VIEW FROM THE PRESSBOX: Ever been sent on a fool’s errand, to get an exclusive preview of a big sports event, that turns out to be neither exclusive nor much of a preview? IAN STAFFORD has
There are some trips in this job when everything goes right for you, and then there are others which prove to be unmitigated disasters. My two days in Austria last week fall into the latter category.
I had set up an exclusive, one-on-one interview with boxer Wladimir Klitschko, the world heavyweight champion (pictured right), ahead of his title defence against Britain’s David Haye due to be staged later this month. Everything had been planned. I would travel to his training camp in Going, in the Austrian Tyrol, on the Tuesday, watch him train, and then sit down with him on the Wednesday.
The night before I left, I made a quick call to Klitschko’s media manager, just to ckeck there were no last-minute complications. “There might be a couple of English sports journalists turning up, organised by Setanta,” he said, which wasn’t quite what I had planned.
The next day, after flying to Munich and then driving 90 minutes across the border into Austria, I had just finished checking in to the hotel when a coach pulled up outside reception and out poured out a dozen familiar faces. “Hello mate, fancy seeing you here,” came the greeting from a group that seemed to cover all the national newspapers, daily and Sunday, and included Jeff Powell, Pat Sheehan, Alan Hubbard, Brian Doogan, Gareth Davies and Ron Lewis.
Out of the skiing season, this Alpine resort was in the middle of nowhere. Ordinarily, the chances of a dozen British sports hacks – the collective noun for this being a “fabrication” – suddenly arriving en force were zero. But here we all were, my exclusive ruined after the Klitscko management told me there would be no one-on-one interview but a general press conference instead, and with me faced with no alternative but to muck in with the Setanta-organised group.
Twenty-four hours, later the press conference began. We had watched the giant Ukrainian train, we had eaten goulash and schnitzel the night before, we had taken mountain walks in the morning, and now, finally, we were getting some words on our tape recorders.
The dailies’ part of the British conference passed and now it was the turn of the Sundays. We all gathered our chairs and brought them to within two feet of the champ.
It proved to be an increasingly interesting interview, but midway through Bernd Boente, Klitschko’s manager, ran into the room, waving his arms and shouting. “Haye’s just called off the fight.”
“You’re joking,” said an incredulous Klitschko, no doubt mindful of all the hard training he had undergone.
“You’re joking,” muttered half a dozen Sunday hacks, no doubt mindful of a trip that had suddenly become a total waste.
But this was no joke. Forlornly, we made our way back to Munich airport and home. My 48 hours had begun at 5am on Tuesday, when I woke to leave for Heathrow, and ended at 11.45pm on Wednesday, when I crept upstairs back at home.
I’ve been doing this job for longer than I care to own up to, but never have I been stymied by a whole coach load of sports hacks turning up in the most unlikely of places, and never have I been present at the very moment when a world heavyweight champion is told his fight is off.
Life in my world and yours is indeed very strange.
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