How I sort of ate lunch with the FIFA World Cup trophy

In 1994, the United States hosted the World Cup soccer (football) competition, and before the games, the World Cup trophy went on tour across the country to try to whip up enthusiasm for the sport.

I was living in Milwaukee at the time, and a friend and I happened to go to a shopping mall where it was on display, so we paused to look at it. We weren’t big soccer fans, but how often would we get to see something that famous?

So we stood there admiring it on a stand near the central garden. A man in a suit who was obviously a security guard observed us impassively. I felt a little disappointed that we were the only shoppers who seemed interested. So much for whipping up enthusiasm. If it were on display in much of the world, a long line would be waiting just to get close. But back then Milwaukee wasn’t a big soccer town. Things might be different now.

The trophy itself is a big chunk of solid gold with a pair of green malachite rings around the bottom. I didn’t like the design much, which seemed a little knobby to me, but it was big and shiny – about 36 cm/14 inches tall, weighing 5 kilos/11 pounds. That much gold is worth around US$200,000.

To help with perspective, here’s a detail of a photo that shows the trophy being presented by then Vice President Al Gore to the Brazilian team, which won the 1994 World Cup. That’s what $200,000 looks like, to say nothing of the cost of everything else surrounding the tournament, which would be a number with a metric shit-load of zeros.

After we had stood enraptured for long enough, we went on to buy whatever it was that had brought us to the mall, and later stopped for lunch at a fast food restaurant. As we sat down, the trophy’s guard came in with a trophy-sized briefcase handcuffed to one of his wrists, and we guessed what was inside. He bought lunch and sat at a nearby table.

My friend and I speculated about the security. There couldn’t be just one guy protecting that much gold, right? Without a doubt, we decided, someone was guarding the guard, but we couldn’t figure out who.

And that’s as close as I’ll ever get to the World Cup trophy. I sort of ate lunch with it once.

— Sue Burke

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