In this The Fan In You piece, TSG Photog Extraordinaire Matt Mathai fills us in on how he came about his passion
Death Valley Days “Life nowadays as a DC United fan”
There's only one Matt Mathai. One Matt Mathaaaaaiiii. There's only one Matt Mathai.
My first introduction to top-level soccer in America came in 1992 when a friend and I went to see the USA-Ireland match at RFK Stadium.
More so, it was a chance to see Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, Thomas Dooley, and the new elegant US player, Roy Wegerle. It was really cold and rainy for a May day and match, but we stuck it out and were rewarded with a 3-1 win.
I was hooked.
I had played, coached, and reffed soccer at various levels all my life, but this was different somehow.
I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve traveled to watch the USMNT in action since then. The most memorable time was in 2001 when the Screaming Eagles, a DC United supporters group, organized a trip to Mexico City for a WC qualifier.
Estadio Azteca was and is awesome.
110,000 fans in green, and then there was about 130 of us in red, white, and blue.
The tension ramped up when we unfurled a huge US flag right behind goal. A little unwise, perhaps, but we hadn’t come all that way to sit quietly and anonymously in a corner. We were hit by all kinds of things thrown at us….beer, coins, batteries, and other less savory things that I am too much of a gentleman to mention.
I love the red jersey I wore it that day. It now has a burn mark where I was hit with a lit flare.
Yes, you read that correctly, hit…with…a…lit flare.
All of it, though, the atmosphere, the sound, the singing, the armored riot police escorting us through a tunnel of plexiglas riot shields, all of it was awesome.
1992: USA v. Ireland: Notice the Budweiser ‘frame’ they used for ads. This was an improvement over having to take commercial breaks, which they did during the TV broadcasts of the 1990 World Cup.
In 1994, my friend and I took a lot of time off and spent a lot of money to see 14 World Cup matches.
The most notable were: Ireland vs. Italy (a shock upset), Saudi Arabia vs. Belgium (one of the finest goals ever scored in a World Cup) and Germany vs. Bulgaria (Stoitchkov beating the Germans with a beautiful free kick ). Then Italy vs. Brazil….the final. I remember sitting in the stands in Pasadena thinking that I’d fulfilled one of my dreams.
Here’s the shot I took of Stoitchkov nailing his free kick.
And here’s a shot of the pre-game ceremony at the final in Pasadena
I joined Sam’s Army early because I liked the idea of promoting American support for the USMNT. I was tired of watching games in the US where our fans were outnumbered. In the beginning, it was often just 10 or 20 of us in red behind a goal.
The players noticed, though, and that made it worthwhile.
I was thrilled when MLS started.
Only the finest graphic design from 1996...
The announcement in 1995 that my home of Washington, D.C. would get a team was a great day for me.
I felt committed to helping it succeed in any way I could, so I decided to form a supporters group….which eventually became the noted Screaming Eagles.
I set up a listserve and a web page and started to attract traffic from the people I used to talk to on the rec.sport.soccer newsgroup.
I contacted the DC team (as yet unnamed) in 1995 while they were still in an office in NYC and we agreed to talk once they set up operations in the DC area. I was lucky enough to establish very good relationships with everyone in the front office, and those relationships persist to this day.
The first sign I had that we had something was when the Name-The-Team contest was conducted via telephone and my web page. That was pretty cool. It’s a long story for another time, but I’m glad to say that sanity prevailed and the name ‘DC United’ was selected.
Here's a shot I took in April 1996 at the Meet the Team event. Bob Bradley, John Harkes, Marco Etcheverry.
Where have you gone, Said Fazlagic?
The year began with such promise.
It wasn’t to last. We were terrible in the early days. Arena fired half the team after the second game, a 0-4 loss at Columbus, I believe.