Commentary: Livin' in Liverpool June 30

World Cup rekindles MacArthur Stadium memories

A good friend of mine, who's of Italian ancestry, asked me who I liked in the World Cup. I had to explain that "futbol" is one game I no longer follow to any degree.

Four decades ago, I must've still had an open mind. When I was a teenager in the 1960s, my younger brother, Jim, and I were fans of the Syracuse Scorpions, a soccer team in the North American Soccer League (or something like that), a minor-league for sure, but professional players mostly from the Caribbean.

The games were played across the outfield at MacArthur Stadium, a big old wooden baseball stadium of 8,416 seats erected (as Municipal Stadium) in 1934 on the North Side of Syracuse. In the 1960s, that part of town was mainly an Italian neighborhood.

They worshipped at Our Lady of Pompei, St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, Assumption Church, and they operated coffee-and-biscotti shops where you could buy creamy canolis and thick dark European-style coffee blends, and maybe even place a bet on your favorite American football team. There were import grocery stores, sausage markets, pizza parlors, tailors, cobblers, the Columbus Bakery you get the picture.

So the stadium was just a stone's throw from that vibrant Italian neighborhood, so, of course, who came to the futbol games when the Scorpions were in town?

Yeah, all the old Italian guys -- not many ladies, mostly guys and mostly old -- but wow, they were serious about the game and held absolutely nothing back when cheering the Scorpions on to the net.

That really impressed my brother and I who were used to the relatively quiet and polite crowds at the Chiefs baseball game. I mean baseball fans may get drunk and rowdy every now and then, maybe give an umpire and earful or even loudly point out a particular player's deficiencies ("You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, you bum!"), but those Italian soccer fans made baseball fans look like boy scouts.

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