HOW TO DO 10 GAMES IN 8 DAYS

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

What follows is The Founder's diary of a journey through five 2003 Women's World Cup doubleheaders, written in the style of what is known as a "blog," short for Weblog.

The servers that run this site don't have much in the way of Actual Blog Features (such as being able to have a running commentary on what is going on), but this first-person view is an insight on what happened on the field and in the stands that you probably won't get anywhere else.

This is because this journal was written from the unique perspective of a a soccer fan (and Washington Freedom season-ticket holder) interested in what the response would be from the grass roots towards women's soccer in the wake of the WUSA's suspension of operations five days before the tournament began.

_____________________________________

Sept. 20, 2003, Philadelphia, Pa.

The power's out again.

Hurricane Isabel came through the D.C. metropolitan area two days ago, bringing a lot of wind and rain, but very little in the way of property damage as was the case for Camille in the 1960s, Hugo in the 1980s, and Andrew in the 1990s.

But the major damage seemed to occur to power lines; more than a million and a half outages were reported.

I left home early and drove through a couple of neighboring towns which actually had their lights on. Grrrrr.

The trip to Philadelphia took about two hours up Interstate 95 and over the large double-decker bridge over the Kvaerner Shipyard to what is called The Sports Complex.

Five professional sports venues (as well as the baseball field Villanova University uses) are located near the intersection of Broad and Pattison Avenues. One of the newest, Lincoln Financial Field, was where the opening doubleheader of the Women's World Cup was being held.

It was the home of the Philadelphia Eagles pro football team, and as such, it had numerous strict rules on fan behavior that attempted to curb the reputation of the old Veterans' Stadium as a place rife with drunken louts.

The proposed list of bans incensed many Eagle fans; no banners, no standing, no umbrellas, no noisemakers. There was even a ban on outside food being brought into the stadium that came to be known as the "hoagie ban." The Eagles countered with a face-saving gambit of allowing outside food without compromising on the rest -- many of which are commonplace in soccer, even in America's low-budget first-division men's league, MLS.

I knew I could bring my set of timbales into RFK Stadium the next day, so I did not complain about my inability to bring them into Lincoln Financial -- at least, until groups of Nigerian and North Korean fans brought bass drums, kettle drums, large brass hand cymbals, and a gong into the stands.

I didn't like the fact that free-born Americans were held to a different standard from others in the city known as the "Cradle of Liberty."

When I mentioned this to a stadium security officer, I also added my observations from the previous week's broadcast of an NFL game, in which fans were shown in the stands yawning on at least four occasions in the stands.

The Eagles organization had succeeded in turning their ticket-holders into docile zombies, but I wasn't going to let that happen for law-abiding soccer fans.

Eventually, one officer told a group of US supporters that there was going to be a re-briefing which would allow musical instruments into Lincoln Financial for Thursday's critical doubleheader involving the United States.

The opening match saw France take on 2000 Olympic champion Norway. I sat for the first half with a girls' high-school soccer team which never mentioned the WUSA, but were busying themselves talking with their boyfriends on mobile phones.

Not my scene.

As France left their central defense exposed allowing the Norwegians to take an easy win, I took in the second half with a number of Nigerian supporters, wearing either green jerseys or ornate native outfits.

As the Super Falcons took the field for pre-game warmups, a couple of the Nigerian fans noticed that they were not wearing the bright neon green strip that the Nigerian men's team, the Super Eagles, had worn in the 2002 World Cup.

"Thank God! Those were the ugliest things ever," said one fan.

During the run-up to the game, a bass and snare drum were played with makeshift drumsticks. The bass drummer patted out rhythms that changed every few minutes, but did not sustain a long rhythmic pattern.

Little did the Nigeria supporters know that would be the way the Falcons would play, as North Korea retained possession while the Falcons chased.

As North Korea got on the board, two groups of red-clad Korea fans got louder and louder. And later, they would merge into one section overlooking the west end zone. And since many of these Korean fans wore orange T-shirts and white bandannas expressing the hope that the North and the South would be unified like Germany was in 1989, the fans reflected their aspirations by unifying.

Eventually, North Korea would take an easy 3-0 win, and you got the feeling many of these very happy fans would be making the trip back down to Washington to see South Korea the next day.

_____________________________________

Sept. 21, 2003, Washington, D.C.

The power's still out.

Having driven back home the previous evening, I noticed that my utility company had re-lit the business district in town, but not my neighborhood, despite the fact that there were no trees, poles, or wires down within about four miles of the block.

I went to my downtown office building in the early morning to check my email and got an urgent message that there was terrible traffic and parking lot congestion at RFK Stadium a full two and a half hours before kickoff.

Left the car in our parking garage, took the subway. And the drums.

From the time I left the station until getting to the tailgate, I was filmed by television crews from at least four countries. I even did my best imitation of soccer announcer Pablo Ramirez for the TeleFutura cameras.

I went into RFK Stadium with a group of D.C. United soccer fans called "La Norte," an offshoot of the Salvadoran supporters which would populate the north end of the stadium whenever former United star Raul Diaz Arce would come to town with another team.

When we got to what had been advertised as the Sam's Army section in the stadium, I knew there was going to be a problem. Children and families had gotten tickets to the section rather than true red, white, and blue adult soccer fans.

Not my scene.

The La Norte guys and their trademark bass drum and I headed up to the upper deck, right underneath a concrete overhang, and started chanting and pounding a steady drumbeat of patriotic soccer songs and other chants.

By halftime, South Korean supporters came to the upper deck with their drums and their unique brass hand cymbals, which are known as "kweng garee." After the Americans topped Sweden 3-1, I actually started banging my drums with the five-count beat that Washington Freedom supporters had adopted from the Reds supporters in 2003.

The effect was immediate; instead of hearing the words "Washington Freedom," we heard thundersticks and the words "Daeeeeeehan Min-guk!" (Translation: Republic of Korea)

Moments later, we were being recruited. La Norte joined the South Koreans to watch their heroines play against a young Brazil team which was favored to win.

On the field, it was not much of a contest, with Brazil winning comfortably. But the "Daehan Minguk" chants -- made world famous when the South Koreans made a fabulous run through the 2002 World Cup -- won out over the Brazilian fan support. There wasn't a single samba drum in the stadium; there had been several at the inaugural WUSA league match in 2001.

There were many more signs and banners in the stands lamenting the loss of the WUSA. One was particularly poignant: "You can take our league, but you will never have our Freedom."

_____________________________________

Sept. 24, 2003, Washington, D.C.

It was a pretty late-arriving crowd for this Wednesday doubleheader which began right in the middle of rush hour. Those who missed the first few minutes also missed an early opening goal on the part of Brazil that set the tone for a 4-1 win for the Selecao.

A decent crowd had come out, many with "Save the WUSA" placards as well as yellow jerseys for the Brazil supporters. No samba band, though.

By the time the final whistle sounded, Brazil had done something few other national teams had ever done to Norway: made them look both old and slow in a 4-1 win.

The second match featured France and South Korea. Naturally, I headed towards the sea of red to chant with the Koreans. Freedom fries? I don't think so.

The Reds fan group, some of whom came up to Washington from Richmond and down from Philadelphia, were hit emotionally, but not vocally. They kept on using drums, kweng garee, and Thunderstix to make their point.

Like Southern college football games, the crowd is led by a "yell leader," who exhorts and leads the chants. The gentleman wore a red No. 12 South Korea jersey from the 1998 World Cup (The 12th Man, get it?), and a British-style soccer scarf around his wrist.

I could not understand a word he said all evening, but you could tell what the intent was from his gesticulations and his vocal pattern. Something on the order of, "We're going to chant again, and it needs to come from deep in your diaphragm, deep in your heart, deep in your soul! REPUBLIC OF KOREA!"

The game ebbed and flowed for more than 80 minutes without a goal being scored. South Korea hustled for its first goal of the tournament, but came up empty on several occasions. France used a good forward line, including the redoubtable Marinette Pichon, to good effect inside the South Korean defensive third, but could not capitalize.

About five minutes from the end, the Korean coaching staff made what seemed to me to be a curious move. They subbed out captain and center back Yoo Young Sil, who had been marking Pichon.

Moments later, Pichon struck for the 1-0 win. It was not to be.

The coral-and-white clad Korean team came over to the southeast corner of RFK Stadium, and gave a formal bow in unison, to the cheers of the supporters.

If only the Americans could be this vocal.

_____________________________________

Sept. 25, 2003, Philadelphia, Pa.

Success! We got the drums in.

People seemed to be able to get concessions against the Eagles' security bans, including a kaleidoscope of "SAVE THE WUSA" placards that were seen from the pregame warmups to the post-game Woman of the Match ceremony.

The first game, between North Korea and Sweden, did not see as many Korean unification fans as the previous Saturday, but they did make noise, even as Sweden was able to take an early lead and sat on it for more than 80 minutes. It was easy, since NoKo made a huge tactical error going to the air against a much bigger Sweden team.

After this 1-0 result, which bode well for the Americans three days' hence, the Red, White, and Blue came out for pregame warmups, and the 31,000 fans sounded like 55,000.

Our group formed one of the only decent-sized organized brigade of Sam's Army in the preliminary rounds -- pretty good since The Army did not have much of a presence in the 1999 Women's World Cup.

Our red-clad minions had plenty to cheer about, as the Americans won 5-0. Not only were the Falcons beaten on the field, they were beaten up. We noticed how many times the Nigerians went down from sometimes even moderate contact.

Some of the incidents we thought were unjustified, such as a defender who was hit in the chest with a Kristine Lilly cross and dropped to the ground as if half-dead. But late in the match, Nigeria midfielder Bunmi Kayode lived up to her name. She challenged 5-foot-11, 160-lb. Abby Wambach for a headball and did not get up.

Replays showed that Kayode was actually getting up as if ready to chase the ball when she wiped off her brow, saw blood, and fell to the ground as if she had been electrocuted.

After the match, we tailgated with the Tietjen sisters, Jen and Margaret, who played in the WUSA. They seemed surprised that I remembered details about their pre-WUSA careers, my having been the public-address announcer for the W-League's New Jersey Wildcats in the late 1990s.

_____________________________________

Sept. 27, 2003, Washington, D.C.

On the way to the stadium, I pledged to stick with the largest group of fun-loving fans I could, since there was no Korean team playing, and the American fans were already headed to Columbus.

I found a sizable group of fun-loving yellow-shirted Brazil fans who could shout and keep time with my rudimentary drumming, but there was still something missing.

I found it in the upper deck: a samba band, which had been woefully missing from the Brazilian supporters sections the whole first round.

By the end of halftime, a couple of diehards and I got the band -- bass drummer, congamaster, shaker, tambourinist, and steel snare drummer -- to come down to the big group of yellow-shirted Brazil fans.

It took a few minutes, but the percussionists got into a good rhythm. I realized one thing about samba music: it is impossible for one person to play it, since three or four rhythm lines must intersect. The bass must be thumping and direct, the shakers must also keep time. The stacatto rhythms from the steel snare drum, tambourine, and conga player need to work together to make the necessary music.

Samba, in short, is the ultimate team play metaphor. And it seemed to work for Katia, who scored for Brazil to give the Selecao a 1-0 lead.

However, the chanting French fans two sections over were rewarded for their noise when Marinette Pichon (who else?) scored in the final minutes to make a 1-1 draw. I noted that both goal-scorers -- Pichon for Philadelphia and Katia for San Jose -- played in the WUSA.

By the start of the Argentina-Germany game, the Brazilian group was actually split in half. Half wanted Argentina to win on account of South American sisterhood, but the other half either knew that the Albicelestes had no chance, or always rooted for a team playing Argentina.

The game was a slaughterhouse, with the Germans winning 6-1. But the biggest ovation seemed to be for Germany's Steffi Jones, who had to be helped off the field. The expression on the Washington Freedom defender's face said it all, and many fans who saw the tackle knew that Jones might have played her final top-level competitive match, as she had indicated that she would not be coming back to the WUSA or the women's Bundesliga in 2004.

After the match, it seemed as the security guards working the stadium had somewhere else to go, and quickly forced everybody out of RFK Stadium like so much cattle, even through WUSA veterans like Sandra Minnert and Birgit Prinz wanted to sign autographs for those who had stayed five hours to watch good soccer.

Kind of sad, really, that in an event that brings people together from all over the world in peaceful competition, that overweening American security concerns are the lasting impression.

www.000webhost.com
1