ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Dennis Lawson is a Tampa Bay Rowdies fan that takes his passion for the team beyond his front-row seat on a game day.
During every weekday practice, behind the chain-linked fence, he takes his front-row standing-room-only spot.
“Obviously, I love going to the games that are exciting,” Lawson told ABC Action News sports anchor Kyle Burger. “But when you come to training sessions like this it’s, there’s a purity to it.”
Just soccer. No lights. No cameras, just the game in its purest form. That’s why Lawson, a 73-year-old retired librarian, rides his bike just a few blocks each morning to Al Lang Stadium.
“I just look at their enthusiasm, working together they are just a great bunch of guys,” Lawson said. “You can tell they are having fun.”
At first, members of the team could not tell who was watching.
“We thought it was either Max and Lewis’ dad. ‘Your dad is out a training every day?,’” Rowdies midfielder Zach Steinberger said. “We found out it was just good ole Dennis.”
Lawson was first introduced to soccer when he moved from Indiana to St. Petersburg about a decade ago.
“I need to get involved in something,” he said. “I was never too involved in sports and then I latched onto the Rowdies. It’s an exciting team and an exciting sport.”
Just a few feet from the spot where he stands, hands gripping the fence, is an open gate. But he would never walk through to get a better view.
“I don’t want to seem like a groupie, ya know,” Lawson said. “I just want to enjoy the guys and watch them. I’ve never thought about that, well I have thought about it.”
That thought became true after Tuesday’s practice. Head coach Neill Collins invited him to speak to the team.
“I didn’t say what I should have. He caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I don’t even remember what I said. I was just so excited to be there to get to talk to the team. I should have said what I said to you, it was an honor to just watch them.”
“It wasn’t so much what he said, but the expression on his face, the gratitude he shows for us, and the gratefulness we have for him and his support,” Steinberger added.
“These guys, I know this sounds kind of silly,” Lawson went on. “Watching how they work together and winning, they lose sometimes, but they make me want to be a better person. I see them and it’s inspiring.”
The Rowdies will play in the USL Championship final against Orange County on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Al Lang Stadium.