USA 94 | This is Soccer, Sucker!

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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.

World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
We’re not so sure, mate: An American fan of the Netherlands shows off his homemade sign to the press. Netherlands 2-1 Saudi Arabia. RFK Stadium, Washington DC. 20.06.94. © Tony Davis

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.”

Mexico fans. World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
The Twelfth Man: Mexico fans watch entertainment ahead of kick-off. Norway 1-0 Mexico. RFK Stadium, Washington DC. 19.06.94. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Mexico fans arrive at the RFK Stadium. Norway 1-0 Mexico. RFK Stadium, Washington DC. 19.06.94. © Tony Davis

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.

Ireland fan. World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Ireland fans celebrate the final whistle against Italy. Italy 0-1 Republic of Ireland. Giants Stadium, East Rutherford. 18.06.94. @ Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Ireland fans try to keep cool in the sweltering heat. Republic of Ireland 0-0 Norway. Giants Stadium, East Rutherford. 28.06.94. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Giants Stadium ahead of Republic of Ireland v Norway. The Stadium hosted seven games including the semi-final between Bulgaria and Italy. Capacity 76,322. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Ireland fans leave the Giants Stadium. Republic of Ireland 0-0 Norway. Giants Stadium, East Rutherford. 28.06.94. © Tony Davis

“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!”

Tony Davis
Ireland fanWorld Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Don’t take me home. An Ireland fan phones home outside the Giants Stadium after Ireland qualified for the knockout rounds. Republic of Ireland 0-0 Norway. Giants Stadium, East Rutherford. 28.06.94. © Tony Davis

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.”

Bolivia fans. World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Keeping the party going. Bolivia fans leave Foxboro Stadium their draw with South Korea. South Korea 0-0 Bolivia. Foxboro Stadium, Foxborough. 23.06.94. © Tony Davis

Football is about being vocal, supporting your team and having a few beers and a good time. Not just being a spectator.”

Tony Davis
South Korea fans. World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
South Korea fans cheer their team against Bolivia. South Korea 0-0 Bolivia. Foxboro Stadium, Foxborough. 23.06.94. © Tony Davis

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.”

World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
The Dutch band make some noise. Netherlands 2-1 Saudi Arabia. RFK Stadium, Washington DC. 20.06.94. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
A sign supporting Netherlands manager Dick Advocaat. Netherlands 2-1 Saudi Arabia. RFK Stadium, Washington DC. 20.06.94. © Tony Davis

“For pure passion the best fans were the Argentinians. They were incredible.” 

Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Saudi Arabia supporters. Netherlands 2-1 Saudi Arabia. RFK Stadium, Washington DC. 20.06.94. © Tony Davis

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.

Roberto Baggio. World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
The Divine Ponytail: Roberto Baggio appears in a TV interview. Baggio would miss the crucial penalty in the World Cup Final against Brazil. © Tony Davis
Argentina fans. World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Argentina fans head to Foxboro Stadium ahead of match against Nigeria. Argentina 2-1 Nigeria. Foxboro Stadium, Foxborough. 25.06.94. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Argentina supporters in full swing. Argentina 2-1 Nigeria. Foxboro Stadium, Foxborough. 25.06.94. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Nigeria fans with their Boombox ahead of kick-off. Argentina 2-1 Nigeria. Foxboro Stadium, Foxborough. 25.06.94. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
A mixed group of fans watch the match between Argentina and Argentina on a television in parking lot near the Foxboro Stadium. Argentina 2-1 Nigeria. Foxboro Stadium, Foxborough. 25.06.94. . © Tony Davis

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.”

World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Official merch only: US fans take the train to a match at the Foxboro Stadium. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
US traditions: Tailgate party in the parking lot at Foxboro Stadium. © Tony Davis

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.”

World Cup USA 1994 by Tony Davis is published by Cafe Royal Books.

EverReady Energizer Rabbit World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
Out of energy: An ‘EverReady’ Energizer Rabbit suit is discarded in the heat. The Energizer Rabbit was one of the main sponsors of the tournament. © Tony Davis
World Cup USA 1994. Tony Davis Archive
New York, New York: The Empire State Building. © Tony Davis

If you enjoyed that, you may also like Football fans bringing the 90s back to life, where Davis focuses on football fans, their fashions and their culture in a series of candid images that recapture the real essence of a 90s match day.

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