Photographer Tony Davis joined fans from across the globe on an American adventure that produced plenty of memorable moments.
Without any match day tickets, booked accommodation, or the added stress of concentrating on England’s fortunes, or failings, Davis was able to put together an itinerary that got him alongside some of the most passionate fans in the world.
American Irish and Italian descendants turned out in force for their games, while the Dutch and Argentinian fans had their match day stadiums rocking.
“I went out to the US on my own accord, just on spec,” said Davis. “I’d done a few big international tournaments; Italia 90, the Euros, Copa America and so USA 94 just seemed like a great opportunity.
“I had no tickets and just stayed at hostels. It was a great time, and enjoyed getting in with the fans and enjoying the atmosphere.”
It was the sheer volume of Irish fans that impressed Davis, “a sea of green all drinking and singing and having a great time,” he recalled.
“Dutch fans were brilliant and probably the nosiest. They just make up fantastic songs – they had one that somehow included the YMCA and then another where they all just swayed forward and back and left and right.
“But for pure passion the best fans were the Argentinians. They were incredible.”
It was the Netherlands who eventually put paid to Ireland, and Charlton’s, American dream, knocking them out of the tournament at the last 16 stage, but only after Ray Houghton’s goal had sealed a memorable 1-0 group stage win against Italy.
A shirt sleeved Jack Charlton, driving his team on from the touchline in the stifling heat, fuelled the already passionate crowd.
New York’s Irish and Italian communities embraced the occasion, but American football fans in general just didn’t get it.
Recalls Davis: “They were used to their longer sports – watching for 3 / 4 hours, like baseball and NFL. They’d turn up at matches, the whole family, with their hampers with only about half hour to go and then complain because someone was in their seat!
“They could just go and sit anywhere but were always really funny about sitting in the seat they had a ticket for. This got my back up a lot and tried to tell them that’s not how football is, it’s about being vocal, supporting your team and having a few beers and a good time. Not just being a spectator.”
Ticket touts, or Scalpers as they are Stateside, were charging $500 a ticket, but Davis got alongside fans on their way to games, buying any spares as he went along.
“Once in the stadium I would used my experience to move around, rather than stay in one place,” he said. “I’d be on one side of the ground and then I’d see another group of supporters on the other and say to myself, right that’s where I’m going.
“Not having England fans for a tournament was a nice change. There’s a huge number of England fans that are great. They just love football. But then there’s always some idiots that ruin it. Like when I was in Turin for Itlaia 90 and a bloke from Watford spent one train journey just shouting “vaffanculo” (go f*** yourself) out the window. Well done mate you’ve learnt one word.”
Davis was happy not having the stress of watching England. “It became more about the Irish or players like Baggio and Romario,” he said, “rather than how England are playing. All that hype and anticipation. And then being let down.”
No Gazza or England, but some of the World’s greatest players of the time were on show. Maradona, Klinsmann, Romario, Baggio, Stoichkov, Brolin, Maldini, Gheorghe Hagi, with Maradona’s screaming goal celebration into the camera one of the tournament’s iconic moments.
Davis has vivid memories of his time covering the tournament, preserved by his pictures.
“A couple of pictures that really capture the tournament for me were the American fans on the train,” he said. “These weren’t your typical sports fans. These were just a couple of guys going to the match, with all the merchandise on. Clearly no clue about football really.
“And the Tailgate party. So American. US fans arguing about parking spaces and spending most of their time outside the ground eating.”
Davis is now contemplating a different type of road trip.
“I’d love to just do something different,” he said. “Maybe ride around Italy or something on my bike, taking pictures of old grounds or revisitng places I’ve been using a polaroid or something like that.”
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