Yes, soccer, as it is called in America, where the big names in the game are well-known to the fans, where there are lingering memories of the past when the Seventies spawned the now defunct North American Soccer League. Huge crowds used to pack stadiums throughout the nation; indeed, 78,000 people watched the New York Cosmos when Pele and Beckenbauer among others became household names. An extraordinary number of youngsters started to play the game, and for a time it approached the same status as the traditional American sports.
I was able to experience all this at first hand when I was appointed public relations director of the Detroit Express soccer club in 1982, soon after I left Chelsea. Home base was at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan which has been selected as one of the World Cup venues. It is a quite magnificent stadium with every facility available for the comfort of the fans - food points everywhere, clean seats, excellent toilet facilities, and ample parking.
My office was in the stadium itself and I was able to meet the football and basketball coaches of the Detroit Lions and Detroit Pistons respectively and watch their games. As public relations director it was my job to give the Detroit Express as much publicity as possible by way of arranging interviews for the players on television and radio. I built a good rapport with the soccer writers. As always, people would only turn up when things were going well.
I travelled all over the state, visiting schools with the players, attending soccer evenings that were always packed and where the parents took part in Question and Answer sessions and the kids were coached in the art of the game. The various soccer associations were continually beating the drum and this has been going on throughout the United States for years. We do not give sufficient credit to all those who work tirelessly to promote the game and it was because of their efforts that the country received the ultimate reward of hosting the World Cup.
I actually coached a ladies team in California for two years, fulfilling an ambition to prove that directors know more about the game than people care to admit. Incidentally, the Blasters, as they were called, won the championship and I was shown a red card for running on to the pitch to complain about an over-the-top tackle.
One of the greatest benefits of a successful tournament is that all the various ethnic groups will be supporting the 'old country'. After all, the forefathers of immigrants were steeped in the game.
Forget about the polls that say that six out of 10 Americans do not know, never mind care, that the World Cup is taking place in their country. The people will flock to the games, particularly towards the closing stages. If four out of 10 do know about the World Cup, that's 70 million or so people. Not bad for interest, is it?
The whole future of American soccer is on the line: if the event is not a major success it will be the end of the dream of another league being started on the lines of the NASL. This putative soccer league will have to be home- grown. I doubt if imported, faded stars would be encouraged; that would be taking a step backwards. America has to resist that temptation and go forward with its own home produce. If there is to be a new dawn, there is no place for old players who might be tempted by easy money. The Americans might be naive as far as soccer is concerned, but they are not stupid.
This will be a fascinating tournament and it has to command the attention of the world if it is to see the rebirth of the game in the States. I will be watching the action on television here, yearning to be there. I have already received a card saying 'wish you were here'. Maybe I can be there to watch the final: Ireland v Italy?Reuse content