Football: Stars and stripes and rock 'n' roll

There was much to enjoy at the 15th World Cup in America, and not all of it was on the pitch. At the end of the year Phil Shaw wrote his alternative diary of USA '94
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The Independent Online



Who said England weren't represented at the World Cup finals? It is the night before the tournament kicks off and there, dressed up like a dog's DNA, is Gary Glitter stomping his bewigged, platform-heeled way through "Rock and Roll" (hey!) at the University of Illinois' basketball arena.

Backstage at the "Soccer Rocks the World" concert, several generations of Anglo pop are represented. Apart from Bacofoil Man there's pomp-rockers Yes, and the band whose song "Sit Down" is an Old Trafford anthem, James. Their manager is called Rudge and comes from Wolverhampton, just like the Port Vale supremo, so the anorak in me can't resist asking if they're related. They aren't.

John Barnes, who boasts almost as many Top 10 hits (two: on Liverpool's rap single and New Order's England song) as he has had good games for England, is also ligging, with Craig Johnston in tow. Two Windy City women desperate to be introduced to James ask me if Barnes is connected with the group, and express surprise that this, er, substantial figure is an international "sar-cuh" player.

More showbiz at the opening ceremony. Bill Clinton goes down, to coin a phrase, rather worse than Mr Glitter. A colleague caught up in the crush caused by the police's desire to make the President's arrival go smoothly tells me the crowd burst into a spontaneous chant of "Bull-shit! Bull- shit!" They're learning fast.

Out on the pitch, Diana Ross takes an almighty run at a ball only to shoot yards wide of an empty goal from the penalty spot. Events go from the ridiculous to the supine as Oprah Winfrey topples off stage in mid- platitude. Then Daryl Hall wrestles with the irritatingly ubiquitous ersatz gospel of "Glory Land".

The gospel according to Germany and Bolivia proves less than glorious, Germany beating Bolivia 1-0 with a suspiciously offside goal, yet it's not a bad start. Some like it hot, but 97F? Your correspondent drinks his weight in Coke; surprising given that he never normally touches the stuff, less so given the excesses of the previous evening.


After checking in to the hotel outside which Ronald Reagan was wounded by a gunman (the kind of fact that encourages confidence), I head out to watch Spain v South Korea in a bar. The regulars are glued to basketball, but then something strange happens.

The picture cuts to dozens of police vehicles slowly pursuing one car, a scene eerily reminiscent of the Charlie Sheen film The Chase which was showing on the flight over.

The drinkers become suddenly animated, clenching fists and shouting "Way to go, OJ!" On the screen, people stand by the freeway, whooping and waving placards. It is a vivid demonstration of the uniquely American facility for turning the most grizzly event into a parrrr-ty!

Back to the soccer sideshow and the RFK Stadium, a vast modern bowl of a ground with none of the neo-classical splendour of Soldier Field, which on this humid afternoon has a game to match. Norway defeat Mexico 1-0 in a graceless affair which does little credit to the English game in which most of the victors earn their corn.

Up in New York, the Irish are celebrating what proves to be an equally illusory victory over Italy, in which, according to the commentary, "John Sheraton" was outstanding. This section has already been dubbed the Group of Death; Dearth will turn out to be closer to the mark.

Back to the RFK for the Netherlands against Saudi Arabia. The Dutch, having fallen behind, sneak it thanks to the sort of gaffe we Brits always patronisingly anticipate from foreign keepers ("weak on crosses") but which usually refuses to materialise. Later I spot Bryan Roy and, remembering he is shortly to be Forest-bound, ask him about his impending move.

Instead, he interviews me. How far, Roy is anxious to know, is Nottingham from London? What is the club scene like? And, almost as an afterthought, what about this guy Collymore... what kind of player is he?


The birthplace of the American Revolution is a beautiful city which you can actually walk around, doing all the tourist traps - like the Cheers bar, where it is a major disappointment not to find Norm and Cliff hugging beers - without recourse to subways or freeways.

Unfortunately, Foxboro Stadium, an exposed and characterless setting even in mid-summer, is nearer Providence than Boston. After an arduous bus journey, the mood isn't improved by the heavy-handed security, with bags being searched at one entrance by hand and another by sniffer dog. Ironically, it is here, after the second of two stunning displays by Argentina, that Diego Maradona tests positive for dope.


The world still oblivious, Maradona's urine samples are being re-examined at the University of Southern California. However, Greece's humiliation is already public - their second 4-0 defeat is also Bulgaria's first win in any finals - and I see hundreds of Greek-Americans, evidently expecting their team to win the trophy, weep openly.

The following day brings confirmation of the Bolivians' pre-ordained role as plucky also-rans, Spain winning 3-1. In Grant Park that evening, Chicago enjoys a spin-off from Spain's presence there - a concert by Placido Domingo. The organisers, hoping for favourable mentions on the travel pages, not only invite the football press but seat them in the VIP enclosure.

Now I am normally more at ease with "Do you wanna be in my gang?" than the works of Sorozabal or Guerrero, but watching Domingo work from a matter of yards is captivating. And what was all that about three tenners? The show was free.


Another misnomer, because the indoor Pontiac Silverdome, despite being home to the Detroit Lions, is no more in the Motor City than Elland Road is in Manchester. Whatever its suitability for gridiron, or assessing the impact of the greenhouse effect, it makes a lousy football venue. The 1-1 draw between Sweden and Brazil deserved a better setting; preferably one with some air.

Downtown Detroit itself lives up to its billing as "the American Beirut". Despite earlier protests to my editor, I am glad to be booked into a hotel in its twin city of Windsor across the border in Canada. Glad, that is, until I have to alight from my taxi and show myself at immigration, where they do not appear to have heard of the World Cup and seem to work on the principle that everyone is either a terrorist or a narcotics dealer.

The next morning I go through it all again, twice over, to visit the Motown Museum. There, complete with original nicotine stains from the all-night recording sessions, you can see the studios where the Four Tops, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the rest created a soundtrack for the Sixties. On the way back it is as if the Civil Rights movement never happened; my cab driver, who has definitely not heard of the World Cup, rants about how the blacks have ruined the neighbourhood.


I awake to the news that Maradona has done a Willie Johnston. Conveniently, I'm heading for Dallas, where the Argentinians are to play their final group game against Bulgaria that night. In the departure lounge, I meet my one and only American soccer fan, a middle-aged female supporter of the Chico Rooks, no less. With evangelical zeal, she presses a fixture card on me and elicits a promise that I will mention them in one of my reports.

Down in Texas, Maradona is holed up in a hotel. In another, a press conference so packed and uncomfortable that it resembles something from a Hieronymus Bosch painting listens as the grim-faced jury from Fifa - doctors, lawyers, bureaucrats plus a chap from Brechin City - pronounce him guilty.

Joao Havelange, the world game's Brazilian overlord, explains how personally saddened he is. Maradona, when he finally surfaces after his shell-shocked team-mates lose without him, hints at a plot... by the Brazilians. This is, after all, the city where JFK was slain; the place that practically invented the conspiracy theory.

Tucking into black-eyed beans and alligator at a Cajun restaurant (well, it was my birthday), I hear on the TV that Colombia's Andres Escobar has himself been shot dead. I catch the words "gambling cartel" and swallow hard. Enjoyable as the Sweden-Saudi game is the following day, the murder has cast a greater shadow over what was becoming a carnival competition until Maradona's banishment.

Only one game to go for me now - No 46 out of 52 and my 12th - but what a game! The flash floods that hit Dallas give way to white heat, and after a lukewarm first half Brazil and the Netherlands trade five goals in the Cotton Bowl. The last, an Exocet of a free-kick by Branco, ensures a South American presence in the otherwise all-European semi-finals and keeps alive the hope of a classic final.

I'll be watching it at home. In my taxi out to Dallas/Fort Worth airport the next day, after stopping to have the obligatory photo taken on the grassy knoll from where one of Kennedy's assassins fired, the driver is pleased to learn I'm English. "That's where my ancestors are from," he informs me. Really? "Yes sir, from a little town called Scotland."

As we wait for the plane, someone says Bulgaria have beaten Germany. After nearly a month of bets and drugs and rock 'n' roll, to paraphrase Ian Dury, there is life in the tournament yet. What a pity, in the final analysis, that Brazil couldn't glitter like Gary, and Messrs Baggio and Baresi were no more accurate from 12 yards than Diana Ross.