Huntsville Fire / Eastern Indoor Soccer League / 1997 & 98
I picked up this Jersey/Shirt while in Amsterdam last year on a football tour, it has sat in the No Licence studio since & only today did I decide to do a bit of research. This is what I found out about Huntsville Fire & the Eastern Indoor Soccer League.
Eastern Indoor Soccer League (1997-98)
'The Eastern Indoor Soccer League (EISL) is a professional league based in the Southeastern United States. The league provides fast-paced action, affordable family entertainment and top player performances. In only its first season of play last summer, the EISL led all soccer minor leagues in attendance.
Many of the league's players come directly from the college ranks and are looking to the EISL as their first step into a professional soccer career. Other players will come from the existing ranks of professional soccer, looking to further improve their already existing skills. Add to these the foreign players that bring additional skill and international flare.
The EISL offers a dynamic and exciting game sure to please fans and players alike'
League founders Walt Edwards and Ron Spencer cashed in on the idea that a large crop of college soccer-playing seniors had no place to play once they graduated. A series of national combines were planned that provided the EISL with a player pool. 5 try outs took place and players received a rating - A, B, C or D. They were then dispersed through the EISL draft, with each team allotted a certain number of A picks, B picks and so on. Each EISL team was required to carry at least 2 regional players who were in some way products of the teams locale, either by residency or college. EISL players reportedly earned on average $350 per week plus living expenses.
Essentially an indoor 6 a side league, with free flowing substitutions, split into 3 20 minute thirds. 2 points are awarded for a goal, and three for a goal scored from beyond 45 feet or by the goal keeper It's played on a hockey rink sized carpet with goals 14 feet wide & 8 feet high.
Scoring system: 3 points for a win, 2 Shootout win, 1 shootout loss, 0 loss.
Daytona Speed Kings / Huntsville Fire (1997)
Daytona Speed Kings; a charter member of the EISL, were founded by Blake Cullen in 1997. Cullen had a history as a minor league baseball owner & purchased his newest franchise venture for $100,000, meaning he'd need to attract an average attendance of 3,000 to cover the $350,000 first year expenses. He'd do this by providing affordable family entertainment in a climate controlled venue, with most home games to be played on Friday nights.
The Speed Kings had, former Oxford United defender, Scott Cooper at the helm. His playing career had ended early due to a broken hip, and had since taken up various coaching rules in the US. His role at the Speed Kings was his first head coaching role.
The Daytona Speed Kings lost their first game 16-15 to the Savannah Rug Ratz, despite leading 11-0; with an estimated crowd of 600, well below the 2-3k predicted attendance. EISL attendances elsewhere were much higher with 7k & 5k in Lafayette & Tallahassee respectively.
Low attendances continued & after 8 games having taken heavy financial loss Cullen was forced to sell to Major League Indoor Football, Inc. who would move the franchise to Huntsville. The team's new ownership was funded by Dr. Gary Dresden and directed by his son, Bryan Dresden.
''I think moving the team is really going to be the best thing for the team. . . . We have a lot of confidence in the players and the coach,Scott Cooper. We think this team has a shot.''
The team continued as Huntsville Fire at their new home in Alabama, opening to a inaugural a crowd of 2.5k at the Von Braun Center. Under the continued guidance of Scott Cooper Huntsville fire finished 4th, however they were the highest scoring side offensively.
Huntsville Fire (1998)
Huntsville Fire returned for the 1998 season, with much optimism around a league title challenge; however they finished 3rd overall with a record of 16 Wins & 12 Losses. The move to Huntsville had helped attendances, with an average of 2,553 fans per game.
Unfortunately, the venture wasn't profitable for Fire owner & operations would cease at the end of the 1998 season, unless local investors would step forward. They didn't. And with similar stories in Alabama, Pensacola & Florida the league was left with only 5 active teams. Despite cutting the expansion fee from $50,000 to just $5,000 the EISL failed to find a 6th team & eventually closed it's doors on New Years Eve 1998.