Red Letter from the Colonies – Part 3
By Ian Cheyne.
From my perspective the 1994 World Cup was an opportunity to watch the games with the blessed relief of not having to be disappointed after living every England game on the edge of my seat. Failing to qualify does have its upside and somehow, despite citizenship and nearly 40 years here, I don’t quite have the same emotional attachment to the US team.
That tournament clearly represented a sea change in the way football was covered and perceived in the US. Prior tournaments, although televised, had a limited audience and certainly the amount of discussion ‘around the water cooler’ was sparse; for this tournament it seemed everyone was watching. Two of the three major networks, ABC and NBC, carried games, as did ESPN; every game was live and every venue was sold out. Talk was constant and the level of interest from all age groups, not just the younger demographic that grew up playing the game, was at a level I had never experienced in the country. The country felt different, after it was over little snippets from the UK and other Euro leagues started to show up on ESPN, even if the announcers couldn’t pronounce the names of teams or players. The FA Cup final started to be broadcast live. Change was both in and on the air.
Personal change was in the air as well. By the time of that 1994 World Cup I had relocated after 13 years in South Jersey to East Tennessee. The Fall season in Knoxville is a sea of shades of orange, the leaves are turning in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and the colours of the University of Tennessee are everywhere, most visibly on the chequerboard end zones of UT’s Neyland stadium.
“Football time” in Tennessee is an annual celebration of the City, State, Alumni and student body love affair with the University, most prominently symbolised by the Football Team (The Volunteers). At the time UT was enjoying a great period of success and was in the middle of the Peyton Manning Quarterback years, the height of an affair of the heart with a standout player made even more passionate by his decision to resist the NFL’s millions and remain at UT for his final year. The ritual of ‘tailgating’, eating and drinking before games, on the banks of the Tennessee River with the ‘Vol’ Navy’ in the background and Neyland rising high in front was an experience not to be missed. Going to a game was pretty much an all-day affair …
For me, in many ways, Orange was the new Red. It was the first time I had truly experienced in the US the same kind of devotion and commitment to a team that I felt for my beloved LFC. Neyland was not Anfield, with its tightly packed and swaying bodies but, even when mostly seated, 107,000 people and a marching band can make a lot of noise and generate an amazing atmosphere. I was hooked, and I still am.
By the time of my move to Knoxville, Cable TV companies had worked out that they had available bandwidth on that ever-present coaxial pipe into the home, and from there it was seemingly mere minutes before broadband cable modems were in every home. The World Wide Web was growing exponentially and with it the access to instant information from all over the world. Want to know the weather in Marrakesh? Well there it is, oh and here’s a live feed from a webcam in the souk … but, more to the point, what’s the score, and presto, there it was.
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