Lacrosse: Indians pursue game of own invention: The venue may be no Rose Bowl but another World Cup starts today at Gigg Lane where the Iroquois Nationals take on Australia. Steve Bale reports

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The Independent Online
AFTER the World Cup . . . the World Cup. Of lacrosse, that is, the armour-plated men's variety and not the pukkah distaff sides seen on the playing fields of Roedean.

For USA '94, read BFC (Bury Football Club) '94. Manchester may have missed out on the Olympic Games but it does have 'the world's biggest festival of lacrosse' and it starts at the home of the Shakers tonight.

The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Gigg Lane is not, but for lacrosse - one of those rare and precious sports we did not give the world, so need not feel embarrassed at our decline - it will do very nicely, a setting in its way as quintessentially English as the game it is hosting is, at this level anyway, irredeemably American.

England, so the United States coach tells us, are 'much stronger than they have ever been before'. But the US have been stronger than everyone else at every World Cup bar one since the event was inaugurated in 1967 and their players, professionals set against England's pristine amateurs (doctors, students, salesman, bricklayers, etc), will be mortified if the sequence is broken again.

This is their game, or more precisely it is a sport devised by the Plains Indians over 400 years ago and first observed by French missionaries in Louisiana in the early 17th century. Which is why one of the teams contesting the Turnbull Trophy represents the Iroquois Indian Nation.

This is also why Chief Tadadaho of the Onandanga Nation called on the spirits at last night's opening ceremony at Albert Square, Manchester, a traditional invocation that in all probability will not stop the United States, as opposed to the real Americans, from winning yet again.

In England, there are around 5,000 men's lacrosse players (and 40,000 women). In the States, there are 500,000 and over there this a sport with all the trappings of baseball or gridiron. Getting the 6oz solid-rubber ball into the 6ft-by-6ft goal using a stick with a net at one end is only the beginning.

For instance, a game consists not only of four 25-minute quarters but two time-outs per team per half. In America, one of the culminations of the college season is the selection of the All American team for a game that is never played.

Thus Arlie Marshall, who coached the US to the 1990 World Cup in Perth, Australia, was an All American at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. So was David Pietramala, a defenceman in this US team, and what is more he was MVP in the 1990 tournament. Yes, the lacrosse World Cup has a Most Valuable Player.

Marshall was also a 1990 inductee in the lacrosse Hall of Fame as well as being, in the words of his coaching successor, Tony Seaman, 'the Benedict Arnold of lacrosse'. To those not familiar with American history, Arnold was the general who betrayed George Washington when he defected to the British during the War of Independence.

This is a serious business. Marshall, having assisted in selection of the American team for Manchester, is now the assistant coach of the Canada team, to Seaman's intense chagrin. 'Why wouldn't Americans want to share their knowledge to improve the quality of lacrosse worldwide?' Chris Hall, the Canadian coach, asked rhetorically and mischievously.

The English are left to gape in amazement tinged with admiration. For one thing, they would love the problems of the Americans. For another, they use a number of American coaches to staff a pounds 1/4 m-a- year development programme which has got 100,000 playing POP-lacrosse, a gentler version for youngsters.

And for another, they even have an American in their team. James Patten, 26, was born in England but emigrated at eight. When the English team were on tour in the States two years ago, they discovered him. So here he is, never having played a game of lacrosse in this country until tonight against Canada.

Of England's squad of 26 (23 form the match squad, with 10 on the field at any one time), all except Patten play in the Manchester area, where the sport is strongest. Lacrosse came to England when native Americans gave demonstrations in the 1860s. The first English club was formed at Stockport in 1867.

By then a club had already been established in Glasgow, but Scottish lacrosse was moribund for many years until the English Lacrosse Union set about its resurrection there and in Wales. England, the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and the Iroquois Nationals form the World Cup's Premier Division; the Scots and Welsh are in with Sweden, Germany and the Czech Republic in the First Division.

With ancillary competitions, organisers believe more than 1,000 players will be involved over the 11 days until the World Cup final at Gigg Lane on 30 July. If England make it, there may even be a crowd of up to 8,000. As important, though, is the tonic the tournament will administer to the sport. Men's lacrosse? At least - at last - people know it exists.


Today: Australia v Iroquois Nationals (16.30), Canada v England (19.45). Tomorrow: Japan v US (16.30), England v Australia (19.45). Friday 22 July: Iroquois Nationals v Japan (16.30), Canada v US (19.45). Saturday 23 July: Japan v Canada (12.00), England v Iroquois Nationals (15.15). Sunday 24 July: Australia v US (15.15). Monday 25 July: Iroquois Nationals v US (16.30), England v Japan (19.45). Tuesday 26 July: Canada v Australia (16.30), England v US (19.45). Wednesday 27 July: Australia v Japan (16.30), Canada v Iroquois Nationals (19.45). Thursday 28 July: Semi-finals (16.30 and 19.45). Friday 29 July: Play- off matches for 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th final positions. Saturday 30 July: Final (14.00).

(All matches at Gigg Lane, Bury)

(Photograph omitted)