Don't bet on a US league

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The Independent Online
THIS is about Pete Myers, a Cumbrian adventurer from Keswick who should be consulted by every believer in the naive notion that next year's World Cup will ignite football in the only area of the globe that remains cool to it.

For the last 20 years Myers has been making it in Manhattan, a hustler from way back in my life who has lately set himself up as a pedlar of British products to expatriates in the Tri-state area. One day, coming upon the fact that there are around 250,000 of them residing in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, he began to cater for tastes of home. You name it and Myers probably has it: biscuits, teas, jams, sauces. At Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street, near Greenwich Village, he does a brisk trade in Cumbrian sausages and pies.

This week I was drinking Lipton's and nibbling on a pastry in Myers's establishment, mulling over the days when he held half share in the Bells of Hell, an appropriately named Village bar.

For years Myers has ranked in my mind as just about the perfect example of a fan isolated in the United States from the world's most popular team game. Apart from anything else, and in common with some other hardy souls, he is a supporter of Carlisle United, which presents a special problem since the New York press is notoriously oblivious to events in the lower echelons of English football. It was easier for Myers when Carlisle briefly played in the First Division. 'Then I could call the New York Times and they would give me our result,' he said, nostalgically.

The point of all this is that Myers has long since given up on the idea of his favourite game taking root in the United States, and is convinced the importance of next year's World Cup, if it has any importance at all, has been greatly exaggerated. 'Nothing will come of it,' he said, meaning a promise made to Fifa by the US Soccer Federation that a new professional outdoor league partly funded by profits from next year's finals will be in place by 1995.

There was a time in the 1970s when Myers thought he could see a revolution taking place. The New York Cosmos, who had a former Fleet Street football writer, Clive Toye, as their president, signed up Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and other notables, and attracted huge crowds to Giants Stadium in New Jersey. 'I wasn't here when the old North American Soccer League started in the Sixties, but I really thought football was going places,' Myers said.

One day, when visiting friends in New Hampshire, he noticed children playing football on a village green that had goalposts at both ends. 'It was like being back home,' he said, 'and I got carried away with the idea that the game was beginning to happen over here.' When Myers returned to New Hampshire a few years later the goalposts had gone.

He is acquainted with many newspapermen and they keep telling him that corporate forces in American sport will ensure that football is kept in its place. 'It took me a while but I have come to believe them,' he said.

What the USSF is doing, of course, is barely meeting the obligations which it cannot evade. It is unable to guarantee a professional league and may struggle to provide the business plan for it that Fifa wants to see by the new year.

None of this matters very much to Myers. 'I'm sure the World Cup will be a great success and I don't see a lot wrong with holding it here, although you have to suspect the motive,' he said.

'And take it from me. Once the party is over that will be it. There may be five million Americans playing the game but for the majority it simply doesn't work, which is why the television networks didn't fall over themselves to get the World Cup.'

On Canal Street, a few blocks south of Myers's place, there is the Manhattan Sporting Club where it is possible to see international matches live from Europe. 'You get all sorts there, from stockbrokers to teenagers with Union Jacks draped over their shoulders,' he said. Further away in Queens, at Stephens Green, you can see a League game from England every Saturday morning during the season. Myers recently went there to watch England play Norway. 'Rubbish,' he said.