I wrote this piece as the second part of my column about Lyndelle Phillips and Carlos Llamosa for MLSnet.com, two days after the 911 tragedy. It is used with permission.
It’s funny. There was military personnel at the World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on March 28, 2001, as pictured above. The next day we left for the states. At the airport, there was security dressed in military uniforms. I couldn’t believe what I saw and mentioned to a fellow journalist that was a site I had never seen in the USA. Several months later, there was military personnel at the airports and Penn Station in New York City.
By Michael Lewis
Like many people, as someone who flies an average of at least one time a month, certainly Tuesday’s events hit home in more ways than one.
Saying that, here’s some thoughts and memories about security, on the ground and in the air:
Plane security. You don’t know how many times I went through security at LaGuardia and JFK while the personnel was laughing, telling jokes or having a good time. In these people I trusted my life and safety? Yikes! My computer case included a laptop, extra computer and regular batteries, a tape recorder, tapes and a cell phone. I was asked to open the case maybe only 20 percent of the time, which was mind-boggling. Hopefully, this will change forever.
I covered soccer games at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass., when then vice president Bush attended the opening ceremonies. I remember Secret Service and men with rifles on the roof of the stadium.
1986 World Cup
I believe it was after the Diego Maradona “Hand of God” game at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. While walking back to the media bus, I noticed a phalanx of about 100 soldiers with rifles marching past me. I don’t know if those rifles had ammo, but I definitely felt safer.
1990 World Cup draw
I got a phone as a gift from the Italian phone company at the draw in Rome. When I went through security at the airport, I was asked if I was given a gift and I said the phone. The security man wanted to look at it (it was packed in my suitcase, not carry-on baggage), so they searched the bag. After putting the phone through an X-ray machine several times, he allowed it to go through. Now, he’s the catch: After I went through security and X-ray machine for my carry-on baggage, the same security man escorted me (“Mr. Lewis, please come this way”) to a place where all my stuff was thoroughly inspected. At the time, I didn’t particularly enjoy being singled out while getting on the plane — other passengers were looking at me and were wondering what was going on — but I definitely understood why.
1990 World Cup
Several colleagues and I got to Bologna well before a bunch of notorious English fans were to come through for a second-round game against Belgium that night. While waiting at the train station, police asked us if we were British. No, no, we replied, we were American and showed them our media badges, which had our nationalities on it. As it turned out, most of the notorious fans were deported the night before. As for the good English fans, they were rounded up by police and bussed to an area, where they waited in the sun (it certainly seeped the energy out of them) for hours before the match.
1993 in London
Quite frankly, I can’t remember the tube (subway) station. I was heading out to Millwall to talk with some of the American contingent there — Bruce Murray, John Kerr and Kasey Keller. While waiting for the train, there was a package left on the platform. Police asked all passengers to step away from it. I walked — calmly — and hid behind a pillar as far away as I could get. I got irrational thoughts in my head, wondering if that package had a bomb in it. When the train came, I got on. Never did find out what was in the package.
1994 World Cup
.Millions were sent on security, but officials would never tell their plans. We went through at least one, probably two, checkpoints at the stadium. All I know is that nothing happened.
After the bombing in Atlanta security increased dramatically. At Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., media had to go through not one, not two, but three check points. No complaints here.
1998 World Cup and 2000 Olympics
Perhaps I have gotten accustomed to the multiple checks and procedures, but nothing happened out of the ordinary during security checks in France and Australia, respectively. Hmmm. If I have become accustomed to these so-called routine checks, perhaps authorities will have to step up procedures at next year’s World Cup.
2002 World Cup
Already the South Korea World Cup Organizing Committee has said that their 10 venues will be no-fly zones and will reassess its security plans, as will the Japanese World Cup Organizing Committee. But it appears a major restructuring of the security plans will take place. “This is on a completely different scale to what we have been planning for. Clearly, it is something that needs firm policies at a governmental level,” a JAWOC spokesman told Reuters.
The future. Will I be leery of going on a plane the first time (to Columbus for MLS Cup next month)? Yes, I will. Will I let this stop me in reporting on the most beautiful game in the world? No, I won’t.