The long-serving head of media at football’s world governing body announced yesterday that she is to step down from the high-pressure job. MIKE COLLETT says a fond farewell
Most people arrived on the beach with a towel, some suntan cream, a bottle of water and maybe a book to read. Delia Fischer brought her laptop.
It was December 2012 and after six flights in five days to various Brazilian cities, the 30-odd journalists and photographers on FIFA’s relentless pre-World Cup venue tour were granted a few hours respite at Fortaleza.
But while the rest of us sat around sunbathing or swimming or playing football, FIFA’s head of media stretched out on a sunbed, kept her clothes on and worked. And worked.
In fact Fischer never stopped working harder than anyone, from the time she walked into FIFA in 2002, though she denies the popular myth surrounding her entry into the most insane sports soap-opera ever seen.
The story goes that she walked into the old FIFA building and said she’d like a job in the media department. The receptionist contacted Keith Cooper, the then head of media, who said he was busy but would be down shortly.
In the meantime Fischer found herself an empty office, made herself at home, opened her laptop and started working. Cooper was so impressed he gave her a job then and there.
“That’s not what happened” she told sportsjournalists.co.uk. “I had an interview with Keith like a normal person.
“That’s not what happened. I had an interview like a normal person”
“But now is the right time for me to leave, it’s been fantastic but I need a change in my life now.”
Among all the turmoil which has affected the world football governing body, Fischer has remained a constant figure for sports journalists who have been reporting on FIFA. Until yesterday, when she announced her own departure.
The upheavals at FIFA continue, but hundreds of journalists knew that a word with Fischer would at the very least give you a decent steer — which you could use any way you liked. She will be a big loss to that organisation.
Nearly 15 years ago, she had established herself quickly, with a reputation for making grown men quake when a glance at the phone screen showed Delia Fischer was calling.
Reuters correspondent Brian Homewood vividly remembers one such call. “I was with a colleague from AP on a train from Zurich to Basel which took about an hour. His phone rang and it was Delia, very upset about a story he had written and she was still on the phone when we pulled into Basel.
“He then said, ‘she wants to talk to you’, and handed me the phone. She then started complaining to me about his story – it’s the only time I’ve got into trouble for something that I never wrote and that had nothing to do with me.”
In my own role as Reuters football editor, I had my share of rows with Fischer down the years – even once getting a telling-off for leaving my passport at an accreditation desk which was handed in to her. But the tales of Fischer’s fearsomeness and her ability to deliver FIFA jargon-speak statements which told you absolutely nothing are only half the story.
She would take a call from a reporter at any time of the day or night and her diligence, passion and loyalty to FIFA had to be admired even if at times talking to her could be as rewarding as having a chat with a brick wall. Media officers, eh?
She had her job to do and we had ours even at 6am on the morning of May 27 2015, which happened to be Fischer’s birthday. It was also the time that the police raided the Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich, starting the chain of events that brought Sepp Blatter’s time as FIFA president to an end.
Richard Conway of the BBC was the first to tell Fischer the news, with his early morning call to ask what she knew and was there a statement. She told him this was the first she’d heard of it.
Later that day at FIFA headquarters, she was asked how she found out about the raid. “Oh, Richard woke me up and told me at six o’clock this morning,” prompting another myth. Even for Fischer, having the BBC’s correspondent in your bedroom at 6am was a step too far.
Many people who worked hard in the background at FIFA have left the organisation in the last 18 months and Fischer’s departure brings an end to a remarkable 15-year career there.
But at least now she has more time to watch Rapid Vienna and next time she’s on the beach at Fortaleza or anywhere else, she can get the suntan lotion out. Somehow, I don’t think that’s actually going to happen. Her laptop will not lay idle for long.
- Mike Collett is the former Reuters football editor