Here are the first paragraphs of Chapter 5 of Rock n Roll Soccer – ‘Gimmicks, girls and teenage Kicks – selling soccer to the US public’, which examines the endlessly inventive ways that teams tried to hawk an unfamiliar sport to an inherently sceptical public nonetheless willing to give anything new a try if the price was cheap and the freebies abundant. As the San Jose Earthquakes’ PR manager Dick Berg said at the time, ‘We want the people to come out and try soccer, and to have fun while they’re doing it. There is no reason why they can’t enjoy a good game and have a couple of laughs at the same time.’ This was in stark contrast to Europe, where the match day experience tended to be a combination of violence, discomfort, disappointment and - with every bite of your burger - the prospect of botulism.
|Minnesota fans getting their Kicks|
(Alan Merrick private archive)
For young people in the Upper Midwest twin cities area of Minneapolis and St Paul in the late 1970s, the soccer game was the place to go if you wanted to get high, get drunk and get off with someone. It wasn’t really planned that way, even though when the team arrived in the city in 1976 after failing in Colorado they hired an advertising agency that decided to target the young demographic. A peculiar set of circumstances turned the parking lots outside the 49,000-capacity Metropolitan Stadium (‘the Met’) in Bloomington, a town fifteen minutes south of the Minneapolis city border, into a bacchanalian celebration of all the things that youths the world over will do if given the time, the space and the tacit permission.
One local writer, Jon Bream, said the parties had the feel of Woodstock, but that, by comparison, ‘rock has lost much of its counter-cultural spirit. There was a certain tribal spirit that brought the people together. It was a force greater than the music or adulation for a particular performer or band.’ Only at the Grateful Dead did you still see that spirit, but at the Kicks, ‘the Woodstock generation and their younger bothers and sisters stand around in the Met Stadium parking lot sharing bread, a bottle of wine and a joint just like those hippies did at the Woodstock festival. Some people urinate in public because the lines at the portable toilets are too long – just as they did at Woodstock. They toss frisbees and frolic in the sun.’
The usual American word for such activities is ‘tailgating’, which just means picnicking quite elaborately in the car park outside a sports stadium before a game. The Kicks’ fans were into much more than tame tailgating, though. Tailgating was what the older fans of the Minnesota Vikings football team did in winter, at the same stadium. This was a summer celebration, with fewer clothes and inhibitions, and a lot more recreational drug taking, and was always going to be more lively than the mere setting up of a portable grill to make burg- ers and hot dogs with a couple of cold beers to wash them down. Essentially, these were unregulated raves, but without the dance music and the mass dancing. There had been nothing like it before in American sport, and nothing since. It was why, as the Kicks’ former goalkeeper and coach Geoff Barnett puts it, there developed ‘an absolute love affair’ between the team and its fans…