Blast From The Past: The American Dream – AFTN’s trip to USA 1994 revisited

Blast From The Past: The American Dream – AFTN’s trip to USA 1994 revisited

The World Cup is coming to North American shores for the first time in what will be 32 years in 2026, and already we can’t wait for these next eight years to pass!

Canada will be hosting the tournament for the first time. For Mexico it will be the third occasion, and the first since 1986. And the last time the Finals came to this continent was in 1994 when America hosted.

An AFTN contingent was at those finals for the initial group stage, based out of Detroit of all places to choose, and today actually marks the 24th anniversary of me taking in my first ever World Cup match as the US hosted Switzerland at the now demolished Pontiac Silverdome.

We saw three matches there on the trip, as well as taking in some baseball and stadium tours in both Canada and the US. These were documented in October 1994 in an article in issue 29 of Away From The Numbers, back when we were a printed fanzine in Scotland.

So we thought it would be fun to reprint that article in full (unchanged bar a few punctuation tidy ups) for you all these years later, along with a selection of photographs that I took from the footballing side of the trip, some of which appeared in the fanzine and some of which are appearing for the first time (and some of them aren’t the best quality from an old point and shoot camera from back in the day with no zoom!).

This was not only the first time I’d been to a stadium outside of the UK, it was also my first time going on holiday overseas. It’s funny to now read about my excitement and wonderment at going to the Silverdome, but remember I was used to watching matches in some of the shitholes of Scottish lower league football up to that point. When you compare what that stadium was like back then to what we have here in North America now, I can only imagine I’d explode writing the same piece in the same situation today!

My biggest regret in revisiting these photos now is how I basically just took pictures inside the stadium and didn’t capture the fans outside and the other entertainment around the outside of the ground. What a missed opportunity that was. So if you have your own photos and memories from the 1994 World Cup we’d love to hear from you and run them on the site, so get in touch.

America and the 1994 World Cup Finals. Scotland may not have qualified, but that was no reason for us not to be represented there, and I mean we couldn’t let referee Les Mottram be Scotland’s only representative over there.

So, given the chance to go and see some games and sample the World Cup atmosphere, whilst getting a North American holiday at the same time, was too good an opportunity to miss – so we didn’t.

During the next couple of pages, the AFTN World Cup experience will be retold. Don’t worry it won’t be a boring diary, we’re going to tell you some of the things you won’t have heard about back here [in Scotland] during the games – about the stadiums, the fans, the television coverage over there, the perception of the general American public towards the whole event, and a whole lot more besides.

The mad foursome which made the trip over was certainly a wide selection: Jim Webster, a 24 year-old part-time East Fife fan from Leven; Rab Beattie, a 47-year-old Celtic fan from Methilhill; Alan Craig, a 24-year-old Scot who lives in and supports Carlisle; and me, (literally) carrying the East Fife and AFTN banner to an unsuspecting worldwide audience.

The trip began on Wednesday June 15th, and in the two weeks that followed, the AFTN bandwagon took in Toronto, Niagara Falls, Cleveland, Aurora, Rochester, and most importantly, but least impressively, Detroit.

With temperatures in the high 80s at the worst, usually in the 90s, and with it reaching over 100 degrees at times, it was certainly a totally different feel than watching games back in Scotland.

After spending three fun-filled days in Canada, where a tour of Toronto’s Skydome was a must (more on that later), it was on to Detroit for the first of our three World Cup games – Switzerland versus Team U.S.A.

The matches were all played at the Pontiac Silverdome, which far from being in Detroit as everyone stated, is actually in the town of Pontiac on the northern outskirts of Detroit and about 40 miles from downtown Detroit.

There couldn’t be a bigger difference between the impressiveness of the Silverdome and the city of Detroit.

Detroit is rundown and rough. Everyone we talked to on the trip warned us not to go out in downtown Detroit at night. Thankfully we were only there for games and stayed elsewhere whenever possible. Detroit – a nice place to go for a holiday? No. A nice place to play World Cup football matches? Yes!

That’s just the thing. The Pontiac Silverdome IS a great place to play and watch World Cup Finals matches. It couldn’t be much more impressive.

Home of the Detroit Lions American Football team, the Silverdome is a totally covered, all-purpose indoor sporting stadium of the first degree, with a seating capacity of 80,638.

The first game to be played at the Silverdome was on Saturday June 18th and was “history in the making” – the first soccer match to be played indoors and on grass. Millions were spent on laying a grass pitch for the event, only for it to be all dug up again and sold off in patches at the end of the four games being played there. A waste of time, effort, and money? Perhaps, but that’s America for you.

The 1994 Finals were given the tag of being make or break time for soccer in the States. If it doesn’t take off after hosting the Finals, then will it ever? It was for this reason that America’s first game in the 1994 Finals was so important. A bad performance would lead to a loss of interest by fans, the general public and the American media alike. This wasn’t to be the case.

The game kicked off at 11.30am, which was unusual in itself for anyone used to watching East Fife at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, but obviously not for the Americans, as it was a near capacity crowd.

The game itself was entertaining, marked by two spectacular goals from free-kicks (Georges Bregy opening the score for Switzerland in the 39th minute, before Eric Wynalda equalised for the US a minute before half time). Although the Swiss were the better and more technical side, the Americans were good value for the 1-1 draw. A result which certainly pleased the attending Americans, who remind me of the Scots with their strong patriotism (although we do have much more than one song to sing!).

This was also the first real opportunity for American fans to sample your not too untypical football supporter behaviour. Step forward the Swiss fans, who treated the American fans sitting in the tier underneath to showers from flying cups of coke. It changed to being showered in popcorn for the second match. All of the other supporters were very well behaved though, and the Swedish, Romanian, and Russian fans were all great. The Americans should just be thankful that the English weren’t there.

The mention of cups of coke bring me onto the catering facilities at the stadium. As previously mentioned, the Silverdome is a world class stadium to host soccer matches. All covered, all seated, clean, good friendly security, excellent exiting procedures, and top notch catering. There were loads of catering outlets throughout the stadium, offering hotdogs, burgers, pizzas, sweet, popcorn, tacos, soft drinks, and beer. It’s no wonder there’s so many overweight Americans. There’s nothing to eat but junk food. Everywhere you look.

The Americans are used to getting large crowds at their sporting events though, and as such, they should be used to offering them proper facilities. Scottish clubs and the Scottish authorities should take note and take a good long, close look at the way Americans organise sports. There’s a lot to learn.

All of the sporting stadia we saw are of the same standard – excellent. We caught a baseball game in Cleveland between the city’s Indians and the Boston Red Sox at the brand new Jacob’s Field (this is it’s first year of use after being built), which holds 40,000 fans and tickets are proving to be like gold for a lot of games. All of the facilities previously mentioned at the Silverdome were up to the same superb standard. We also had a tour of the Skydome in Toronto – home of the Bluejays baseball team and the Argonauts Canadian Football team. This was the most impressive stadium of the lot. Seats to cater for 80,000, a retractable roof, and all purpose facilities (there was a Phil Collins concert on the day we were there).

It’s no wonder the American and Canadians pack out their team events when it’s such an enjoyable occasion to go and watch them. No standing about in the cold and wet for them.

Naturally we couldn’t wait for the second game – Switzerland versus Romania.

We decided to take the hire car to the stadium for this game. For the first match we thought it would be easier to go by taxi – big mistake. $65 to get there and a nightmare five hours trying to get back to our hotel after the match. There’s only four taxi companies in Pontiac we were later told. Not really enough to cope with over 70,000 soccer fans. You would have thought that with all the excellent organisation that had gone into the games and stadium facilities, they’d have been able to provide adequate leaving facilities once outside of the ground. Picking a steward who didn’t speak English didn’t really help us either. Things were much better with the hire car!

The second game was nothing spectacular. The Swiss were easily the better team and the Romanians certainly didn’t look like the same side which had previously shocked the Colombians and did so much later on in the tournament.

The Swiss ran out easy 4-1 winners, which didn’t really please us as we were cheering on the Romanians [Note – the reason for that being Switzerland had taken four points off Scotland in the qualifying to finish second in their group, four points ahead of Scotland! That should have been us there.]. We tried to look pleased thought, since we were surrounded by Swiss fans, although I think changing the chant “Hopp Swiss” to “Fuck Swiss” gave the game away – cue the shower of popcorn.

The attendance at the game was just over 61,000, scotching pre-tournament rumours that every game was a sell-out. You couldn’t blame live television coverage for this lack of a capacity crowd, as there wasn’t any. In fact, there were a hell of a lot of games which weren’t shown live in the States. What media coverage there was of the whole World Cup when we were there was unbelievable – despite what you may have heard to the contrary.

The press weren’t too bad. There was coverage there, albeit scattered in between the basketball and baseball, and most journalists tried to show an interest in the event (again this was helped by America’s success). There were a few who obviously felt that soccer wasn’t a serious sport and shouldn’t be given so much time. With some openly admitting in their articles that they didn’t understand the game or it’s appeal.

One of the funniest things to appear during all of the press coverage I saw though, is something which I don’t think I will ever see the likes of again. To help an obviously confused public handle all of these foreign players, match reports read like a spelling and pronunciation lesson.

A typical example would be something like: The ball was played to Raducioiu (Rad-a-choy-you) who set up a chance for Dumitrescu (do-mi-tres-coo). I kid you not. Thankfully this was only a couple of papers which opted to do this. It didn’t make for easy reading.

The television coverage was also bizarre. We’d heard horror stories before we’d flown out there that the Americans had previously taken commercial breaks during matches, and had missed the one and only goal in a game by doing this! We feared the worst.

Having watched the last ten minutes of the opening game between Germany and Bolivia in Spanish (Alan had assured us this was the only station it was on – it wasn’t!), we settled down in the hotel bar at Niagara Falls to relax after a hectic day’s sightseeing in the 105 degree heat, to watch Spain versus South Korea on The Sport’s Network – Canada’s Premier Sports Channel. Forget the two late Korean equalisers, the first shock of the night came when we heard commentary by Alan Parry and Trevor Francis blasting out at us. Thank Christ it wasn’t Jimmy Hill and John Motson. That would certainly have spoiled our holiday.

Fresh from our surprise at this came the next shocker. There we were watching the game when the screen suddenly split into two. Taking up most of the screen was a box at the top left hand side showing adverts (sound and all!), whilst the football was reduced to a little box at the bottom right corner. So small, you’d have needed to have bionic eyes to watch it. We didn’t know what to expect in the States after seeing this.

As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad. The American coverage was mainly shown on ESPN, with NBC taking over at the weekends. The games couldn’t all be shown live though. You’ve got to understand that Beach Volleyball and Pro Jet Skiing must take precedence.

A surprise appearance as commentator on the matches was Ian Darke, who continued to tell us that the games were “being brought to you commercial free by Canon, Fuji, Snickers” etc, etc! Then for 15 minutes at the top of the screen was one of the sponsors logos, to which you were informed that “this section of the match is being brought to you ‘commercial free’ by Canon – world leaders in cameras and copiers”. It could have been a lot worse I suppose.

The linkmen in the studio for sports reports tried to give their recap coverage all they had, but you could tell most of them didn’t really have a clue. Their “highlights” consisted of the goals only, although to be fair, a lot of the matches were shown in full in the wee small hours. Not really the best way to get the game to catch on in the States.

It doesn’t seem to be deterring too many people though as the crowds were healthy and most people in the street at least knew it was on and the interest was certainly there amongst your average sports punter in the bars we were in. That is apart from the waiter in a sports bar in Cleveland, who when asked by us to turn one of the many televisions in the place to the World Cup soccer replied “I’m sorry sir I can’t. This is a sports bar.”!!

For our third and final match, our intrepid wanderers took in Sweden versus Russia.

The crowd was just over 71,000 and an exciting game proved to be a fitting farewell to our World Cup 1994 adventure.

This was a Group B match between the two teams battling it out to see who would likely finish second to Brazil and advance to the next round. Things were looking good for Russia when Oleg Salenko slotted home a 4th minute penalty (pictured below), but Sweden hit back with a penalty of their own from Brolin eight minutes before half time.

Two second half goals from Dahlin gave Sweden a 3-1 victory and all the points. They went on to finish second in the group, finishing third in the tournament overall.

On the morning of this match we discovered that Hibs’ manager Alex Miller was staying at our hotel. Or rather he discovered us and came over to say hello. We met up with him and his wife after the game (he was on a spying trip for Scotland).

We all chatted away for hours on a number of topics – Alex Totten [the then current East Fife manager] and spookily enough, Steve Archibald [the soon the be named East Fife manager] included.

He’s really down to earth, knows his stuff, very amiable, and would talk for hours. That’s how football managers should all be. Some have a lot to learn from Alex.

The rest of our holiday was spent at the home of Jim, Mason, and Trevor Kanous in Rochester in New York state, a very kind, welcoming, and hospitable family we met whilst in Cleveland. They gave us free run of their house and made us feel very much at home, which we will be repeating this year by inviting them over for the British Open golf at St Andrews (well it’s the nearest we’ve got to a World Cup of sorts in Fife).

We found everyone we met on the trip to be very friendly and the number of ex-pat Scots we met over there was amazing, especially at games in the Silverdome. Everyone agreed it was just a shame that Scotland weren’t there playing.

AFTN itself went down well, with numerous copies being sold, although I don’t know what the man from Chile who spoke little English made of it!

Time has now run out on our North American tale. There’s no time to tell you all about my punk karaokeing in Detroit, or Mindy and the schoolgirl volleyball team we met, or the baseball practice (Alan’s an undiscovered star), or speedboating. Just thanks to everyone we met, everyone who bought AFTN, the Kanous’, and Alex Miller and his wife.

America and World Cup ’94 certainly was “history in the making”. It all seems such a long time away now, but it will be remembered for a long time because of the quality of football played at it. Will it help soccer catch on in the States though? I personally don’t think so. It’s already big at schools level, but with the way the big four sports carve up the already full sports calendar, I can’t see soccer breaking in to it.

I think the general feeling in America now is that it was good whilst it lasted, but back to baseball and football. It’s a shame if this happens, but the 1994 World Cup Finals were certainly a success.

It was right to give it to America. The facilities, the merchandising (everything you could possibly want), and games were second to none. It might not have created a new sports monster in the States with the general public, but if nothing else, it WAS good whilst it lasted.

Authored by: Michael McColl

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Michael McColl Author at 00:05

    So as mentioned, this was reprinted with the thoughts and views of the time back in the fanzine in 1994. But some talking points out it…

    (1) Do you think the 1994 World Cup did change the general public’s view of soccer?

    (2) Was it responsible for helping grow the game here or did TV and MLS do more?

    (3) Very early to ask this, but will 2026, and the build up to it, reshape the game here in North America

    (4) What would you like to see happening with the game here in the build up the 2026 Finals and how would you like it to look coming out of it, as the Women’s World Cup in 2015 didn’t do wonders for the women’s professional game here as hoped.


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