GERRY COX recalls a time when the soon-to-be ex-President of world football was a lot more welcoming to the British press. He even offered biscuits with their tea
I was in Zurich last week chasing Sepp Blatter, but I am not sure that I could have repeated what I did in 1994, when I blagged my way into Blatter’s personal suite to share tea and biscuits with him while we watched a World Cup game and came way with a world exclusive.
It was July 1994, the day after the unfortunate Andres Escobar was shot dead on his return to Colombia, and I was one of the few English reporters covering the World Cup from Dallas, where Blatter was ensconced in the FIFA HQ at the five-star Four Seasons Hotel.
I made an early morning call to the Sunday Telegraph and got an excited response from sports editor Colin Gibson.
“Gerry: Escobar was shot dead in a bar last night. Get yourself to FIFA HQ and get a reaction,” Gibbo said.
Escobar was the Colombian defender who, in his team’s second group game of the tournament, against the United States, had the misfortune to deflect John Harkes’s pass into his own net. Colombia lost 2-1, and a week later were flying home from the tournament having been eliminated.
I set off for the Four Seasons. On arrival, I flashed my accreditation at reception and asked to see Sepp Blatter, who in those days was was FIFA’s General Secretary.
“That is not possible sir,” was the predictable response. I emphasised it was very important that I see him, and showed my badge again. “It is for the Sunday Telegraph. I am sure Mr Blatter will want to speak to the English media.”
Eventually, I was taken up a floor by a man in a FIFA blazer. I reiterated, politely, that I needed to speak to Blatter. “No, I am afraid that will not be possible,” I was told again. When I was introduced to a press officer, I explained that it was very important to get a comment. “We will be making a statement,” I was told.
“All very well, but I am here from the Sunday Telegraph and I need to speak to Mr Blatter. I am sure he will understand why.”
Some time later, Another FIFA blazer came to collect me and we moved up another level. Expecting to get to a senior press officer, I was shocked but pleasantly surprised to be ushered into a huge suite, where sitting at his desk was the familiar face.
“Aah, Mr Cox. I’ve been expecting you,” Blatter said, although disappointingly he was not stroking a white cat.
“I know the Telegraph very well and am always happy to speak to the English papers. But this match is about to start. If you would care to join me for tea, we can speak at half-time.”
And so we sat and watched the game (I think Belgium or Switzerland were playing), while Sepp poured tea and offered biscuits. We made small talk about the game and other things, and at half-time he was as good as his word and gave me his full attention. “This is a tragedy for football! We are a family and all feel the pain…” he said.
Then he made it clear he had other business to attend to, said I could order whatever I liked at the pool bar and charge it to his account. I politely declined. And that was it. I found a pay phone (no mobiles then), filed my world exclusive, and headed back.
Now if only he had been so accommodating last week…
- SJA member Gerry Cox is a former chairman of the Football Writers’ Association. He is chief executive of Hayters Teamwork, the sports reporting agency
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