. It’s a milestone and gives me the opportunity to see so many friends and players I played with and against. I’m just excited about reconnecting with so many people who were a big part of a special time in my life.
Farrukh Quraishi took a curious route to the United States and the NASL.
Born in Iran, but living in England, Quraishi met Francisco Marcos in London. Marcos at the time was an assistant coach at Oneonta State in Upstate New York. Marcos convinced Quraishi to decamp for Oneonta, sight-unseen.
“I felt like a fish out of water,” Quraishi said. “People said that the NASL was unique. I would say the same about Oneonta. It was so different from where I’d come from, in the U.K. soccer was a way of life. But it was a very liberating experience to come to the U.S. and attend college — I met so many wonderful people, I played with excellent players from all over the world, I got an education. People were so hospitable, it made me feel at home though I was so far from home.”
Quraishi was named a first-time All-American in 1973 and 1974, winning the Hermann Trophy as the best collegiate player in the country that second year. That set him up, along with his association with Marcos, to continue his career in the fledgling NASL.
“Francisco was the first P.R. director for the Rowdies, and because [Eddie] Firmani was the coach he had limited experience with American soccer,” Quraishi said. “He didn’t know about American college soccer. Francisco was responsible for the Rowdies draft, while Eddie saw me in Senior Bowl. Francisco was responsible for taking me to Tampa [with the first overall pick in the draft].”
Through six seasons and 77 games (but no goals from his position as right back) Quraishi fell in love with the Tampa Bay area, and vice versa.
“In Tampa were the first pro team in town,” he said. “We preceded the [NFL] Bucs by one year and that gave us an advantage. When we were playing at Tampa Stadium, it was the place to go on a Saturday night if you wanted to see pro sports. Winning the championship in my first season was very big because in most places people love a winner. Contrast that with the poor Bucs. The community really embraced us as their team. We lived in apartment complexes where regular people lived, our contracts required us to make public appearances to promote the sport.”
In addition to being on the team’s playing roster, Quraishi was the club’s director of youth development, a position that gave him keen insight into soccer in the Tampa Bay area — the place he has remained — and remained active in the game in various incarnations, professional and amateur.
“I worked, as did all the other players, promoting the sport,” he said. “It’s why it became so popular. We would go to birthday parties, clinics in schools, at the Air Force base — really any time a crowd of people wanted the Rowdies to be there.”
During his time with the Rowdies, he said the club’s pre-eminent rivals were the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and of course the Cosmos, especially after Firmani left the Rowdies in 1978 to become the coach in New York, adding another element to the teams’ battles.
If was two years before Firmani made the move north — on July 14, 1976 at Yankee Stadium — that Quraishi recalled a particularly heated match against the Cosmos.
“We were winning 3-1 at halftime, the final was 5-4 for the Cosmos,” he said. “In that game Giorgio Chinaglia scored two in the first half, which would have made it 3-3. But each time the linesman put up his flag to call offside. You can imagine the reaction of the fans [there were nearly 28,000 in attendance]. It was a flashlight giveaway promotion that day. So here they all come flying out of the stands, thrown by fans who were upset with the linesman. It was pretty intense, a fantastic game to play in. Nine goals. Pelé, Chinaglia, Rodney Marsh. I was just a fan!”