World Cup 2026: New Jersey and the tracksuit and mob connection | Football News - Hindustan Times
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World Cup 2026: New Jersey and the tracksuit and mob connection

Mar 09, 2024 09:47 AM IST

New Jersey will stage next year’s World Cup final, and you might not know if the fellow in the tracksuit is a player or a wise guy

Football’s governing body Fifa announced some days ago that the 2026 World Cup final will be held at the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey.

Metlife Stadium in New Jersey(NJ Advance Media)
Metlife Stadium in New Jersey(NJ Advance Media)

New Jersey is synonymous with the mob (the Italian-American, ‘The Sopranos’ variety). The mob and football are both synonymous with tracksuits.

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Soon after Fifa’s update, the comedian Jimmy Fallon deadpanned, “Now if someone is wearing an Adidas tracksuit, you won’t be able to tell if they’re a player or just a guy from New Jersey.”

The tracksuit is said to have been invented in 1939 by the French brand Le Coq Sportif. Called the Sunday Suit, it was mostly used by sportspersons. The tracksuit as an item of mass wear really took off in the late 1960s, after Adidas launched their three-stripes line in collaboration with German football legend Franz Beckenbauer.

Soon, everyone was wearing tracksuits. The young and old, women and men, the successful and the bums. Tracksuits were comfortable and looked cool.

Gangsters embraced them too. The bosses had to dress the part and stuck to tailored suits. But the lower rungs prowled the streets in tracksuits. In Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, another mafia stronghold, they came to be known as the ‘Bensonhurst Tuxedo’. Tracksuits provided ample scope to stuff weapons and cash envelopes. And they were easy on waistlines expanding from all that spaghetti and meatballs.

Several shows and films attest to the popularity of tracksuits among wise guys. As much as ‘The Sopranos’ avoided stereotypes, many of the characters were attired in tracksuits. The truth is stereotypes are often accurate and necessary for character authenticity.

“[As a costume designer] Your job is to tell the story through the clothing,” Juliet Polcsa, who dressed ‘The Sopranos’ cast, said on a podcast with two of the show’s famous actors, Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa. (Polcsa was so thoughtful about character that when James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, had to portray anger, she would deliberately send him clothes he hated.)

The tracksuit in the context of the show and as a mafia staple was mentioned by Imperioli too.

“You look at some of the old footage of the mob at the social clubs and the clothes [on Sopranos] follow that. There’s the casual look, which is the jogging suits and jeans and a nice shirt, and then there’s the suit for going out. Even when it’s casual, there’s a feel and a swag to the outfits," Imperioli once told ‘Esquire’.

Martin Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’, another gory jewel from the Genre of Gritty, also showcased the tracksuit. As an influential inmate in jail, the narrator Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, does not have to submit to a uniform and instead lounges around in a trendy Adidas number.

But gangsters couldn’t take their dressing too casually, in real life or on screen. Gandolfini was often shown in shorts on ‘The Sopranos’. Once he received an anonymous call, supposedly from a mafioso. The man professed admiration for the series. “But,” he said, “the boss never wears shorts.”

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