Fifteen men were sitting on the cement steps, under the columns that front the 18th Street entrance to DAR Constitution Hall, waiting for the doors to open at 1:45 yesterday afternoon.

An hour later the closed-circuit telecast of the World Cup elimination game between Italy and England, live from Wembley Stadium outside London, would go on the giant screen, inspiring audience reaction considerably more raucous than the Daughters of the American Revolution envisioned when they dedicated their ornate concert hall.

The men had already been to the box office, around the corner on C Street, and paid $10 apiece for tickets. Now they were waiting, enjoying the clear, unseasonably mild afternoon, chatting in a mixture of Italian and English. Two wore "Italia" T-shirts, two others had green, white and red Italian crests on their jackets.

A slender man with reddish hair, mustache and goatee, wearing a windbreaker and wire-rim glasses, appeared.

"Hey, where you been? I see you an hour ago," said an enormously affable Italian in a loud plaid suit.

"I had to find a parking place," replied the thin man.

"I park right here," said the Italian, gesturing flamboyantly at a meter across the street that apparently had made him an offer he couldn't refuse. "Hey, what's the score gonna be? Italia, 1-0? Maybe 2-1?" He sounded confident.

"I think it's going to be very difficult for England to win," said the thin man, his tone scholarly and pessimistic." But I hope they do. A relative of my plays for the English side: Phil Neal, from Liverpool."

"You brother."

"No," said the thin man. "My wife's cousin."

Just then the doors opened, and the men started filing past tuxedoed ticket-takers who looked, as ushers at cinemas usually do, terribly overdressed for the Wednesday matinee.

Inside, Bermuda Schwartz was seated behind a mahogany desk in the general manager's office. He might have been as blue as his navy sports shirt, but instead seemed as lively as the multicolored poka-dots that adorned it. With a name like Bermuda Schwartz, you have to have a sense of humor.

"These Ticketron people know how to hurt a guy," he said, reading verbatim from a terse box office printout. "Tickets sold: 343. Capacity: 3,766 seats. Tickets available for sale: 3,423."

Perhaps the walk-up sale would be brisk, he mused.

"I talked to our guy in Windsor, Ontario, and he was praying for rain. If it rains, he gets a lot of construction workers," said Schwartz, who works for Magnaverde Productions, which presented this spectacle.

"In New York, it's waiters, door-men, dishwashers. They take off for soccer, come hell or high water, unions or no unions. They don't care if it costs them $50 in pay. This game will fill the Garden.

"These people are fanatics. One time I had Greece against somebody at the Astorial Theater in New York and the picture didn't come on. I thought they'd tear the place down. They stormed the poor technician and threatened him. They only English I heard with a chant: "We want our money back. When the picture came on, they were fine.

"We'll do big business with the World Cup (from Argentina next June 1-25). We may do the Spain-Yugoslavia elimination game Nov. 30. We haven't decided on Washington yet. We go whorever we think there's enough interest to start a riot. Washington, we're not sure. Too many people here wear coats and ties.

"We didn't make a projection. We just wanted to get an idea what we could expect for the World Cup, what kind of advertising and promotion budget we'd need. For the finals we'll do concessions - flags, posters, souvenir books, T-shirts, popcorn, maybe boxing gloves. The whole smear."

Yesterday's final attendance of 621 (the "walk-up" was not as brisk as Schwartz had hoped) was no more disappointing than the telecast itself. The game was uninspiring, Italy playing defensively to a 2-0 loss. (Only a defeat by a half-dozen goals or so was likely to endanger their chances of going to Argentina). The picture was dark and broke up frequently, and the audio disappeared several times for periods ranging from a few seconds to more than a minute.

The audience, heavily pro-Italy, was enthusiastic at the beginning but grew progressively more subdued. England's supporters, including one statuesque women with Union Jacks on her belt, kept it lively. They erupted in cheers and danced in the aisles on the goals by Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking. They were some melodious chants of "England, Eng-land;" one man greeted each score with. "We want another one, just like the other one," sung in a very acceptable baritone.

Mostly, the audience response was directed at the commentators - Mario Machado and Gordon Banks doing "voice-over" from New York, Giorgia Chinaglia providing occasional, fuzzy color from the stadium - who were having a terrible time getting their signals straight.

"Giorgio, are you there? Come in, Giorgio."

"Hello?"

"Go ahead, Giorgio."

"Mario? Hello, Mario?"

"We hear you, Giorgio. Just go ahead and speak."

"Hello? Mario? Are you there?"

"Giorgio, don't ask us. Just speak." Silence.

"Hello? Mario?"

This exchange, with only slight modifications (and growing annoyance in Machado's voice) took place six or eight times, until it was like a running gag on "Laugh-In." When the sound disappeared completely, the crowd took up the cause, gleefully: "Hello? Mario, are you there? Giorgio?"

All this provided a good deal of levity. But when Machado announced breathlessly, with three minutes left. "Ladies and gentlemen, if the score remains 2-0, the game Dec. 3 between Italy and Luxemburg (in which Italy is a prohibitive favorite) will be televised live via satellite on closed-circuit television," there was no response at all. Just silence.

Giorgio, are you there? Mario, can you hear me?