Soccer, Spectacle, and Drama

Olympic Soccer

It was a week of sunny days, spectacle and drama. Teams from all over the world converged on Cambridge to play out their preliminary matches in an atmosphere curiously different from the "Olympic fever" that has struck Los Angeles.

A calm settled over Cambridge towards the middle of the week, as what was previously novelty became routine: Wells Fargo guards on Plympton Street, a large net over the windows of the Quincy dining hall, and thousands of unfamiliar people crowding into Harvard Stadium.

While security was tight for the first game, things seemed to be more relaxed by mid-week, when it became more or less routine. The players were still shepherded around in buses (although the Iraqi team members did their laundry on Bow Street); police boats still patrolled the waters of the Charles around the Harvard bridge; passes were still closely examined, to make sure that any terrorist threat could be nipped in the bud.

But above all, it was a week of color: blues, reds, greens, and golds. With the multicolored banners of the participating nations hanging at the back of Harvard Stadium, the uniforms of the players on the field also mirrored the crowd, often dressed in full regalia.

The flags were out at every opportunity--the tricolor for the French game on Tuesday, and the Iraqi starred banners on Monday and Wednesday.

The color also came from the uniforms of the official personnel--part of the official "dynamic color palette" chosen by the Olympic Committee for these games. "Brilliant hot magenta, bright vermillion, clear aqua, rich chrome yellow, and vivid green are the five primary Olympic Look colors," according to a promotional release.

The crowd formed a similar array: there were families and high school students eager to get their first glimpse of an authentic Olympic event. "How many chances do you get to see Olympic soccer in New England?" asked Ralph Ticknor of Cambridge. On Wednesday he rooted for the team from Cameroon. "I'm impressed with their passing," he said.

Often the crowd, uninitiated to the finer points of a team's style, decided to root for the underdog--Norway became a local favorite because of the players' tenacity and honest style, and the Cameroons team because of their lively footwork and skill.

There were moments of frustration--the two goals in Sunday's game between Norway and Chile, both disallowed because of the off-sides rule--and elation--when Cameroon player Paul Bahoken was mobbed by his teammates after scoring the winning goal on Wednesday.

"I like the Cameroons team," said Arnold L. Bossi of Cape Cod, adding. "They're just crazy like kids out having a wonderful time for 90 minutes. They're the most imaginative--and launch lightning attacks you couldn't begin to block, like Brazil used to do."

Jeffrey M. Tinkham of Belmont was also impressed with the soccer. "They're so controlled," he said of the Norwegian team yesterday. "Every pass is on their foot, and so quick. I love being here." He added that he was rooting for the Norwegians, although he said he would be surprised if France didn't win the gold.

Paul G. Berry of London, England emphasized that much of a soccer match is how the crowd reacts. "You don't yet have the atmosphere of the English football matches here, but at least the people here tonight seem genuinely interested in football."