World Cup Journal  World CupWorld Cup journal bannerWorld Cup journal button


An American Fanís Journal

June 16, 1998: The Great Paris Umbrella Riot.

June 14, 1998: A crowning moment for Nigeria.

June 13, 1998: Let the World Cup debate begin.

June 10, 1998: World Cup off to good start.

An American Fan's Journal: French cabbies and waiters know the truth.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes Correspondent

LYON (Friday, June 19, 1998) -- Many United States Soccer Federation officials, and not a few of the players, have spent the days since the U.S. defeat by Germany doing a little rewriting of history.

The company line is that we expected to lose to Germany, that a 2-0 defeat is not all that bad, and that if that early Moeller header had not somehow found itself in the net, and had the U.S. gotten lucky, it might well have "stolen" a point.

Journalists have long known if you seek truths, cab drivers and waiters are a perfect place to start in any foreign country. They always have opinions and are not afraid to share them.

On our way to the airport for a flight to Nice and a couple of days away from soccer, on the morning after the match, our cab driver assumed we were American fans. What a shame that result was, he said. But what did we expect; "after all, you were playing the Germans who are all professionals."

Apparently word of the quality of play within Major League Soccer has not reached Paris, or then again maybe it has.

Likewise, in Nice at breakfast our waiter asked why we were in France. When told we are here for the football and that we are American (not Brits) he was clearly amazed. "Americans would come all this distance for football?" He said he had watched the U.S.- Germany match. "It is a shame you came all this way and your team is so terrible." He had not meant it that harshly. In conversation it was clear that he, like most Europeans, had expected little from the U.S. side.

That is the pity of the Monday match. All of Europe was watching, hoping that the U.S. might be competitive. In fact, the result seems to confirm that the U.S. is some kind of soccer backwater.

In the U.S.,we assume that all of Europe is soccer-mad. But get over here and you see a very different story. In fact, French football officials are quick to say they hope that the World Cup will help boost soccer interest throughout France. Here soccer, or at least passionate soccer support is "southern" meaning that soccer is king in Marseille, in other southern French cities. In the "north," basically meaning Paris, soccer is much less popular and then popular mostly among lower economic classes.

This is why Paris St. Germain, which plays its matches at the 49,000 seat Parc Des Princes refused to move to the lavish, new 80,000 seat Stade de France in suburban Saint-Denis. They could not be sure they could attract the numbers of fans, match in and match out, to pay the high rent on the new stadium.

It's sort of amazing to talk to French soccer officials about their programs to boost soccer interest among young players.

We learned today that strikes can work in your favor. On the highway to Lyon today the toll collectors were on strike. So it was just drive through the toll booths, no payment necessary.

Marylandís Bob Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at