Mike Connell



Mike Connell (born November 1, 1956 in Mayfair, Johannesburg, South Africa is a former professional footballer. He played in his native South Africa as well as in the North American Soccer League.

Connell was born to Michael (Mickey) and Maria (Cookie) Connell. His siblings included two brothers James and Anthony and the oldest child, his sister Kathleen. His love for the game of soccer started on Dolphin Street in Mayfair. Pick up soccer games with kids from the neighborhood were always being played on the street outside the house. At times the black workers from the nearby NCD dairy would join in the games. Apartheid was at its height in the 1960's but no one seemed to care. It was just the game being played. Mike's real soccer education took place on the soccer field two blocks from the house. Bloch Park was the park where the semi professional soccer team Rangers Football Club practiced and where the youth teams of the club formed. Playing in black and white striped shirts of the Rangers Club was a must for any kid from the neighborhood. Watching the pros like Reg Randall, Archie Soekoe, Ronnie Koekemoer, Percy Owen, Ron Jones and others was the motivation for Mike Connell. His dream was to play for the first team on the great Johannesburg Rand Stadium where Rangers played their home games. But first he had to go through the ranks.

Sundays at Bloch Park was the day the neighborhood showed up to watch the local amateur teams play. Combined 11 and Tramway United played their home games at Bloch Park and most of the players were local legends. From 9am to 5pm Mike spent the day watching and playing pick up soccer games. It was on one of these days that Mike got seen. While playing with his brother James in a 1v1 game, the coach of James's team, Mr Sham, invited Mike to join the u11 team. Although only 9 at the time Mike did not hestitate to join up. As luck had it his first game would be against the rivals of Rangers. Highlands Park was a team from the northern suburbs. The game would be played a a first curtain raiser before a Rangers professional game and it would be played on the Rand Stadium. Although they were beated 9-2 that days Mike scored both goals and so began his journey to becoming a professional soccer player.

Through the early 70's Mike was selected to the all star teams and in 1971 and 1972 was selected to the South African Schoolboy team. Unfortunately South Africa was suspended from FIFA and no International games could be played. Alex Forbes, the manager of the professional team brought Mike into the first team squad. His full professional debut was made in 1972 at the age of 16 against Durban City. In 1973 Mike was invited to go on trial with Arsenal football club in England. He spent 6 months on trial but was not signed. He returned to Rangers. In 1974 Eddie Firmani, the new coach of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in Tampa USA, was scouting for players in South Africa. Rangers was playing Arcadia Shepherds who featured Steve Wegerle. After Mike was substituted his father confronted ALex Forbes on the field. An act Eddie Firmani realised gave him opportunity to get Mike. In 1975 at the age of 18 Mike arrived in Tampa Florida USA.