Army played Navy last Saturday and there wasn't a ticket to be had for love or money. No tickets were printed. For it was Army and Navy at soccer. In the U.S., schools and colleges do not presume to print tickets or charge admission for their soccer games. Coaches and players are vastly pleased if anyone will come and look on for free.
This is the same booting game, let it be remembered, that drives paying fans wild with excitement elsewhere in the world and regularly draws crowds of 100,000 and more. The foreign game is minutely covered by the newspapers and broadcasting stations. The loss of a critical game sometimes sets off rioting in the streets around government offices. Feeling invariably runs high. At one South American stadium a moat has been constructed around the field to protect players and referees from the wrath—or even the enthusiasm—of the fans.
Last week no government official lost any sleep worrying about the Army-Navy soccer game. There was almost no advance notice of it in the newspapers, or over the air. Football held the Saturday spotlight as always, and on the broadcasts of the games around the country it was announced in passing that the Army-Navy football game of this Saturday was already a 100% sellout.
Nonetheless, at West Point's Clinton Field, the crowd assembled for the college soccer classic of the year. It was a big crowd—for soccer. Charley Hardwick of the athletic association at the military academy looked it over and vowed that he would eat his felt hat if it wasn't 2,000 or maybe more, despite the steady drizzle and the soupy fog.
There are colorful trimmings at any meeting of Army and Navy—at anything. To the soccer game were assigned Pancho, the donkey, and Hannibal, the Army mule. As they trotted around the edges of the playing field on came three cheerleaders and the cadets' comedy band, in zany costumes, to tootle the overture. A sound truck backed into position and a cadet announcer spoke to the crowd: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the 17th annual soccer game between Army and Navy. In previous games Army has won nine, Navy has won seven. There have been no ties. And now the lineups.... "
As each player's name was called he trotted to his position as thousands (two) cheered. When all 22 men were on the field the Army cannon boomed. Then each team raced to the sidelines for the final huddle with the coaches: Joe Palone of Army, Glenn Warner of Navy. Then back to their positions as the Army fans yelled: "Let's go, rabble!" and the midshipmen from Annapolis countered with: "Come on, Navy team!" And the game was on.
Everyone knew that neither team would be able to play its best soccer on a field sodden with 48 hours' rain. But everyone knew that this was Army and Navy—and whatever their past records, whatever mischief the weather man had worked, nothing could prevent the next 88 minutes (four 22-minute quarters and no time outs) from being filled with excitement.
And they were. Filled with glorious skids and slides, resounding collisions and breakneck teetering and tumbling. Filled at the start with a host's overanxious striving, Army missed a couple of early scoring chances that had Coach Palone hurling gum wrappers to the sod like Fourth of July torpedoes.
As the loudspeaker ticked off the minutes of play remaining, Navy got the feel of the surf in its cleats and with 14 minutes of the first quarter gone, Navy's outside right, Mike Sides, took a cross from Pete Fitzwilliam and booted the ball past Army Goalie Cannon.
Between halves, the teams retired to buses parked behind the temporary stands, and as they did the fog thickened and the drizzle turned into thin rain. By the time the teams emerged, it was hard to see across the field. A white ball was put into play. Among the 2,000 spectators only a few girls left—to save their pretty hats. Of the girls who stayed, one, seated near the scoring bench, at last got the idea her cadet had been trying to get over: soccer was really just like basketball except that no player, save the goalies, was allowed to touch the ball with his hands. He could kick it or head it or stop it with his chest, the cadet said, but he couldn't touch it with his hands. Otherwise, he repeated, it was just like basketball. It was ironic that he had to explain the ancient game in terms of a game stolen from it. And maybe it wasn't surprising that the girl asked: "Well, if it's so much like basketball, why don't they play basketball on a day like this?"