Birmingham Bandits (soccer team)

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The Birmingham Bandits were a proposed professional indoor soccer team which would have played in the Super Soccer League (SSL). The league was founded by Dennis Murphy, Jerry Saperstein, Richard Ragone and Norm Sutherland in January 1978. The promoters secured a $2.5 million television deal with 20th Century Fox and hoped to begin play by May of that year, but found little success recruiting potential team owners. By the end of spring, only a few cities, including Birmingham along with Shreveport, Louisiana; Miami, Florida; Hollywood, California; Toronto, Ontario; and Washington D.C. had signed on. Former Birmingham Americans owner Bill Putnam was the league's vice president of operations.

Super Soccer League rules were heavily influenced by hockey. 60-minute matches, divided into three 20-minute periods, were to be played by two six-man teams. The indoor field would have padded walls instead of boundary lines, and larger goals to encourage scoring. Teams were allowed unlimited substitution and players would be sent to a penalty box for body checking and other offenses.

Birmingham's franchise was owned by Billy Lyons, president of Mobile's Riley Chemical Corporation, who signed a lease to play 16-20 home games in the BJCC Coliseum with tickets priced at $3.50-$4.50 each. Lyons hired English footballer Gordon Fearnley as coach of a team that was then rumored to be named the Birmingham Bankers. On May 31 the name "Bandits" was announced, along with the results of the inaugural SSL draft held in New York City. Birmingham's first player drafted was John Hazel of Scotland. Alaina Jones, formerly director of public relations for the league, joined the Birmingham club as general manager. In early July Jones and Fearnley told the Birmingham News that neither they nor the players they had brought to town had been paid in weeks. Lyons disputed their account and added that the players were never placed under contract.

As the league's struggles persisted, competing leagues began to appear, including Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), which successfully kicked off in December 1978. The SSL's own kick-off date was pushed back to late summer, fall, and eventually to the summer of 1979. The delays, however, complicated the position of existing owners, and eventually voided the television deal. The entire league evaporated before any teams took the field. Hazel returned to Scotland and played the 1979 season with the Alloa Athletic F.C. of Clackmannanshire.

Fearnley and Jones, who met in Birmingham as unpaid staffers of the Bandits, later married. Fearnley went on to become a player-manager for the Cleveland Force of the MISL.

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