1993 THE FIRST ORGANISED VISIT TO PITTSBURGH OF UK FANS
The Steelers UK Supporters Club began in the eighties when football, American style, first found its way onto English television. With a biweekly newsletter, edited and produced by Gordon Dedman, he decided in 1993 to organise a trip to Pittsburgh to watch two Steelers games so threw an invite out to all the UK fans.
Nine Steeler fans and my wife and daughter met up at Gatwick airport before taking their first adventure to see the Steelers and Pittsburgh. In those early days, we were fortunate that British Airways flew direct to Pittsburgh, so the flight wasn't too much hassle.
The group of fans consisted of Andy Duncan, Ed Veale, Giles Stevenson, James Delargy, Steven Melvin and my family. We were all staying for two games while we were also joined by Mike Harris and Rob Quigley who were staying for the first game.
Andy had some UK Supporters Club T-shirts made up for the journey with the slogan "Steelers U K Supporters Club, Pittsburgh, October 14th - 26th 1993.“ As it happened, we had an all American crew on the BA flight and one of the stewardesses, Kathy, was from Pittsburgh. She fell in love with our T-shirts and said that she just had to have one, "How much would it cost?" she eagerly asked. I couldn't sell one, so I gave her mine. In return she was generous during the flight with the wine.
As the flight approached Pittsburgh's International airport, the captain announced, "For those that wanted to know (which was us), the distance flown on the flight was 3,400 miles and he would like to extend a special welcome to those with the Steelers UK Supporters Club." Nice touch Kathy!
We made it through the people movers and immigration in the airport without too much of a problem, but we were weary and it showed when we had a problem meeting the hotel’s courtesy vehicle. We were waiting one side of the building, and they were waiting on the other. Well, it wouldn't be the same if everything went smoothly.
After we all checked in, it just needed a quick wash and brush up before we hit the town (or so we thought) by going to Station Square. Situated immediately south of the river, opposite Three Rivers Stadium, it was a very popular place to eat, drink and shop and convenient to our hotel if you didn’t have the use of a car.
The Pro Sports shop in Station Square was like a treasure trove of Steeler, Penguin and Pirate goodies for the UK fans. We had the feeling a child has when they enter a toy shop. There was an abundance of black and gold souvenirs and memorabilia and we didn’t know which way to turn. This was before the days of internet shopping and Ebay so we felt we had been liberated and were finally in heaven.
Andy didn't hesitate to buy his $160 Steelers' jacket. More realistically, as I was on a family budget, I didn't think anything of paying $9 for a Steeler framed and glassed photo of Green, 0'Donnell and Foster. I hadn't stopped to think how I would get it home safely, but it was a beautiful trophy.
Across the road was the famous Sports Gardens (later refurbished as Woodson's). To the UK fans, it was an amazing bar that featured about twenty TV screens, including a couple of giant ones showing nothing but sports.
Trust me, coming from the pre Sky satellite days of England; you just didn’t know that sports bars existed. It was like travelling from East to West Berlin. From the drab, grey land of pubs with unfriendly opening hours to the wonderful, colourful land of unlimited sport that you could sit and watch while having a drink at the same time. It just wasn’t possible to do that in the UK in 1993.
IC Light was the recommended beer, so that naturally became our choice. The featured game that first evening was the Penguins losing 2-3 to Tampa. For the visiting UK fans, seeing the Penguins play on giant screens was the experience. Disappointed by the lost, but overjoyed to have been able to watch them.