In July, when I went to M&T Bank Stadium to watch European soccer titans Chelsea and AC Milan play an exhibition game (left), I was blown away.
I knew Baltimore a passionate base of soccer enthusiasts, built around local haunts like Slainte, but nothing prepared me for the pandumonium on display. For one thing, all 70,000 tickets, ranging from $35 to $175, were sold out. But more shocking was the enthusiasm of the attendees. More than half were wearing either blue Chelsea jerseys or the black and red gear of AC Milan and hundreds had their bodies and/or faces painted in their team colors. The cheering was intense and sustained throughout the match
I spoke to a few of the attendees and they seemed evenly split between Baltimore-born folks who either play or played soccer or otherwise developed a passion for it over the years, and immigrants or children of immigrants from all over the world, who now lived in Baltimore or D.C., and were jazzed at the rare opportunity to see a world-class match.
Since the event, universally judged to be a massive financial and promotional success, local leaders have stepped up efforts to create a permanent soccer presence in Baltimore. In October, Mayor Sheila Dixon sent a letter to the Maryland Stadium Authority, asking the body to study the possibility of building a new soccer stadium downtown to lure Major Soccer League franchise D.C. United—which has been unsatisfied with current negotiationms for a new home close to D.C.—to Charm City.
In addition, Baltimore is one of five U.S. cities in the running to host the 2018/2022 World Cup. You can sign the petition to bring the Cup to Baltimore here. The petition page includes some interesting facts about the history of soccer in Baltimore, including the following:
The city of Baltimore has long loved the game of soccer.
It was home to NPSL charter team Baltimore Bays. In 1973, a then-record crowd of 24,680 watched as the Bays were defeated 6-4 by the Brazilian National Team lead by a thirty-three year old named Edison Arantes do Nascimento, Pele.
According to a report in the Baltimore Evening Sun, "Pele was mobbed by fans at the end of the game and escaped to the locker room attired only in a pair of black bikini briefs."
Currently, Baltimore is home to the Baltimore Blast of the NISL, Maryland Tigers of the PASL, Charm City FC of the NPSL and Crystal Palace Baltimore & Real Maryland Monarchs of the second division USL.
Our city's embrace of soccer is not entirely surprise. Within driving distance of Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York, Baltimore is an ideal regional location to draw fans of the international sport from each of those urban hubs. And, it goes without saying, Baltimore is a great sports town. If we can endure another 100-loss season for the Orioles, we can certainly endure our share of scoreless 90-minute soccer matches.
(photo courtesy udothedishes.com)