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OBITUARY: Noel Lemon (1944-2012)
by Paul Kennedy, November 24th, 2012 7:27PM

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Noel Lemon, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 68, was perhaps best known as the general manager of the NASL Tulsa Roughnecks, but he also played a pivotal role in the history of American soccer as the promoter of international matches in the late 1980s and early 1990s, providing much-needed competition for the U.S. national team and keeping outdoor soccer alive the years between the end of the NASL and the launch of MLS.

A native of Northern Ireland, where he played for Glentoran and other clubs, Lemon later played for clubs in Philadelphia.

As general manager of the Tulsa Roughnecks during the heyday of the NASL, Lemon was one of league's most colorful executives.

"We've only been in the league two and a half years and already half the teams hate us," he famously said. "Give me another two years and we'll have them all."

Lemon was no longer general manager when the Roughnecks won the 1983 NASL Soccer Bowl, but he intervened on behalf of Tulsa to convince NASL President Howard Samuels to allow star Ron Futcher to play. The Englishman was suspended for yellow-card accumulation, but Lemon told Samuels the Roughnecks would not travel to the final unless Futcher played.

Futcher played -- and scored -- in Tulsa's 2-0 win over the Toronto Blizzard.

Weeks later, however, the Roughnecks were bankrupt. The club only stayed afloat into the 1984 season because of a radio campaign that raised $65,000 so it could make payroll. The NASL folded in 1985.

Lemon was one of the few executives from the NASL days to stay in the game. He and former NASL executive Clive Toye founded Mundial Sports Group, which promoted such events as the Marlboro Cup.

The Marlboro Cup was one of the first events that tapped into the market for international soccer matches in the United States. More important, the event provided competition for the U.S. national team that would go on to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, ending a 40-year drought.

It wasn't like today when the U.S. national team can play any team it wants, home or away. Many of the Marlboro Cup games were against South American club teams. The Mundial Sports Group remained active long after MLS took off.

Lemon also served as the president of the ASL Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.



5 comments
  1. Dave Wasser
    commented on: November 26, 2012 at 10:38 a.m.
    This is very sad. I got to know him over the past ten years. He was a very nice man, and devoted to the sport of soccer. He told me a year ago that he was writing his autobiography. It was going to be called "A Twist of Lemon." I wonder if he finished it before his death? Dave Wasser

  1. Julio Moreira
    commented on: November 26, 2012 at 5:37 p.m.
    Is a bad day for US Soccer, I knew Noel quite well, as a partner in many ventures of national and international soccer, flew together to many countries and shared his knowledge of the game, we put together many Marlboro games and founded together with Clive Toye the "Mundial Sports Group" . He was liked a lot in South America and also in Florida. My sincere condolence to all his family.

  1. C. Zee
    commented on: November 27, 2012 at 9:24 a.m.
    I certainlky hope that Noel is remembered for his great contributions to American Soccer. Today we regularly see visits from great soccer teams, but in the late 1980's and early 1990's - only Lemon was organizing these games. It was instrumental in getting the USA to its first World Cup in 40 years. Meanwhile, US Soccer was still working out of a hotel room in N.Y.. The Federation should at least acknowledge the man's passion in building the game here. Noel Lemon looked like a tough-guy, but had a heart of gold. Pele' always liked to call him "Chief". I will never forget him. R.I.P. Chief.

  1. Scott Salomon
    commented on: December 27, 2012 at 1:02 p.m.
    Noel Lemon was one of the foremost authorities of soccer in the United States. It was because of him that the World Cup came to play here and it was because of his awareness that the MLS began play. I knew Mr. Lemon for years as his attorney and as his friend and I will miss him a great deal. The Soccer world lost a friend when Mr. Lemon passed, the likes that we will never come to know again. Every St. Patty's Day I will lift a pint of Guiness in his honor. He would never let me drink anything but.

  1. Maricela Leighton
    commented on: December 6, 2013 at 11:39 a.m.
    I just found out about Noel; i had the privilege to work with him for a year at Mundial Sports Group. Good Memories. RIP


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