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Robert D. "Bob" Benson

Bob Benson had a vision. When many others believed Charlotte and North Carolina couldn’t support major league professional sports, Benson saw a different future for the Carolinas.

Robert D. "Bob" Benson

North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame

Class of 2023

Robert D. “Bob” Benson

Bob Benson had a vision. When many others believed Charlotte and North Carolina couldn’t support major league professional sports, Benson saw a different future for  the Carolinas -- one that embraced  perhaps the unlikeliest sport at the time, professional soccer. Although he did not live to see Charlotte FC set the Major League Soccer single-game attendance record in its inaugural home match, Benson would not have been surprised. Forty years earlier, Benson’s Carolina Lightnin’ American Soccer League (ASL) franchise did something just as shocking. Not only did the Lightnin’ win the 1981 ASL Championship in its first year. It also led the ASL in average game attendance that year (and in each year the team played), culminating with packing Charlotte’s American Memorial Legion Stadium (20,163) for the 1981 ASL Championship match.  The leadership of the NBA Hornets, NFL Panthers, and Charlotte FC acknowledge Benson’s achievements in promoting soccer paved the way for these expansion franchises to arrive and thrive in Charlotte.


As Founder & President of Pnucor, a very succesful Charlotte-based sales engineering firm, Benson knew how to build a business. He also knew sports, having played varsity basketball for legendary coach Press Maravich at Clemson University. He also led Charlotte’s effort to revive the ABA Carolina Cougars. But Benson’s vision for major league sports in Charlotte focused on soccer. So, in 1979, Benson created Carolina Professional Soccer, Ltd., (CPS), for an expansion franchise in the NASL or ASL. The ASL awarded Benson a franchise to begin in May, 1981.


Benson was a hands-on leader, involved in every detail of the team, including selecting the team’s colors, designing the team’s logo (on a napkin, no less) and selecting Carolina Lightnin’ as the team name. Benson also surrounded himself with people who knew the sport. First was Ed Young as Director of Operations (a NCSHOF member), who was immersed in Soccer in Charlotte and throughout the State. Undoubtedly, one of the smartest moves Benson made was hiring Rodney Marsh as the team’s coach in September, 1980. The English soccer legend was internationally reknown for his skill, entertaining style of play and charismatic personality. In addition to playing with the English National Team and top-tier English squads, Marsh also was an NASL All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Even non-soccer fans knew Marsh as a member of Miller Lite’s highly popular “All-Stars” worldwide advertising campaign, which began just months before Benson hired Marsh. Marsh gave Benson’s expansion team instant credibility and media notoriety as a big-league operation. Suddenly, soccer was gaining attention in Charlotte and the Carolinas.


Beyond promoting the Lightnin’, Benson and Marsh were committed to growing the game throughout the Carolinas, which involved  sponsnoring and participating in numerous youth soccer clinics, high school sessions, camps, promotions and apperarances throughout the Carolinas. Benson also encouraged Marsh to recruit top tier players, including NASL and ASL All-Stars such as Joey Fink, Scott Manning,  Santiago Formoso, Mal Roche, future US Soccer Hall of Famer Paul Child, and even one of the greatest footballers in the world, Bobby Moore -Lightnin’ assistant coach. Benson, with concurrence from Marsh, also wanted local Carolina players for the professional squad, which led to the signing of  Tony Suarez, Bill Finneyfrock, David Pierce, Steve Scott, Rick Marvin and others, which provided inspiration to Carolinas’ high school and college players’ dreams of playing at the highest level. Ultimately, this strategy resulted in the CarolinaLightnin’ becoming  the inaugural NCSHoF Hall of Honor National Champions.


Because of Bob Benson vision and drive to grow soccer in the Carolinas, the Carolina Lightnin’s presence and accomplishments added momentum for the Beautiful Game to gain greater acceptance, approval and enjoyment in North Carolina. This commitment to promoting soccer remained 30 years later when Benson and Marsh ensured the inclusion and recognition of the NCSHOF as part of the public events celebrating the 30th anniversary of the team’s ASL Championship.


After more than 40 years, the Carolina Lightnin’ remains fondly remembered by many in North Carolina. This legacy includes youth and/or high school players at their first professional soccer match to watch in-person the game they love. It’s in the memories of 20,163 fans who witnessed the 1981 ASL Championship match. The soccer skills learned and developed by those in high school and/or youth program clinics featuring Rodney Marsh and Lightnin’ players coming to their town. It’s the genesis for loving the game of soccer among people whose first exposure was due to the vision and commitment of Bob Benson, many became soccer converts and advocates who furthered the growth of soccer in North Carolina.


Respectfully submitted: Bob Benson’s contributions to North Carolina soccer are consistent with and fully support the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame’s mission statement - "Promote and support the game of Soccer in the State of North Carolina; to recognize and honor those persons who have made significant contributions to the game of Soccer in the State of North Carolina."

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