VIEW FROM THE (1966) PRESSBOX: Fifty years ago, England’s World Cup triumph was not only a milestone for football, but it also gave birth to sports news reporting. Unlikely as it may seem in this immediate post-Blatter era, it was the then Fifa president who set the ball rolling, as JOHN JACKSON reports
In some ways, it was no surprise when I arrived at the main Press Centre at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, built especially for the 1966 World Cup, to be told by chief press officer Harold Mayes: “Sorry, no accreditation for you. This is a sporting event and nothing to do with news.”
He was not exactly the great authority but he was only echoing the continual decisions by Fleet Street’s then night editors who refused all mention of sporting events on the news pages unless it involved big hats at Royal Ascot or “Gorgeous Gussie” Moran’s lace trimmed knickers at Wimbledon (all quite shocking in those innocent old days, prompting designer Teddy Tinling to be shunned by the All England Club for 33 years).
I was relieved when my news editor at the old broadsheet Sun agreed that I should apply for World Cup accreditation. After all, he knew I had one World Cup, Chile 1962, and the Rome, Tokyo and Innsbruck Olympics under my belt. And he was fed up with me bellyaching about good sports news stories continually hitting the spike.
I was not alone when facing up to Harold Mayes as four other nationals had decided there had to be news coverage around the actual football. There were four other great lads on the same news beat, sadly no longer here to enjoy my retelling – Barry Stanley (Daily Mirror), George Hunter (Daily Express), John Spicer (Daily Mail) and Keith Harper (Guardian). Needless to say, voices were raised at an unmovable Mayes.
I brought an end to all that with a “Thank you, Mr Mayes, we’ll be back” and “come on chaps, follow me”. I led the way to the lift, pressed the button for the executive floor, then walked to the door of the penthouse suite.
One press of the bell and the door was opened by the president of Fifa, Sir Stanley Rous. Without drawing breath he shook my hand and asked: “Dear boy, how’s Barbara?” Needless to say there was a stunned silence from the other four.
The Barbara in question is my child bride of now 56 years, having married in 1960 before heading together to the Rome Olympics, then in 1962 we worked at the World Cup in Chile. I beavered away for Associated Press on the coast at Vina del Mar, playing table tennis with an injured Pele and upsetting the Mexican nation so badly that when their World Cup team arrived at the marvellously named Hotel O’Higgins, they threw me in the fountain, with the captain, Antonio Carbajal, muttering: “Jackson is a dirty word in Mexico.”
Barbara, meanwhile, was working with Reuters in Santiago, and as a special favour helped Sir Stanley Rous with secretarial and other duties on several afternoons. He was obviously very grateful and four years later was willing to help us all he could.
When I explained our predicament regarding Mayes and accreditation, Sir Stanley simply said: “The man’s a fool. Come with me.”
He led us back to the basement Press Centre where hapless Harold was ordered to give the five of us full accreditation immediately.
Sir Stanley then arranged for us all to accompany him on all his official engagements, where he always told the hosts to look after us lavishly. None was better than at the Mexican Embassy where tequila flowed and copy dictating was somewhat difficult (but that’s another story).
Mayes was not to be totally defeated, for he wrote on the bottom of each accreditation, in capital letters: “THIS MAN MUST NOT BE ALLOWED NEAR A TELEPHONE AT WEMBLEY STADIUM”.
Needless to say this was ignored, and, of course, news stories came thick and fast. Sports news was at last accepted – the Rotters had arrived..
I should add that I was unable to join the festivities after England’s famous victory to write front page news (Prime Minister Harold Wilson celebrating with Bobby Moore and the boys at the Royal Garden etc), as the day before Barbara and I had flown to Jamaica for the start of the Commonwealth Games. That’s life! We listened to the final on a crackly radio in Kingston with Frank Taylor, the former SWA (as we were then) and AIPS chairman, but nobody had told the station that extra time would be played. After 90 minutes, at 2-2, we went back to reggae music.
To suggest that Sepp Blatter would have acted like Sir Stanley borders on the preposterous. I saw how conditions would change for the worst when I sat with Sir Stanley shortly before the Fifa Congress in Frankfurt at the 1974 World Cup, when he was up for re-election after 13 years in office. He was opposed by Brazil’s Joao Havelange.
Behind Sir Stanley’s back the day’s executive committee agenda was secretly changed. The election of president was around item four, while at the end of the agenda was the confirmation of new member countries, the majority of which were African. And all had received encouraging words from Havelange.
The meeting started, and suddenly item three was announced to be the acceptance of new members. So come item four, these new boys were all eligible to vote for that kind man Havelange. Sir Stanley was out – and the sort of Fifa shenanigans of which we are now well accustomed had started.
But on his 90th birthday I visited Sir Stanley in London, stepping over several cases of fine wine in the hall. I thanked the great man again for 1966, he thanked Barbara again for 1962, and we sampled the wine. He had just one regret, delivered with a smile: “If I had known I was going to live so long, I would have looked after myself.”
Covering sport from the 1960s to the 1980s was a lot easier because of the “old school” characters in top positions. We had Sir Stanley at Fifa, Lord Burghley, the 6th Marquess of Exeter, was vice president of the International Olympic Committee and president of world athletics at the IAAF (now in the hands of Seb Coe), while former Fleet Street foreign correspondent Lord Killanin had a spell as president of the IOC.
Lord Burghley, of Chariots of Fire fame, was always available for a chat at major events as he hated official functions and preferred to sit in his hotel room with a jigsaw puzzle. Michael Killaninan, an amiable Irishman, was one of us. He once broke away from an official IOC visit to the Press Centre at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid so he and I could get a full report of the Five Nations match at Twickenham.
- Stalwart SJA member John Jackson went on to work at another nine football World Cups as a news reporter as well as covering 22 Olympic Games, and in 2012 he chalked up his 50th year of covering Wimbledon tennis
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