Winston DuBose: Foreign Players in the Football League Interview

June 28, 2024 0 By Paul W

Winston DuBose was a US national team goalkeeper, and the first American player to try his luck in the Football League in modern times. He spent most of his career with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and won an NASL Championship with Tulsa Roughnecks in 1983, earning 14 caps for his country between 1979 and 1985.  

DuBose had three spells in England, firstly in the late 1970s at Southampton, then Ipswich Town while playing in the Southern League for Cambridge City, without making a first-team appearance. Gillingham were denied a work permit for him in 1981. Finally he returned to the Football League and signed for Oldham Athletic in the 1988/89 season, making a single senior appearance in the League Cup against Darlington in October 1988. I was at Boundary Park on a typically cold and windy night, wondering how an American goalkeeper had ended up there (he didn’t have much to do in a 4-0 win).  

Winston DuBose, Oldham Athletic

Winston DuBose, Oldham Athletic 1989

Mr. DuBose very kindly agreed to answer some questions about his Football League experiences, and shared his memories of that evening in Oldham. Many thanks to him for his time, and his insightful responses. 

Winston DuBose: interview questions 

When did you first become interested in playing in England, and what appealed to you about the Football League? 

My senior year in high school I was 17 years old. We went as a graduation present for finishing high school, on a remarkable three-week trip to England and Scotland. We visited Ibrox and Old Trafford, played against teams our age, and watched Liverpool train. I played a game for Marine FC, which was a real eye opener. I loved England and Scotland, especially the soccer, which was as popular as our American football. 

What were your first experiences of England and English football (very different conditions from Florida)? 

My first impressions were in June 1973 on that high school trip. See my comments above. However, I lived in Southampton for five months beginning in Sept 1977 to train with Southampton’s reserve/first team and on most afternoons the youth team. Southampton was big time, the players, the coaches, the reserve games… I loved every minute of it… couldn’t get enough soccer. Probably drove the players and coaches mad when I asked for more extra training. It was the only way I was ever going to get better. The soccer atmosphere was tremendous, and I never ever thought about the weather. It was all part of the experience. 

Winston DuBose, Tampa Bay Rowdies & Southampton

Winston DuBose, Tampa Bay Rowdies & at Southampton

What were your impressions of Southampton and Ipswich Town, and their managers Lawrie McMenemy and Bobby Robson? 

Great question…Both were fantastic teams with great managers!  

Southampton was in the First Division with players like Chris Nicholl, David Peach, Alan Ball, Peter Osgood, Phil Boyer, Ted MacDougall, Steve Williams… all internationals. The reserves were littered with very good players too, Hayes, Funnell, Andruszewski, Hebberd, Waldron, Shipley, Sharpe, Moran and all the rest. I loved just listening to the banter in the changing rooms after training… so awesome! Lawrie McMenemy was first class. He treated me wonderfully, and gave me a chance to train with Southampton. He also helped me to get valuable games with Cambridge City of the Southern League. That was another great experience. I played over two seasons, about 40 games, for Dave Worthington’s club. You may remember Frank Worthington, his brother. Lawrie was kind enough to allow me to come back the following season for another five-month stint.  

Then, I was fortunate enough to go to Ipswich Town F.C. after our 1979 season, from Dec 1979-Feb 1980. What a fantastic experience! Every player in the first team and some in the reserves, were internationals, Butcher, Osman, Burley, Mills, Wark, Muhren, Thijssen, Mariner, Brazil, Gates, Beattie, Allan Hunter, Clive Woods, etc. In the reserves were Yallop, Putney, d’Avray, McCall, Parkin, etc… and they were all very good players themselves. No wonder when I played six games in the reserves, we won them all. Please forgive me if I left anyone out, it’s not deliberate. 

Mr. Robson was so kind, and gracious to me. I’ll never forget him. He took me to a Liverpool v Norwich City game in December. We sat in the directors’ box with his friends. I don’t think I hardly spoke as I was so in awe of him, and didn’t want to say something stupid. He didn’t have to do that for me. He made a huge impression on me as a man and leader. Towards the end of my stay he told me Hull City came in for me at 50,000 pounds, and Gordon Jago, the Rowdies coach, would not let me go. He also said he liked me, but with the internationals he had, and a very good goalkeeper in Paul Cooper, I would never get a game at Ipswich. I respected that as a player, he was always fair, and direct. That’s all you ever want as a player, employee, husband or wife. 

I will always be grateful to Lawrie McMenemy, Mr. Robson, the players, coaches, and staff of both clubs, including Cambridge City… they helped me to improve my game by LIGHT YEARS. I never would have been an American international, and played for as long as I did, without all of their help. 

Did England improve your game – were the keepers at those clubs helpful? 

Please see above comments. Ian Turner, Peter Wells, and Terry Gennoe at Southampton, and Paul Cooper and Laurie Sivell at Ipswich were all very helpful and kind to me. I learned a lot from each of them at training and in games. Each was very different in their own way, and all successful in their careers. Paul Cooper was especially good at penalties… I loved watching how he did that very difficult task. 

Lawrie McMenemy - Bobby Robson - Paul Cooper (Panini Football 80)

How would you compare the NASL and the Football League at that time (late 1970s-early 80s)? 

You can’t compare the two. No league in America has come close to the English First Division or EPL. Yes, there were teams that would do well in summer tournaments with English clubs, kinda like it is today. Even the New York Cosmos with all their stars would go on world tours, and do very well away from home. But to compete in the First Division for a season, they would be crushed… Not enough depth and quality to last 40-50 games in difficult conditions and pitches.  

That is not to say that many of the teams in the NASL were poor. On the contrary, the majority of teams had excellent European, Mexican, South American stars that played in World Cups. For example in Tampa, we had Rodney Marsh, and a ton of excellent players to complement him from the English First Division and Europe, Wegerle, Anderson, McLeod, Gorman, Connell, Kozic, Auguste, Van der Beck, McGuire, Paddon, Fabbiani, etc, Beckenbauer, Neeskens, Suurbier, Best, Cruyff, Van der Veen, Van Beveren, Alan Hudson, Hugo Sanchez on and on… a lot of star power on most teams. 

I think ‘some of the teams’ including Tampa would have been better suited in the Second Division to compete for a season. It would be a battle, but I think the better teams would have stayed up.  

You were an international goalkeeper, but unknown in England. How frustrating was it trying to break through as a foreign player – and to get a work permit? 

It was very hard… #1 … when I was in England, American soccer was looked down on as not being as serious as European soccer. We tried new ideas, such as the offside line and the 35-yard shootout. 

#2… I did get very frustrated when Gillingham, coached by Keith Peacock, came in for me (1981). Keith was our first team coach at Tampa for two years, and was very acquainted with my play and training habits. For that I will always be grateful to him and his staff. I was denied by the Labor board [Department of Employment] even though I was an international, and would play another four years for the USA in International competitions. It was just very hard then, and no American was playing in England at the time. Understandable, but very frustrating. 

Did you consider trying to move to an English (or European) club after the collapse of the NASL in 1984? 

I had overtures, but nothing really materialized. It was a dead spot in American soccer for the next four years, until the APSL (American Professional Soccer League) began with 10 teams. It was only outdoor all-star exhibitions which were good, and the MISL indoor soccer which didn’t really suit me. 

Winston Dubose, Ipswich Town

Can you explain how you returned to England several years later, with Oldham Athletic? 

Rodney Marsh was instrumental in helping me to fulfil a lifelong dream, to play with a work permit in England, the best football in the world. Rodney was the manager/coach of the Tampa Bay Rowdies that started again in the APSL in 1988. After our season ended in Aug, I went on a tour of Scotland as a guest player of the Orlando Lions, APSL team. We played Celtic, Aberdeen, etc. Rodney knew I wanted to stay in England because our break was six months long in America. He contacted Joe Royle at Oldham. He knew Joe and Willie Donachie (Joe’s assistant). He arranged for a tryout with Oldham, I was fortunate enough that Joe wanted me to stay on at Oldham. I was elated when the Labor board and PFA agreed to the work permit. A fairytale story of a “dream come true”. 

I hope I never disappointed Joe and Willie as I worked my socks off to prove my worth as a player to them! 

I will always be grateful to Rodney for helping me to get to England, and for Joe Royle, his coaches, staff and players for making me feel so welcome. I still keep in touch with Gary Williams, and Ron Futcher, who both played at Oldham. Ron now lives in Tampa. 

What do you remember of your Oldham debut, against Darlington in the League Cup? 

Windy, rainy and the most difficult game to kick a ball in I’ve had in my life. Oldham had the windiest field in England, and also it was artificial turf. Kinda like playing on cement with a bit of fake grass on it… Rough. Willie Donachie played right back and every time I had a goal kick he would push up and then drop back so I could pass it to him. No way I could get the ball to the halfway line with goalkicks, or out of my hands. Kinda embarrassing. Then, in the second half, I punted it ¾ the length of the field, and it would bounce into the penalty area. So crazy 😉. 

I just didn’t want to let the team down. Fortunately, we won 4-0. I will always think I deserved more games, but it was not to be, and part of being a professional athlete. 

The good news was that other teams in the 3rd/4th division wanted me on loan, but the PFA stopped that a year before… ugh. 

How did you find the club and manager Joe Royle? Did any players stand out? 

Joe and Willie were brilliant! Excellent coaches, and good at getting the most out of players. Joe was especially good at spotting players to bring to the club, developing them, and selling them for big transfer fees. He kept that club alive for a long time. For that opportunity at Oldham, I will always be grateful to both of them, and Rodney Marsh for setting it up. 

Players that stood out were many… Irwin, Marshall, Barrett, Milligan, Palmer, Williams, Warhurst, Holden and many others… 

Winston Dubose, Cambridge City

Would you have liked to stay, if things had worked out differently? 

Of course I would have liked to stay, but it wasn’t to be… after I left in late March of 1989, Mark Lawrenson came to the Rowdies and played for a season. What a passer of the ball!! He applied for a work permit for me at Northampton where he went to coach… unfortunately, it was denied, as I needed to have played more games with Oldham… I understood, but was disappointed. 

 How would you compare your experience to the many US players who followed you in English football – Roy Wegerle, John Harkes, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard – do you ever discuss it with them? 

I see Roy occasionally for a game of golf with his brother Steve and friends, I have spoken to Tim Howard, and have only met Harkes and Keller once. No, we never discuss that at all… if anything we talk about some things of the past, but mostly how they and their family are doing, what’s new in their life, etc.  

I love the fact that we all did something that very few people in this world get to do… it’s a true privilege… and talking about it for a bit is fine… I prefer to talk about the present and the future, not just about football (soccer), but world events, things that make a difference in people’s lives, and living out your faith from a Christian worldview. 

Winston DuBose, Ipswich Town & Gillingham (work permit letter)

Winston DuBose, Ipswich Town & Gillingham (work permit letter)

A big thank you to Neil Harvey (Cambridge City Club Historian), Tim Hodge and his colleagues Ralph Morris and Alasdair Ross at Pride of Anglia, Duncan Holley (Southampton Club Historian), OAFC Memories and Allan Tyrer (Gillingham FC Scrapbook) for going out of their way to provide information and rare images for this post.