Baltimore Soccer is a Blast
Rossoneri Ronnie takes on the battlin' Blues
I'm soccered-out after a sports weekend highlighted by all the soccer coverage of the "World Football Challenge" (a six-match round-robin tournament featuring four of the world's elite teams spreading their club "brand name" - as increasingly pompous ESPN commentator Alexi Lalas phrased it - to American audiences) on ESPN. (Not to mention the Gold Cup final between Mexico and the USA's B Team, but the less said about that 5-0 drubbing by our friends south of the border the better!) Chelsea's Blues may have won the overall exhibition competition, but the real star of the event was Baltimore, where 71,200 fans packed M&T Stadium for the match between Chelsea FC of the English Premiere League and A.C. Milan of the Italian Serie A. Detroit may have slipped past us as Murder Capitol USA, but to the international soccer community, Baltimore is #1; we were the only sell-out for the competition (OK, 81,000 people filled the Rose Bowl match between Chelsea and Inter Milan, but the Rose Bowl seats 100,000). Yes, Bawmer the baseball and football (or "throwball," as I call it) town turned out in capacity numbers for a soccer match. And it was a great game, won by Chelsea 2-1 and featuring a scorching goal by my man Didier Drogba! Color me impressed! (You can even color me Blue after seeing The Blues look so dominant.)
Highlights of the Chelsea-AC Milan match at M&T Stadium
Fan Kyle Gustafson took some great photos at the game (he either had great seats or a great telephoto camera lens); check out his blog pix.
The previous record attendance for a soccer match in Baltimore was 24,680, for which you'd have to go back to May 30, 1973 when the Baltimore Bays took on Brazilian superstar Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) and his club team Santos at Memorial Stadium.
Pele took on the Baltimore Bays in 1973
I know, because I was there with some other teenaged St. Paul's School soccer chums. Pele scored three goals that night to lead Santos past the Baltimore Bays 6-4 - seeing 10 goals in a game was every bit as exciting as seeing Pele himself! Santos played the Bays again in Baltimore on June 19, 1973, once again beating the Bays, this time by 4-0.
In the early days of the North American Soccer League (1967-68), the Baltimore Bays had a franchise that played home games in Memorial Stadium and the late-great Jim Karvellas was the team's play-by-play announcer. Karvellis later became a co-owner of the Bays when they played in the American Soccer League (1972-73). According to Baltimore's Press Box, "Following the final season with the ASL, Karvellas' Bays played an independent schedule against international competition and hosted the powerful Moscow Dynamos and Santos of Brazil for two exciting nights of big-time soccer that have never been duplicated in this town."
The latter Santos reference has to be the 1973 game I saw on May 30.
I still remember the Baltimore Bays theme song they used to play over the loudspeakers, "It's a Gold & Red World." It was sung by none other than future crappy-lounge-coverband chanteusse Alana Shor (of Tiffany, Paper Cup, Shor Patrol - who flirted with national recognition in 1983 with their "Loverboy" single - and countless other forgettable ephemeral ensembles). I still have the 45 (featuring red text on a gold label, natch). I think the jingle was something along the lines of "It's a gold, a gold and red world when the Baltimore Bays come on/A little pass here and little pass there and we score, baby we score!"
Listen to Alana Shor sing "It's a Red & Gold World."
The highlight of Bays games was seeing the occasional international side come to town. And, apparently, the World Football Challenge wasn't the first international soccer tournament to hit Baltimore. Thanks to a co-worker at the library, I recently came into possession of the following program for a 1969 Baltimore Bays presentation for something called the "International Cup Soccer Competition" that sounds like it was a precursor to the 2009 World Football Challenge idea. In this case, it featured five top "British Soccer Clubs representing the North American Soccer League Clubs" in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Atlanta played host to Aston Villa, Dallas to Dundee United, KC to Wolverhampton Wanderers, St. Louis to Kilmarnock, and Baltimore to West Ham United. Each team played four home games and four away games for the league title, with West Ham United playing "a fifth game in Memorial Stadium against an opponent to be named at a later date."
By the way, my fellow librarian Paul McCardell at the Baltimore Sun maintains a wonderful "Soccer in Baltimore" blog. According to Paul:
Soccer has been played in Baltimore for more than 100 hundred years, brought to town by its many immigrants. The story goes that large groups of Englishmen, Scotsmen, Irishmen and Germans came over to rebuild Baltimore after the great Baltimore Fire in 1904. Some of these men were former professional soccer players. The English organized the Sons of St.George Soccer Club which was based Colgate Creek. Soon more teams followed, organized by the Greeks, Italians and many other ethnic groups.
Baltimore had more than 100 teams in 14 leagues at its peak in the early 1930s. The city would draw international competion on May 15,1946 when the Liverpool Reds played the Baltimore Americans, the champions of the American Soccer League. The game was played at the stadium, where Baltimore lost 9-0. Chelsea played in Baltimore May 21,1954 at Westport Stadium against the Baltimore Rockets of the American Soccer League. Chelsea won 7-1.
The "Soccer in Baltimore" blog also features an interesting soccer photo archive. Here's the newspaper blurb for that 1954 Chelsea game here, once again highlighting a Blues victory.
Seems like the Blues can't lose in Baltimore!