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MIKE WOITALLA: Drumming up an atmosphere
June 30th, 2000 12AM



A festive fan atmosphere makes good soccer games great and can even manage to make bad games bearable.

But getting fans to liven up a stadium - not to mention inspire the players, as they do in many parts of the world - hasn't often come easy in the United States.

The 1994 World Cup almost got off to a poor start when security officials threatened to forbid Swiss fans from bringing their cow bells, which provide a pleasant background beat.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and Scott LeTellier, the COO of USA '94, announced that the bells were welcome while stressing that under no circumstances were the Swiss to bring along the cows.

Security forces also finally OK'ed the Brazilians' drums, and we enjoyed soccer parties around the country.

Watching Euro 2000 reminds one just how joyous a stadium can become. Dutch fans turn the stadium orange and, among other tunes, chant the Grand March from Verdi's Aida as their heroes go for goal.

Even Francophobes must get chills up their spines hearing the impromptu versions of "La Marseillaise" that the Bleus' supporters belt out. (Kinda reminds me of "Casablanca.")

The lack of fan noise, on the other hand, can create a dreadful impression, one that in MLS is sometimes compounded by irritating rock music blasting out of the P.A. system. That's a misguided effort by the clubs to create atmosphere.

In fact, clubs should prod fans toward the kind of cheering that enlivens soccer. But forget piped music and traditional mini-skirted cheerleaders.

The fortunate clubs - D.C. United and Columbus, to name just two - have ambitious fan clubs and work well with them.

Others have to be more active. It's hard to teach fans Verdi overnight, but my experience shows that a few drums can do wonders for a soccer game. Or how about cow bell night?

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