A long time ago in a sports galaxy far, far away, he was known as “Iron Mike,” the most durable and, perhaps, the most recognizable of the area’s first, and most loved, pro franchise, the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
These days, more than 20 years removed from his North American Soccer League playing days, Mike Connell sometimes feels more like a rust bucket than a finely tuned athlete who matched wits with world famous soccer stars like Pele, George Best, Giorgio Chinaglia and Johan Cruyff to name a few.
His knees are shot, largely. His endurance is practically non-existent, on and off the field, and those heady playing days, including that championship ring he earned with the 1975 Rowdies, are far behind the former sweeper who came to Tampa Bay as a fresh-faced, spindly-legged 18-year-old teenager from Johannesburg, South Africa.
As he approaches the daunting half-century age mark in a few years, the hair is gray – although it is all still there and hasn’t fallen out like many of his teammates – and he’s felt great angst this fall when he sent his daughter, Ashton, off to the University of Florida for her freshman year.
The memories of his playing career, which ended in 1984 when the NASL folded, included a four-year tenure as club captain and a 1980 all-star selection. Connell played nearly 350 games – and over 25,000 minutes - in the green and gold, the most of any ever to wear a Tampa Bay uniform. Connell did that in nine full seasons, playing regular season games - outdoor and indoor - as well as international exhibitions.
He keeps his hand – and feet – in the game he so loves as a youth soccer coach in Tarpon Springs, as well as coaching with HCU and Temple Terrace youth soccer leagues.
If that’s not enough, Connell has built two businesses since his soccer retirement.
He’s President of Mike Connell Enterprises. One business, Source and Solution, is a supplier of ATM and computer parts worldwide and recently formed a partnership with former teammate Mark Lindsay to provide networking solutions and support to small and medium-sized companies in the Tampa Bay area.
Connell’s other company, MCE, produces embroidered corporate and logo wear for area companies.
If all that’s not enough, there’s another Connell creeping onto the local soccer scene. Seven-year-old Mike, a whirling dervish of soccer ability and knowledge and a Manchester United fan, keeps the former Rowdie defender and his much younger, hot, and perky school teacher wife, Kimberly, on their toes, both athletically and scholastically.