Canada plays El Salvador on Tuesday in a World Cup qualifier at Estadio Cuscatlan, a stadium that Sportsnet commentator Craig Forrest knows all about.
A former goalkeeper and a recent inductee into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Forrest earned 56 caps for Canada during a 14-year international career, including games in the early ’90s at the very stadium in which the current Canadian team will play in San Salvador this week.
In this interview with Sportsnet.ca, Forrest recalls what it was like playing for Canada in Estadio Cuscatlan, and the treatment that he and his Canadian teammates received in El Salvador, including having bags of urine thrown at them by fans and a standoff with Salvadorian soldiers.
LISTEN NOW: Craig Forrest discusses his memories about playing in El Salvador with Sportsnet 590 The FAN. To listen to the full interview CLICK HERE
What do you remember most about playing in El Salvador?
Going back to the early 1990s the country was coming out of the civil war at that time, so the general mood and feeling was very tense. There were signs of the civil-war aftermath everywhere. There were blown-out buildings, and you felt that tension just walking around, and they certainly brought that feeling to the games—they made you feel very uncomfortable from the time you left the hotel to the time you stepped onto the pitch. Fans would throw stuff at opposing players from the terraces, including bags of urine.
It could be very intimidating and tense down there. It’s a hostile crowd, but they were barb-wired in, so they couldn’t get to us. [laughs]
You certainly felt the intimidation, and I’m sure the referees did, too.
You often hear about fans in Central American nations disturbing opposing teams outside their hotels until all hours of the morning: blaring music, honking their horns and making a lot of noise to disrupt players’ sleep. Was there a lot of that going on?
A little but not much. It wasn’t too bad in that regard. The hotel we stayed in was in a pretty nice compound and the security was good, so we didn’t see much of that in El Salvador. It was far worse in Honduras for that. Far worse.
What about going to the stadium on the team bus? Did you encounter any trouble from the Salvadorian fans?
No, but we had trouble one time as far as getting into the stadium. There was a FIFA rule that said teams were allowed to train on the pitch starting an hour before kickoff. We showed at the appropriate time, like two hours before the game, and the doors were all locked with armed soldiers lined up outside the stadium, and they weren’t going to let us in. Supposedly, they had no idea who we were or what we were doing there, and there were no FIFA officials around that we could speak to, so we were in the standoff with the military. [laughs]
Finally, (Canada Soccer official) Les Wilson got off the bus, walked up to these two soldiers, grabbed their rifles and pulled them apart and told them we were going in. [laughs]
They were just trying to make our lives difficult but we finally got in thanks to Les. [laughs]
What was it like playing at Estadio Cuscatlan?
It was really nice when it was full. It was mostly fans standing on cement seats but it was a really good atmosphere. There was a hill up in the distance that overlooked inside the stadium and fans who couldn’t get a ticket would crowd in up there to watch the game.
You mentioned before that Salvadorian fans would throw bags of urine at opposing players, which is pretty common among Central American fans.
It is but as far as I know that started in El Salvador. And they’d throw whatever they could get their hands on.
I remember one time a big chunk of a two-by-four landed right beside me. I pointed it out to the assistant referee and he looked at me as though to say, “What do you want me to do?” So I’d stay on the edge of the 18-yard box as much as possible.
I remember another game, Frank (Yallop) gave away a penalty, a stone-cold penalty as he put his hand out. I was more upset with him not because he gave up the penalty but because it meant I was going to have to stand on the goal-line, and I was just getting pelted with all sorts of crap. [laughs]
I was never so glad to change out of my jersey at the end of the game than I was when I played in El Salvador because I’d get hit with bags of urine and other liquids.
Soccer Central podcast: SPORTSNET.CA’s Soccer Central podcast, hosted by John Molinaro and James Sharman, takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues. To listen and subscribe to the podcast, CLICK HERE.