By Michael Lewis
Some soccer players love to give you the shirt of their backs.
Others use it as a sign of protest.
While yet others will use it for a celebration.
While some supporters, league and team trying to battle the ennui of no pro soccer games played in the U.S. with shirt competitions on the internet, I figured I would share my somewhat complicated history with soccer shirts.
Well, I have been more of a voyeur than anything else, watching what has transpired on the field. The most common interaction, of course, is the trading of shirts after matching, especially after internationals. Some players have an impressive collection of shirts, including the likes of Pele, Johan Cruyff, Eusebio, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia.
Heck, Major Soccer League has held a shirt week in the preseason to reveal new kits (see the press pass above, although I am not certain what year it is).
Here’s some of the more unusual moments that I have seen live from a stadium over the past several decades.
Thrown in anger, Part I (June 6, 1976)
No one saw it coming. Some 30 seconds before Rochester Lancers head coach Don Popovic replaced his captain in the first half of his team’s 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps at Holleder Stadium in Rochester, N.Y., Foggon walked off the field and ripped off his No. 8 blue-and-white jersey and hurled it and kicked it in front of Popovic. Foggon then marched to the locker room, got dressed and watched the rest of the game in the stands.
Popovic subbed out the Englishman for Warren Archibald.
Afterwards, Popovic claimed he “never saw it.”
“Before the game, I held a team meeting and told them that anyone who does play up to my expectations will be taken out. You can put that in the paper. He lost a couple of balls in the beginning of the game. I didn’t feel he ran well. He didn’t cover his man, so I felt I had to make a change.”
Foggon had a verbal altercation with Popovic while teammate Francisco Escos objected to referee James Highet awarding him a yellow card. The midfielder yelled at Popovic: “Cool it, leave everyone alone.”
“Who the hell is Alan Foggon in the first place to tell anyone to cool down?”
Foggon, who had hardly distinguished himself in a Lancers uniform (two assists in eight matches), was suspended by the team and traded to the Hartford Bicentennials.
Thrown in anger, Part II (June 17, 1980)
With 5:46 remaining in the Lancers’ 2-1 home loss to the Washington Diplomats, head coach Alex Perolli replaced the 19-year-old Branko Segota with Fred Grgurev. Before he left the Holleder Stadium field for the locker room, Segota took off his jersey, cursed Perolli, according to bystanders and then threw it at the coach. Just before he threw the shirt, Segota was held back by trainer Joe Sirianni.
Perolli, who replaced the fired Ray Klivecka as head coach in a political move by the Rochester faction of owners against the New York/New Jersey group, had rubbed the Canadian standout the wrong way. Segota was insulted that Perolli continued to refer to him as No. 20, instead of by his name.
“He didn’t know who I was, although he had seen a couple of games,” he said. “He still doesn’t know half of the names [team members].
“That was the last straw. I couldn’t take it any more. It came to a point. Enough was enough. I told him, ‘You want to play, Perolli? Here’s the shirt.” In Portland, I had my first big argument with him and he took me out. I asked him why and he said, ‘There’s other people on the bench who want to play, too. We have to win games.”
Asked to reply to Segota’s comments, Perolli said: “I’m not interested in Mr. Segota. He’s another player. In 28 years, I’ve seen millions of Segotas. He’s just another player. Mr. Segota is fired. He is finished with me. Kaput. He would never play for me on this club as long as I’m coach of this club.”
On June 17, Segota was suspended for the season. “He has a nasty attitude,” Perolli said. “And, he hasn’t been playing well recently. Forget about how good he is. If he doesn’t perform with the team, you can’t win.”
On June 28, Segota and the Lancers kissed and made — literally. After he was reinstated from his 12-day suspension, he shook the hand of club vice president Nuri Sabuncu, who then planted a kiss on Segota’s cheek.
Brandi loses it after winning (July 19, 1999)
If you are a soccer fan and you don’t know about this, then shame on you that you didn’t know how Brandi Chastain celebrated converting the winning shootout goal to boost the U.S. women’s national team over China and to its second Women’s World Cup championship in three tries.
I’ll let the first few graphs of my New York Daily News story to tell the story:
After she won it for the United States, defender Brandi Chastain admitted she lost it.
Seconds after connecting for the game-winning goal in the penalty kick shootout against China, Chastain ripped off her shirt and whipped it around in celebration.
“Momentary insanity: she called it after romping around the field in her sports bra and game shorts.
She can be forgiven for her lapse, considering the U.S. had just put an exclamation point on a wonderful and unforgettable three weeks by capturing the Women’s World Cup yesterday.
He loves NY (2000)
A few weeks into the 2000 Major League Soccer season, the LA Galaxy traded Clint Mathis to the MetroStars. He loved it and let the fans at Giants Stadium know it every time he scored a goal.
“I think it is important to embrace the fans and community,” Mathis wrote in a Daily News column.” I want New Yorkers to know how happy I am to be here. That is why I wear the ‘I Love New York’ T-shirt underneath my jersey. Every time I score a goal, I will raise my jersey to show my New York pride.”
Even though he played in East Rutherford, N.J.
“Growing up watching movies about New York, I always remember people wearing the ‘I Love NY” shirts,” he added. “When I went back to LA, I hoped to score a goal against my former team and I wanted to do something special for the New York fans. I thought wearing the ‘I Love New York’ shirt underneath my jersey would be the best way to show how happy I was to be in New York with the MetroStars.
“When I scored the MetroStars’ first goal of the match against LA, I ripped off my jersey, revealing the T-shirt as I ran across the field. My teammates and the MetroStars fans loved it. Naturally the Los Angeles fans hated it but I didn’t do it out of disrespect for L.A, I did it to show how happy I am to be in New York.
“One day the LA fans the rest of the league will see me wearing my T-shirt on the ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ when we are hoisting the MLS Cup. That would be the ultimate dream come true.”
Ah, maybe not. The MetroStars, now the Red Bulls are still trying to win their first LS Cup after 24 years of yearning for league glory.
Revenge is Coming (Aug. 21, 2002)
After scoring the final goal of the MetroStars’ 5-3 win over the Colorado Rapids defender Mike Petke raised his team jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read: Aug. 16 Crime of the Century. The back said: Revenge is coming.
On Aug. 16, Tampa Bay Mutiny striker Mamadou Diallo, the league’s leading scorer, sent goalkeeper Mike Ammann to to the hospital with three broken ribs, a punctured lung and facial lacerations after kneeing him in the chest and kicking him in the head. Ammann didn’t return until the playoffs.
“The only thing I would say about that is that I wanted to voice my opinion,” Petke said. “What happened down there is really wearing on me. It’s wearing on everybody. I don’t remember anything like this I saw that affected me like this. I actually lost sleep over it, just to know that a career was possibly ruined.”
MLS fined Petke $250 for the shirt incident.