As soon as the USA won the bid to stage the World Cup in 1994, some commentators questioned the wisdom of awarding the tournament to a country whose interest in professional football was minimal, writes Ian Searcey.
On the eve of the tournament opening. Channel 4 News sent David Smith to Chicago to gauge local interest. Despite heavy corporate sponsorship, most of those Smith asked appeared to have no knowledge of the game or the tournament.
Reporting from the seats of the Soldier Field stadium on 16 June 1994, which was expecting a sell-out crowd and President Clinton’s presence for the Germany v Bolivia game, Smith talks about “the absence of fever” and opinion polls which indicated most Americans did not know what the World Cup was or have any idea of its importance to the rest of the world.
“It’s semi-sport,” says one interviewee, while another suggests more fights would make it more popular. Some slightly more enlightened souls believed that interest would grow if America did well (“Everyone loves a winner!”). Tommy Lasorda, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, had an unshakeable belief that even if the country had no idea what the sport was, America would win it.
In the end the tournament was a great success, with huge attendances, but the US team were knocked out in the last 16 by Brazil, who went on to not only become the first team to win the cup four times, but to become the first team to win the final on penalties.