The day the U.S. packed them in

hampden There have been instances in recent years when fans of the other team came out to see a U.S. national team game because the opponent was the United States, but those mostly were World Cup qualifiers where fans were eager to see their heroes beat the gringos. There is one instance 61 years ago that is a little different, one in which opposing fans really were eager to see the Yanks play, not just to see them lose.

On April 30, 1952, the United States played a friendly against Scotland at Hampden Park (above) in Glasgow. In those years, before the schedule got as crowded with qualifiers as it is today, Scotland usually played at least one friendly against a non-British team at Hampden each spring, and they drew pretty well. Scotland vs. France the year before had drawn 75,394. Scotland vs. Sweden the year after drew 83,800. On April 30, 1952, Scotland vs. the United States drew 107,765, almost 30,000 more than had ever seen the United States play before.

The reason for this Scottish interest in a less-than-classic opponent is obvious. The United States was the team that had beaten England two years before in the World Cup. England is Scotland's traditional archrival. Scottish fans wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

They didn't really get to see that. The United States fielded only six of the same 11 men who had beaten England two years before, and the five replacements were players who hadn't even been on the U.S. roster at the World Cup. This was the first full international that the United States had played in 22 months (Scotland had played 11 in that time, including a win over England in London), and the Americans were far from the well-oiled machine they had been in Belo Horizonte in 1950. By the 35th minute, Scotland was ahead by 4-0 (forward Lawrie Reilly of Hibernians had three of those goals). The final score was 6-0. How many of those 107,765 were still there to hear the final whistle is unknown.

One American player did give a noticeably good account of himself, good enough to get a big hand from the crowd when he left with a leg injury with five minutes to go in the game. That was John Souza, who created a number of openings for teammates. There also was at least one person in that huge crowd who was rooting for the United States. That was Gil Heron, a Jamaican forward at Glasgow Celtic who lived in the United States and had played for teams in Detroit and Chicago.

Before this day, the largest crowd that had ever seen the U.S. team was the 80,000 at the United States-Argentina semifinal of the 1930 World Cup. The record that was set on this day lasted 41 years, until a crowd of 120,000 attended a United States-Mexico game in Mexico City in 1993.

This game could be called the start of the U.S. national team's trip into the wilderness of world soccer. Within two years, it had begun its streak of being eliminated in the qualifying rounds of nine World Cups in a row. It won only three games in the next 15 years. It was a not an opponent that many fans in major soccer countries went out of their way to see. But for one day in Glasgow, things were different.