Outdoor soccer fans at Wembley Stadium in London and the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro are known for their colorful, boisterous and sometimes outlandish behavior.
Now, the Americanized indoor game can claim the San Diego Sockers’ fans.
Never a quiet group, the 10,059 fans at Tuesday night’s 7-0, series-clinching win over the Minnesota Strikers were particularly vocal, involved and even unruly.
At the end of the third quarter, during the players’ traditional clapping for the fans, Sockers Coach Ron Newman felt obligated to have a chat with the fans over the Sports Arena loudspeaker.
“Listen fans,” Newman said. “You are the best in the world. We want to win graciously. Please don’t throw things on the floor.”
It was not always pretty out there on Tuesday night.
There were four unsportsmanlike penalties, far more things thrown on the field, and Strikers goalkeeper Tino Lettieri had to be escorted from the field at the end of the game.
“It was a good crowd, but when they start throwing ice and coins, they can hurt a player,” said Lettieri, the primary victim of the San Diego fans.
“Do whatever you want,” Lettieri said, “but don’t hurt the players. You have to stay away from being that obnoxious and rude.
“I understand that the fans don’t think the Sockers are the kind of team that should be taken to five games by a team like Minnesota, but I’d hate to see San Diego lose its franchise because of its fans,” Lettieri said.
The San Diego fans felt their team had been victimized by the Dale Decision that turned Sunday night’s apparent semifinal-clinching, 4-3 shootout win into a loss.
They were determined to show Major Indoor Soccer League Chairman Francis Dale, the Strikers and the MISL just how displeased they were.
And they were determined to show support for their Sockers. After all, any team that needs to win four games to capture a best-of-five series deserves all the cheering it can get.
“It was a marvelous crowd,” Newman said. “We got the fans and the city behind us. That decision was not just an insult to us, it was an insult to the city of San Diego.”
Before the Minnesota players took the field and the boos began, satirical signs were already hanging in the arena.
“Sockers vs. MISL,” “More Indoor Soccer Lunacy,” “Mostly Idiotic Soccer League,” “MISL is a Joke,” and “Major Inconsistent Soccer” were among the most notable signs.
Or how about “Dump Dale,” “The Commissioner Eats Quiche” and “Say Ludicrous, Scandalous, Ridiculous, Unbelieveable, and Crazy, Crazy, Crazy.”
By the time the Strikers players had an opportunity to see the signs, they had already had some kind of day.
They arrived in San Diego at midday Tuesday and were immediately harassed at their hotel. Things were thrown at the players’ rooms, and some players had to have their rooms switched.
One of those players was Lettieri, a talented and flamboyant player who San Diego fans chose to treat as the No. 1 villain.
As soon as Tino and Ozzie, his stuffed parrot, came onto the field, the boos began. The fans started waving stuffed parrots with lines slashed through them, and hanging replicas of Ozzie in effigy.
When the game started, it got even worse for Lettieri.
“Even a man with his experience as a professional found it very difficult to handle that crowd,” Newman said. “The crowd put pressure on him.”
And took some of the pressure off the Sockers.
Once the fans had taunted the Strikers, they set their sights on applauding the Sockers.
“My body was renewed when I came on the field,” Steve Zungul said.
And Zungul did not even get the biggest round of applause.
That was saved for Jacques Ladouceur, who has become a folk hero after the incident on Sunday night. Ladouceur is known more for the goal that was taken away from him than for his five regular season goals.
It was the non-goal and the win-turned-loss that was the impetus for Tuesday night’s explosion by both the team and the fans.
Fittingly, when the game ended, Sockers owner Bob Bell raised his hands as if he had won the heavyweight championship of the world.
It was that kind of night at the Sports Arena.