Even the British fans cheered the Baltimore Blast in Manchester, England, yesterday after the visitors charged to a 6-1 indoor soccer victory over the home team, Oldham Athletic.
"It reminded me of a scene out of 'Rocky,' where the Russians started cheering for Rocky against the Russian," said Blast owner Ed Hale, who was part of the team's 24-man traveling party. "The Oldham fans [Oldham is 12 miles from Manchester] gave us a tremendous ovation. I'm telling you, our guys played a super game, one-touch, two-touch, passing and tackling. They [English Football League officials] were shocked. The bookmakers here thought they would give us a British thrashing. The reverse happened."
Hale said the victory also was financially rewarding for Baltimore.
"I have a check in pocket that is very substantial," the owner
said. "It more than pays for a lot of our expenses. I don't want to say how much it is."
It is believed that the Blast received $10,000 for winning the game. The prize money was put up by the Guinness brewing company that helped sponsor the Leaf Transatlantic Challenge.
It was the first time that a Major Soccer League team had played an indoor game outside North America.
Blast coach Kenny Cooper said the Oldham fans were silent at the beginning of the game, when Baltimore scored the first two goals for a 2-0 halftime lead.
However, he said they began to applaud the Blast in the fourth quarter when it scored three straight goals to turn the game into a rout.
Tim Wittman (two goals), Dale Mitchell (one goal, one assist), Angelo Panzetta (one goal, one assist) and Joe Barger (two assists) led the Baltimore offense.
Goalkeepers Scott Manning (six saves in first half) and Hank Henry (seven saves in the second half) held off Oldham Athletic, the top outdoor English Second Division team.
"It was an incredible experience," Cooper said. "We ran around the field with our trophies and we kicked soccer balls into the stands. The fans loved getting those balls. We were treated royally from the moment we stepped off the plane. The fans were magnificent and showed they appreciated good soccer, no matter who won."
Cooper said the Blast victory "opened some eyes over here, and it may lead to an indoor league in England.
"You have to give the English credit for allowing us to play under our rules [--er boards instead of out-of-bounds lines]. They're a proud soccer country and don't like to lose."
Blast midfielder Billy Ronson, whose Blackpool home is 52 miles from Manchester, said it was no surprise to him that Oldham Athletic was predicting a big victory.
"You have to understand that's the English way," Ronson said after the game. "They always think they're going to beat somebody else. They're unfamiliar with our indoor game, but gave a good account of themselves. If we had played outdoor soccer, they would have probably won, 6-1."
Ronson's father, Percy, and brother, Peter, watched the Blast's leading scorer get shut out.
It led to some good-natured ribbing from Percy Ronson, who said: "Billy's a good player, and the Blast surprised me the way they played, but he'll never be as good as his dad."
Billy Ronson said: "Dad's right. He never played in a regular league because he liked to enjoy himself before and after the game, but he is revered by a lot of people around here for his soccer skills. He organized a lot of benefit games and could get top-name players to come and play for nothing."