Green was the order of the evening last night when football
-- the world version -- returned to Fenway Park for the first time in 42 years.
Not just because the basepaths had been turfed over as part of the pitch, or
because the Green Monster was looking down on the proceedings, but because the
two European sides taking part in the contest -- Glasgow's Celtic FC and
Lisbon's Sporting Clube de Portugal -- both have green as their predominant team
color. In fact, they have almost identical shirts, with green and white
horizontal stripes. It's an unusual strip -- apart from South Africa's Bloemfontein Celtic FC (modeled
after the Glasgow
side), they're the only prominent club teams to wear it.
It made for a confusing atmosphere outside the park in the hours
before kickoff. Whether it's the Sox against the Yankees, the Celtics against
the Lakers, or Manchester United versus Manchester City, you don't expect to
have to look twice to tell the supporters apart. But here those green and white
hoops were everywhere. A good eye would detect that Sporting's green is a
little darker than Celtic's kelly shade, but the easiest way to distinguish
them was the sponsor: TMN (a mobile communications company) for Sporting,
Carling for Celtic.
There were, of course, fashion variations. The Celtic
away/goalkeeper closet includes a green-and-black vertically striped number,
all-green and all-yellow jerseys, and the ever-popular one with bands of black
and nausea-at-noon chartreuse. Every Celtic shirt I saw was newer than the
1991-'92 model with the orange "Peoples Ford" logo that I was wearing. (It did
get an appreciative thumbs up from one fellow fan.) And I could have seen more
if there had been any for sale at the Yawkey Way shops. One fan explained that
Nike -- Celtic's equipment sponsor - hadn't licensed Fenway sales, with the idea
that fans would buy their gear at Niketown. Wouldn't it be easier to bring the
merchandise to the fans?
Sporting supporters also sported the dark red of the Portuguese
national side, often with Cristiano Ronaldo's name on the back, and wrapped in
a Portuguese flag. If you didn't come as a fan of either of the competing
teams, you wore what you had: Man U, Liverpool (a lot of these), Newcastle,
Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Juventus, Italy, Argentina,
LA Galaxy (always emblazoned with Beckham), New England Revolution (not many of
those, and no Brazil at all that I saw). If you didn't have a football shirt,
you wore your Chicago Blackhawks jersey, or your Curt Schilling Red Sox
uniform. Some Irish Celtic fans wore county Gaelic football/hurling shirts:
Ciarraí, Ard Mhacha.
The last time football was played at Fenway, in 1968, Brazilian
club Santos defeated the Boston Breakers 7-1. That match drew 18,000
spectators, most of them there to see Pelé (who was only 27 and still in his
prime). The announced attendance for last night's match was 32,162 -- with not a
single household name in sight. The same evening, a Wayne Rooney-less Man U
drew 44,000 fans to their clash with MSL newbies the Philadelphia Union. The
Revolution, meanwhile, have averaged just under 12,000 for their eight home
games this season.
You can't underestimate the importance of the European
football clubs are not worldbeaters, so many Irish fans have adopted Celtic,
whose colors reflect their tie to the Emerald Isle. (Some even wear Celtic
shirts while watching the Irish national team.) That brought the Boston Irish
into play -- and indeed, Irish men and women from all over. Inside Fenway I
found a banner replicating the Irish Tricolor with "The Bayou Bhoys - New
Orleans Celtic Supporters Club" on it and a couple of alligators in Celtic shirts.
Stephen Patterson told me that 10 of them had come up from the Crescent City
just for the match, and that they'd been to watch Celtic all over the world. Sporting
are only the third most successful club in Portugal, after Benfica and Porto, but
they obviously don't lack for support in the US.
Inside, it quickly became clear that, European football
sophistication notwithstanding, people were also here for the Fenway
experience. That meant an endless parade of tall young men obstructing your
view as they went up and down the aisles hawking Coke and water and lemonade
and pizza and hot dogs and Cracker Jack and kettle corn and ice cream. On the
field, you can get sent off if you handle the ball; in the stands, however,
you'll want both hands in top form to carry those pint cups of beer. (In the
course of the entire evening I didn't see a single person, man or women,
carrying just one.) And fancy footwork is just as important when negotiating
those shallow Fenway steps as it is on the pitch -- you don't want to stumble
and spill your beer over the folks sitting on the aisle. (I was, in fact,
sitting on the aisle, and I had to dodge flying brew on two occasions.) "Sweet
Caroline" got played at halftime, and the Fenway faithful sang along. "Sarah,
Will You Marry Me?" (only one Sarah in that 32,162?) showed up on the big video
screen. "Dirty Water" greeted the winners after the game.
Oh yes, the game. The first question was how they'd lay out the
pitch -- shortened from the usual 110 yards to 98, it stretched from about third
base at one end to the bleachers at the other (you could still see the
basepaths underneath). Then, which side would get to wear their home strip?
That turned out to be Celtic (coin toss); Sporting settled for all-black with
green trim. Next was whether each set of supporters would have its own section.
Didn't look like it -- there were certainly both in my area. Maybe that
explained the lack of singing. You'd hardly know the sides had kicked off: there
was no roar, only an uncertain buzz, as if we'd all had our vuvuzelas
confiscated and didn't know what to do. The first half was a scrappy affair,
with neither midfield in ascendance and just a few quick breaks to prevent the
keepers -- Lukasz Zaluska for Celtic and Rui Patrício for Sporting -- from
nodding off. There was some confusion in the 34th minute: referee Mike Kennedy
ran across the pitch and appeared to show Celtic striker Marc-Antoine Fortuné a
yellow card, whereupon Fortuné immediately went off in favor of Paul McGowan.
That prompted some end-to-end action: Georgios Samaras shot wide with just
Patrício to beat, and then Carlos Saleiro rounded Zaluska only to see his shot
cleared by Glenn Loovens.
The second half brought an entirely new Sporting 11, some hard
tackling from Celtic (with the attendant yellow cards), the kind of overhit
crosses we got our fill of during the World Cup, and beer after beer after
beer, even though signs had said sales would be cut off 10 minutes into the
half. The intensity on the pitch didn't translate to the stands: in the 60th
minute, the wave started to go round, and a few minutes later, the dreaded
"Olé, olé, olé, olé" was heard throughout the land. In the 71th minute,
Samaras, who had been Celtic's most industrious player, broke the deadlock,
falling over Daniel Carriço's outstretched leg in the box and drawing a dubious
penalty. (He must have been taking notes when Italy's Fabio Grosso did the same
against Australia in World Cup 2006.) Kennedy pointed to the spot without
hesitation, and Samaras rolled the ball in as Vitor Golas went the wrong way.
Ten minutes later, with Sporting piling on the pressure and winning corner
after corner, a cross found Diogo Salomão unmarked in front of Zaluska, and
though Salomão's header went off the crossbar, Helder Postiga, who had just
come on as a substitute, had an open net into which to nod the rebound.