By Michael Lewis
During my career, just about every time I thought I saw everything, something else popped up to surprise me or have me shaking my head.
Take, for instance, Colombia’s 2-1 victory over Honduras at Shea Stadium in Queens on Nov. 1, 1996.
That’s right, Shea Stadium.
It was the first international match at the old ballpark since Ecuador played New York United in a friendly Aug. 9, 1980 (the South American side won, 1-0, before 11,342 fans).
I have to admit, I don’t exact remember the details of the game, but I do remember one important factor — the crowd.
According to organizers, 31,112 watched the game that night, although some observers, including myself, felt it was at least 35,000. The crowd filled parts of the upper deck in the right field side.
One theory going around – and it could not be proved – is that the Mundial Sports Group, the event’s promoters, under- reported the crowd.
Yes, let me repeat that:
Someone quite possibility under-reported a soccer crowd – in the United States.
Now, that certainly was a first, at least for yours truly, because we have become accustomed to teams and promoters padding a crowd. Heck, I’ve seen enough “sellouts” with plenty of empty seats in Major League Soccer through the years, and yes, including the Red Bulls.
Now, why would a promoter want to claim the attendance was less than the actual count? Well, local state associations, under U.S. Soccer regulations, get 10 percent of the gate.
Because the game was played a month after the baseball season, the pitcher’s mound was leveled, and the infield was sodded with grass. There was not a problem with the pitch, or with the fans, who patiently waited 45 minutes beyond the regularly scheduled kickoff for Colombia to show up.
“This is just not another soccer game,” said Noel Lemon of Mundial Sports Group. “This is a test, not just for the community, for games in the future.”
Promoters were thinking of a Brazil-Colombia match-up in 1997. They wanted to host the game during the summer, but that was next to impossible because the Mets probably wouldn’t want to gamble on changing the field, even on a long road trip. If memory serves, that game did not come to fruition.
And before I forget, in one of the craziest scenes I have ever seen in a press box, Mexico head coach Bora Milutinovic – yes, that Bora Milutinovic – scouted the game because his team was going to play Honduras in World Cup qualifying. Now, that was understandable, except for one thing. Bora had a videotape camera recording the game – himself. That’s right, a national coach was working a video camera. I asked Bora if recording the game from such a distance was a help and he replied it was no problem.
Like I said, every time you think you’ve seen everything, something else will have you shaking your head.