LOST BOYO IN ORLANDO (2012-present)
OTHER CLUBS: Portsmouth, Stoke City, Torquay (Loan), Plymouth (Loan), Grimsby (Loan), Bristol Rovers (Loan), Southampton, Lincoln City (Loan), Stockport County (Loan), Barnet (Loan), Aldershot
WALES CAREER: Wales U21 (4 caps)
“Tony Pulis, one hell of a bloke/ Tony Pulis, he manages Stoke/ Tony Pulis, he’s not from Brazil…he’s from the Port and he was born in Pill”
In this piece of lyrical poetry by the ever eloquent Goldie Lookin’ Chain (GLC) tells us of the routes of one of the Premiership’s most stable managers, Tony Pulis, who was born and raised in Newport. The GLC’s song chronicles the life and times of his personal and footballing career. However, one aspect which the song forgets to mention (in its brief 1 minute 53 seconds of chronicling) is that Tony Pulis also has a footballing son, a player which most of the footballing world is oblivious too or has forgotten about – myself included. Anthony Pulis has recently become one of the adventurous souls to travel over the ‘pond’ to ply his trade and is now one of the few Welsh footballers who is a current Lost Boyo having recently signed for USL Pro side, Orlando City.
Tony’s full name is Anthony Richard Pulis, but for the sake of this piece, we’ll stick with referring to the Stoke manager as Tony Pulis and his son as Anthony Pulis.
It could be argued that Anthony Pulis is a “Lost Semi-Boyo” as he was born over the border in Bristol on 27th July 1984, while Dad Tony was playing for Bristol Rovers. However, Pulis’ only international experience has come with the Welsh U21s who he featured for on 4 occasions, so he is eligible for Lost Boyo status.
In 1989, following a successful playing career in the lower leagues as a no-nonsense defender, Tony Pulis returned to a financially stricken Bournemouth for a second stint, this time in a player/coach role and eventually stepping up to become Assistant Manager, aiding a rookie manager named Harry Redknapp. When Redkanpp left the club for pastures new, Pulis took over as manager. Pulis’ management career continued in the south of England with spells at Gillingham (where he oversaw that famous Division Two Playoff final defeat to Manchester City), Bristol City and Portsmouth. Whilst his Dad was at the helm, Anthony joined him at Portsmouth as a trainee and turned professional with the club in 2003, 3 years after his father had been sacked by the club. Pulis’ only appearance for the club would come in a League Cup fixture as a substitute in his adopted homeland in a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City at Ninian Park.
After Pulis Jnr.’s career began to stagnate at Portsmouth, he was offered the opportunity to reunite with his old gaffer, Pulis Snr., at Stoke City; Anthony signed up on a two and half year contract for the club in 2004. Immediately Anthony went out on loan to Torquay United, but once again he struggled to get into the starting XI and was recalled back to the Stoke. Tony Pulis was replaced by Johan Boskamp at Stoke and Anthony was confided to limited appearances for the Potters. This led to him reuniting with his Dad for the third time in his career, this time in a loan spell at Plymouth Argyle, who Pulis Snr. had just taken over as manager.
Anthony Pulis’ career would follow this pattern for most of his career. On returning to Stoke, he failed to make any impact at Stoke (even after his father took over the club for a second time) and so he was loaned out again to Grimsby Town and then to Dad’s old club, Bristol Rovers.
Following Stoke’s unpredicted survival in their first Premiership season, they strengthened their squad significantly, forcing Tony Pulis to push his son towards the exit door. Stoke’s assistant manager, Dave Kemp, lamented:
“He’s a great lad, he’s been very popular here but obviously it’s difficult when your father is the manager.”
Pulis was snapped up on a free transfer by a financially decimated Southampton who were preparing for a tough season in the Championship (eventually resulting in relegation). Pulis struggled to even get in the match day squad at Southampton. He was loaned out to clubs in the lower leagues over his three years with the club: Lincoln City, Stockport County, where he chalked up his only career goal so far and Barnet, where he got sent off on his debut. Pulis was released by the Saints in 2011 having made zero first team appearances for the club. Aldershot snapped up Pulis on a free transfer at the start of the 2011/12, but similarly to rest of his career, he failed to settle at the League Two club: enter Orlando City.
Orlando City are still in their neoteric stages with the United States Leagues (USL) only announcing the creation of a team in the Florida area in March 2010; in October of the same year the name of the club was unveiled as Orlando City Soccer Club and they were added to the roster of the newly created USL Pro League, essentially a rebranding of American third tier, behind the NASL and the flourishing MLS. The club actually began life as Austin Aztec, but following a more attractive offer the owners relocated the club from Austin to Florida.
Orlando City’s inaugural game came against MLS side Philadelphia Union, who they beat 1-0. There was a massive buzz around the place leading up to the game and it became apparent that there was definitely a craving for a football club in the state of Florida.
The club play their home fixtures at the nicely-named Florida Citrus Bowl, a stadium that has been around since the 1930s under various guises (Orlando Stadium, Tangerine Bowl) and has been home to various short-lived, Florida-based, American football teams such as the Florida Blazers, The Orlando Thunder and the Florida Tuskers. The stadium was also used during the 1994 World Cup where it hosted 4 games, including 2 losses for the Irish against Mexcio and their 2nd Round knockout at the hands of Holland; the stadium even hosted Wrestlemania in 2008!
Orlando City’s first foray into the newly-devised USL Pro League could not have gone any better as they finished the regular season at the top of the league, thus claiming the USL Pro Regular Season Title (the 24 game league format) before going on to beat the Harrisburg City Islanders on penalties in a thrilling playoff final, to win the USL Pro Championship; the playoff format is much-loved by the organisers of American soccer it seems. The team further demonstrated their qualities in a 1-0 friendly victory of Newcastle United and a battling display against Bolton Wanderers, which Orlando lost 3-1.The team was also a success off the field as their average attendance exceeded 5,000, massively overshadowing other teams in the league, with the exception of the long running (long running for a US team anyway) Rochester Rhinos.
The club takes great pride in its off field actions, so much so that every player is expected to aid the community surrounding the club. Pulis will be entering a club where it is a compulsory requirement of every player to fulfil a minimum of28 hours of community service each season. Owner Phil Rawlins claims this is to inspire the young people in the local community; he explains, “Once kids latch on to a player they tend to follow them and they want to be around them and see them play.” Rawlins goes on further to state that he feels it is the player’s responsibility to be a “good citizen” – a very traditional British value for a club that appears to be steeped in British-ness.
Anthony Pulis is now 27 and has scraped together just under 50 first team appearances for his various clubs in the English football pyramid, never playing more than 13 games for one club; this reason is perhaps what has inspired his decision to make a new start in a new league, in a new country.
Pulis will not be the first former Stoke player to feature for the club either; former Republic of Ireland U21 international and Stoke City player James O’ Connor has also recently signed for the club. The team’s first ever goal came from a former Stoke player, Lewis Neal; 24 seconds into the 19 minute of every game, many fans still celebrate this goal with the 19th minute representing the time the historic goal was scored and the 24th second representing Lewis Neal’s shirt number.
The Stoke connection doesn’t end with the players lining up for the club, as the team are led by Head Coach, Adrian Heath, a former Potter but perhaps most famous for his time with Everton in the early 80s. Heath managed the team in their original Austin Aztec incarnation. The man responsible for the creation of the Austin Aztecs in 2007 and then their move from Austin to Orlando, Phil Rawlins, is also a board member at Stoke City, a businessman who has spent the past 20 years in the States. Many of the ex-Stoke players are also clients with the Stoke based agency company, Beswick Sports, which has negotiated several deals in the past with USL clubs; this link is surely what brought Anthony Pulis to the attention of Orlando City and visa-versa.
Heath was full of praise for his new signing, Pulis, citing his combative nature as a key reason why he signed him and to replace the departing Lawrence Olum, the Kenyan midfielder who left the club for the glittering lights of MLS side Sporting Kansas City. Heath added, “He’s another piece of the puzzle, and we’re very pleased to have him here.” Pulis will not bring any flair to the table in Orlando, but he has demonstrated when he has actually played some football, to be a tough-tackling enforcer and generally tidy passing footballer. On Stoke’s website, covering the story of their former player moving to the US, they dubbed him as a ‘technical gifted player’ much to the amusement of Stoke forum users.
When Dad Tony was asked about his son’s move he stated his delight about the move and also explained that his wife’s sister, Anthony’s aunt, lived 20 minutes outside of Orlando. Unwittingly, Tony perhaps even demonstrates how far his son has slipped off the footballing radar when he claimed that it might be easier to keep tabs on his son through his links with Orlando City than it was when he was playing in the lower leagues of this country.
Many people are not aware, but Pulis Snr. himself is a former Lost Boyo having spent a season at the amazingly named Happy Valley in Hong Kong after leaving Bristol Rovers. His Lost Boyo stint was short-lived though; after spending one season with Happy Valley and making 13 appearances for the club, he moving back to Bristol Rovers.
This weekend, Pulis, made his first appearance for the Lions in a preseason friendly, a repeat of last year’s fixture with Philadelphia Union, who featured one of football’s all-time great over-hyped youngsters that never quite made it, Freddy Adu. Orlando also gave a debut to the recently signed John Rooney, brother of Wayne, who had played alongside Thierry Henry at the New York Red Bulls the previous season. Unlike their first ever fixture, Orlando did not win this time, but they did claim a well-earned 1-1 draw after they equalised in the 93rd minute (check out the link for the most dramatic highlights music ever) through Max Griffin who scored past, as the club website described him, the “Union netminder” Chase Harrison – a brilliant name. Pulis made his debut in front of an impressive 5,963 fan and played the full 90 minutes, a rare achievement in his career so far. Orlando displayed some excellent short passing football during the game, much of which involved Pulis in the centre of midfield alongside James O’ Connor (their passing style demonstrated here in this video 1.10-1.46).
Pulis has clearly joined one of the most up-and-coming and ambitious clubs in the US. Playing in the USL Pro is not going to enhance Pulis’ chances of featuring for Wales, but it is good to see that it looks like he is finally going to get some proper game time at a club and credit to him for making a go of it over the pond. However, Pulis’ chances of getting anywhere near the Wales squad could be improved if Orlando City could achieve its target of becoming an MLS franchise in the next 3 years, a very attainable target for the club with Rawlins already in talks with MLS officials about the prospect of this happening:
“They’ve (MLS) been following us and they’ve been watching us. They were very complimentary and positive about what we were doing and the success we’ve had in the last season … We’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement with them and we’re looking at the business models. We’re looking at what the numbers look like to bring MLS soccer to Central Florida.”
The club’s desire to enter the MLS has been clear since the move to Florida, as “Coach Heath” describes after the first game of last season:
“One of the reasons we came here, and we make no bones about it, is that we want to develop this team into an MLS franchise in a couple of years and we think Orlando can do that for us.”
Hopefully, the fact that Pulis has family nearby will mean that he can stay at the club for a while and have a little bit of stability in his career and maybe still be at the club when it becomes an MLS franchise.
We will keep an eye on Anthony Pulis throughout the USL Pro season.