WORLD CUP USA 1994 : A Tale of Nine Cities : Finding the Best and Worst at World Cup Venues, Where New York Meant New Jersey, Boston Meant Tribal Dancing in the Streets and a Rose Bowl Sno-Cone Meant $2.50
They came for the soccer.
We gave them Americana.
Their tickets entitled them to World Cup games.
We threw in an education in United States history, geography, and the economics of the $20 baseball cap.
They expected an athletic tournament.
We staged a county fair, featuring nine exhibits stretched across 3,000 miles, with people and surroundings as varied as our twangs.
Visitors to the Boston venue will remember the success of the Soccer Train, a commuter rail and site of opposing pep rallies on the 50-minute trip to Foxboro Stadium.
Imagine that, longtime Bostonians said. A culture clash where nobody gets hurt.
Visitors to the Dallas venue will remember our failures: the blight around the aging Cotton Bowl, the empty seats inside, the construction-hampered traffic flow that turned game days into nightmares.
For nearly a month, in nine locations, the world has applauded our wonders, cringed at our bruises, and, in some places, even felt our embrace.
So how did we do?
Sometimes, we shined. Other times, we stumbled.
Sometimes we yelled too much, pushed too much. When the rest of the world was rushing joyfully out of a subway or dancing through an alley, often we put up our dukes and played the frightened bullies.
But we also smiled a lot, and listened a lot, and sometimes accepted that which we did not understand.
Like those hourlong postgame fan celebrations that forced stadium police to work overtime. We eventually realized something could not be so bad if it made so many people so happy.
We hollered and hugged, we were impatient and helpful. In other words, we were ourselves.
Sometimes we thrilled. But other times, we disappointed.
Visitors to the New York venue will remember what Dublin sales representative Gerry Taylor remembers.
Taylor learned on the first weekend that despite slick World Cup advertisements, New York was not New York.
Just as Boston was not Boston, but Foxboro. And Detroit was not Detroit, but Pontiac. And Los Angeles was Pasadena.
And New York was actually a smelly, industrial area in northern New Jersey.
Taylor left his Manhattan room early one Saturday morning, four hours before the opener between Italy and Ireland.
He wrapped himself in an Irish flag and planned on a making a pregame stop in a pub next door to Giants Stadium.
“Do this all the time in Dublin,” he said. “Pop a few Guinness at the pub, talk to other fans, get ready for the game.”
But upon arriving in East Rutherford, N.J., he realized the only thing he could drink next door to the stadium was toxic waste.
There wasn’t a pub in sight. Or a store. Or a house. Or even a street that wasn’t an expressway.
He spent the next three hours sitting with two friends on a curb, cursing his introduction to sports in America.
“Are all stadiums like this, away from cities, in the middle of nothing?” he asked. “Seems to me it must be hard to have good sports in places like this, isn’t it? We are let down.”
The only thing we can assure him, and others as disillusioned as Taylor, is it wasn’t because we didn’t try.
Rating the 1994 World Cup venues, best and worst of show:
* BEST: We knew this would be a great spot from the moment we first bit into something called “the Belly Buster,” sold at a hot dog stand near Soldier Field.
Ingredients: Polish beef dog, relish, ketchup, mustard, onions and jalapeno peppers. It lived up to its billing. Trust us.
And so did everything else.
Soldier Field is the perfect location for an international event, being just a short cab ride from one of America’s great downtowns.
Michigan Avenue has been buzzing for a month, what with German tourists in Bermuda shorts buying black patent leather shoes to accompany their white socks. At night, horse-drawn carriages fought with taxis for street space in some of the best action since Ben Hur.
* WORST: The only people who didn’t enjoy themselves here were the Greeks, both the national soccer players and the large Chicago-area community that gathered to watch them one Sunday morning against Bulgaria.
Greece lost that game, 4-0. In the process, the teams drove Greek fans so crazy they started seeing things.
At one point during the game, a Greek tossed a smoke bomb on the field, later claiming it was tradition to do so after his team scored.
His team is back in Athens, and it still hasn’t scored.
* IMPRESSIONS: The World Cup’s kind of town, Chicago is. Not only were the streets brimming with international flavor, the shuttle system to Soldier Field was so efficient that cabbies complained about not getting enough chances to rip people off.
Now that’s a venue.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: During a bachelor party held on the 36th floor of a prominent local hotel, somebody poured beer down the elevator shaft. By morning, the ale had dripped to ground floor and short-circuited the electrical system.
Many hotel guests--some checking out with reams of World Cup-related luggage--were forced to carry everything down 20 flights of stairs.
Once at the bottom, they had to tip valet-parking drivers for walking 10 steps to pick up their cars.
* BEST: We marveled not at a city’s effect upon a World Cup, but vice versa.
“What has happened to a town divided along ethnic lines has been remarkable,” said E.J. Kahn of the Boston Host Committee.
By order of Mayor Tom Menino, the historic City Hall area was turned over to foreigners of every imaginable color and tongue.
Old-timers who never thought they would see an African soccer team playing at the home of the New England Patriots also never thought they would see people dancing on their cobblestone streets in tribal costumes.
Police were particularly worried the night after Argentina had defeated Greece in a first-round game. While the Greeks partied in front of City Hall, the Argentines celebrated eight blocks away in Copley Square.
The fiestas drew closer and closer until five Argentine fans wearing blue-and-white uniform shorts stood directly behind a dozen Greeks dancing in a circle.
Just as security guards prepared to move in, the circle slowly opened, and the Greeks motioned for the Argentines to join them. The Argentines did.
The hardened city sighed.
* WORST: Many fans apparently didn’t realize that the game would be played about 45 minutes south of Boston in the desolate suburb of Foxboro.
And nobody knew that once they arrived at the stadium, in a forested area where parking availability seemed unlimited, parking spaces would cost $20 each.
Visitors got even with the World Cup Organizing Committee, though, by leaving their hotels in Boston and staying closer to the stadium in places such as Providence, R.I.
Our smallest state as a World Cup host? Not quite what organizers had in mind.
* IMPRESSIONS: The Northeast may have tried harder than any other area, and it showed.
The normally reserved Bostonians, ranked 28th out of 36 U.S. city residents in a recent survey rating kindness to strangers, discovered warmth and tolerance.
When dozens of Irish tourists were swindled out of tickets, Bostonians found them more. When foreigners didn’t understand those distinct accents, Bostonians spoke more slowly.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: For an hour after Argentina’s victory over Greece, more than a hundred Argentine fans remained at Foxboro Stadium, dancing and singing.
Police politely asked them to leave their seats, but the group only moved as far as the lower concourse. Thirty minutes later, police finally escorted them down the concourse and out the front gates, where they continued to party.
Was the game that exciting? Well, yes and no. With this stadium being 20 miles from the nearest decent-sized city, they had nowhere else to go.
* BEST: From the World Cup volunteers to city cab drivers, we appreciated the people. Amid bleak surroundings and uncomfortable temperatures, they provided the venue with some badly needed touches of humanity.
One hero was Laura Addington, a schoolteacher from Louisiana. She served as an interpreter for everyone. Well, at least everyone who spoke English, French, Spanish, Italian, German or Arabic.
Other stars were the African taxi drivers. They knew the roads, and they knew soccer, which is the only reason we were able to find Maradona during rush hour.
* WORST: Some nights were almost cool enough to hold a sporting event. Yet most of the games were held in the blazing afternoon or early evening sun to accommodate European television.
Those brave enough to attend games suffered through stifling heat. Don’t buy those happy expressions you saw on ESPN. It was torture.
* IMPRESSIONS: Dallas is a Cowboy town. And not the Germans, Argentines or any of the soccer fanatics who came through here changed that.
With poor attendance and a distinct lack of any electricity other than that generated by the Cowboys’ new set of uniforms, this proves there are about a thousand better places in this country to hold an international event.
Not that Dallas is a bad place--it’s merely the wrong place.
We have learned that events such as the World Cup require diversity of thought and appreciation of differences. Dallas is just too danged American for any of that.
What Dallas’ failure here portends for the 1996 Olympics in another southern town called Atlanta, well, that’s for another story.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: By some estimates, the World Cup games here were outdrawn even by the demolition of the Cotton Exchange building downtown one Saturday morning. But at least at the soccer games, nobody was treated for smoke inhalation.
NEW YORK-NEW JERSEY
* BEST: With the melting pot of New York City nearby, this was the only truly international venue.
The stadium rocked with the sounds, colors and even smells of those countries competing.
Except for its location in New Jersey, Giants Stadium was also the perfect World Cup facility, with a beautiful field and gleaming facilities that had foreigners gawking.
* WORST: The only Cup fever to hit New York City involved the Stanley Cup.
Maybe it was because of the Rangers. Or Knicks. Or Gay Games. It certainly wasn’t the Yankees, whose attendance was routinely tripled by the World Cup games.
Maybe it was because every day in New York City feels like an international festival. Or maybe it was because New York City simply didn’t have the time.
Whatever, the city that doesn’t sleep also didn’t care. It was interesting to drive to the stadium listening to New York City sports-talk radio hosts rip soccer, then arrive to discover mile-long lines at the front gates.
New Jersey license plates, all of them.
* IMPRESSIONS: Organizers could save tourists and taxi fare by dropping all pretenses that the game is being played in New York City.
The success of this venue proves it is time to start celebrating the ethnic charms and splendid facilities of northern New Jersey . . . and leave New York to worry about the Mets.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: The location for the World Cup host committee in this country’s largest city? New Brunswick, N.J., 90 minutes from Manhattan.
The location of these New Jersey-played games as listed on commemorative postal stamps? New York.
* BEST: Do not underestimate the accomplishment of organizers who ran the Detroit venue by avoiding all traces of Detroit.
Games were staged an hour’s drive north in the suburb of Pontiac, a bedroom community dominated by large front lawns and strip malls. If Detroit street gangs possess missiles that can fly that far, we didn’t see them.
The venue MVP (Most Valuable Professor) was Trey Rogers, the god of sod. The assistant prof of turf-grass science at Michigan State actually made grass grow inside the Silverdome.
After three years of experiments, at a cost of $2.4 million, the indoor stuff held up admirably and was hailed by all but the most serious allergy sufferers.
* WORST: Much like East Rutherford and Foxboro, there was no there there. The venue lacked big-city energy and a pulse.
The streets emptied at 10 p.m. After night games, if you hadn’t paid someone to hold a spot in line at Herschel’s Deli, the happening spot was a Taco Bell drive-through.
Of course, after a game in the non-air-conditioned Silverdome, all anybody wanted to do was lie down in a nice comfortable meat locker.
* IMPRESSIONS: Smiling faces, helpful people, but mostly sweat. Three-alarm, two-shirt sweat.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: After the June 24 game between Brazil and Sweden, a thunderstorm passed directly over the media tent as hundreds of journalists were filing their stories. The thunder was deafening and the tent shook as if it were going to break.
Lightning threatened to knock out the power. The lights flickered, World Cup officials implored reporters to save their files or risk losing them.
This scene was repeated at media and hospitality tents in most of the venues. But aside from the Mexican team, nothing in the tournament has collapsed.
* BEST: We never thought we’d say this, but we liked the subways.
The blue line, which stopped three blocks from RFK stadium, was a shoulder-to-shoulder mass of international passion.
The Dutch fans made their mark by pounding on the ceilings. The Swiss, by chanting through the underground terminals.
The Mexicans demonstrated their presence with songs, singing loud even though they could barely breathe while crushed in overloaded cars during the final 10 minutes of the trip.
It was all underground, but it was true democracy, rare even for our nation’s capital.
* WORST: Everything was wonderful until you actually walked inside RFK.
The stadium is falling apart. The Mexican fans literally caused it to rock with their constant bouncing during Mexico’s emotional tie with Italy.
The stadium security officials were surly and overbearing. Maybe it was those horrible purple berets that made them so mad.
The stadium media-tent volunteers, mostly of college age, were the worst. This would be of no interest to the public, except many worldwide impressions of this country are created by foreign journalists.
And those foreign journalists were treated horribly. Little attempt was made to understand or deal with them.
Tickets were refused with no explanation given. Attempts to talk with media coordinators were denied. Questions about the facility were greeted with shrugs.
Translators working player interviews refused to even offer translated quotes until they had been typed and apparently approved by supervisors, which often took two or three hours.
When one Middle Eastern journalist complained about discrimination, one college girl working as a volunteer laughed in his face and replied, “I don’t think so.”
* IMPRESSIONS: Sports organizers beware. Any further events staged here should not involve any local volunteers or officials from this World Cup.
This is a wonderful city, and as our capital, it should be the one of the first places promoters go for big events. But now we wonder if haughty attitudes and low-rent facilities haven’t kept the big games away.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: A local activist hung a “Save Bosnia” sign in the stands during the opening game here between Mexico and Norway. It was taken down by local officials. He sued for the right to display it. He won.
Not that the guy wanted to rub it in, but visible the next game were two “Save Bosnia” signs.
SAN FRANCISCO-PALO ALTO
* BEST: We love Los Gatos. This mountain town of 28,000 near San Jose has adopted--and been adopted by--the Brazilians.
After Brazil’s games at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Los Gatos became Little Rio, complete with samba music, incessant drumbeats and conga lines through Town Plaza Park.
“This is very exciting,” local resident Judy VanKampen said. “It is totally different than what you normally see in Los Gatos, which is people walking down the street with dogs and strollers.”
Even though crowds were lively, they were orderly. Some of the women might have strained the city’s public decency codes with their skimpy bikinis, but city officials, to their credit, looked the other way.
Sure they did.
* WORST: The whining of Palo Alto politicians because World Cup organizers identified the venue as San Francisco.
But unless we are missing something, nobody has written a song called, “I Left My Heart in Palo Alto.”
* IMPRESSIONS: Of all the venues, Stanford University was the worst in creating obstacles for World Cup organizers.
University officials were in position to drive a hard bargain because FIFA, soccer’s organizing body, wanted a presence in San Francisco but did not want to use Candlestick Park because of its smaller size.
Thus, Stanford Stadium is by far the least modern of the venues. Even though some improvements were made, World Cup organizers did not get all of their demands met.
Yet those academics learned that the World Cup is just the type of event that educational institutions should be encouraging.
The excellent soccer is the least of its legacies. Teams from four continents played here, and the visitors who followed those teams to Palo Alto left something of themselves behind.
Unfortunately for the merchants, it was not money. They were disappointed in their take.
But the visitors contributed something more valuable, their cultures. Los Gatos, one feels, will never be the same.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: A Brazilian woman walked into an ice cream store in Los Gatos one hot day and ordered a beer.
* BEST: My, but the old lady still can sing. Our Rose Bowl looked wonderful with its face lift and colorful frills.
When the air is clear and the heat isn’t oppressive, there is no better view in this World Cup than that of the San Gabriel mountains looming behind the Rose Bowl scoreboard.
Well, OK, the view of that scoreboard after the United States played Columbia was pretty nice too.
* WORST: That World Cup chief Alan Rothenberg would allow his hometown facility to rip off hungry and thirsty soccer fans--many of them his neighbors--with inflated prices is inexcusable. Two dollars and fifty cents for a Sno-cone? Fish and chips for $7.50?
* IMPRESSIONS: The scene reminds us of the 1984 Olympics, causing emotions we never thought we would feel again. Traffic flowing smoothly, the city clean and pressed, citizens talking about something fun.
Surveys say that many people here couldn’t care less about the event, but the ones who do have made it memorable.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: With so many men ignoring the “Women” signs on the portable toilets outside the Rose Bowl, officials placed “Out of Order” signs on several working potties and secretly passed around the word that women should use those.
* BEST: Quick, somebody get this town an NFL team. There was no better stadium-area atmosphere than here, where fans congregated less than a mile from the Florida Citrus Bowl at a trendy shopping and dining area called Church Street Station.
One night the Dutch fans were having so much fun, they started stealing baseball caps from policemen. Another night, the Mexicans were having so much fun they lay down on the railroad tracks upon hearing an oncoming train.
OK, so maybe we don’t all have the same kinds of fun.
Expensive restaurants became rollicking pubs. Thousands of foreigners became wailing, wandering messes.
Did we mention that the Irish were also in town?
* WORST: This was soccer in a sauna. Every team that played under the unforgiving midday sun recorded a triumph of spirit.
For fans, merely getting to the games was a similar triumph. Ten dollars to ride a parking lot shuttle? Fifteen dollars to park at a local school, with the money being handed to a member of the PTA?
This was central Florida hucksterism at its worst. But then, they learned from the experts down the street, those guys wearing the ears.
* IMPRESSIONS: With the Dutch and Belgians in town, this was supposed to be the site of hooliganism. Police from around the state were summoned for 12-hour shifts. But nothing happened. The most serious crime involved people refusing to leave bars at closing time.
Already our vacation capital, Orlando proved that it deserves to become a sports capital as well. It knows how to turn a game into an event without anybody getting hurt.
After existing for so long in the shadow of fantasyland, it acts as if it loves this real stuff.
* YOU HAD TO BE HERE: In the downtown area on July 4, fans from everywhere joined to sing “Happy Birthday.”
To whom? To the United States, of course. Considering how we came of age in yet another international sporting scene this summer, it was a happy birthday indeed.
Times staff writers Elliott Almond, Julie Cart, Lisa Dillman, Chris Dufresne, Helene Elliott, Randy Harvey, Mike Penner and Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre contributed to this story.
From zealots to the casual fan to the simply curious, they have come in droves to World Cup ’94, making this the best-attended tournament in the event’s 64-year history. Through 44 of 52 games, the crowd count stood at 2,995,242, surpassing the record of 2.5-million for Italia ’90. Indeed, this global spectacular has been so popular that ticket sales at some venues, such as Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, and Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, have exceeded listed capacity.
ROSE BOWL Pasadena Capacity: 91,794 Average: 90,669 5 games TOTAL: 453,347
STANFORD STADIUM Palo Alto Capacity: 80,906 Average: 80,458 5 GAMES TOTAL: 407,292
COTTON BOWL Dallas Capacity: 63,998 Average: 57,730 5 games TOTAL: 288,652
CITRUS BOWL Orlando, Fla. Capacity: 61,219 Average: 61,246 5 games TOTAL: 306,229
RFK STADIUM Washington Capacity: 53,142 Average: 52,839 5 GAMES TOTAL: 264,196
GIANTS STADIUM East Rutherford, N.J. Capacity: 75,338 Average: 73,841 5 games TOTAL: 369,206
FOXBORO STADIUM Foxboro, Mass. Capacity: 53,644 Average: 53,953 5 games TOTAL: 269,763
SOLDIER FIELD Chicago Capacity: 63,117 Average: 62,545 5 games TOTAL: 312,725
PONTIAC SILVERDOME Pontiac, Mich. Capacity: 77,557 Ave: 70,958 4 games TOTAL: 283,832