By Michael Lewis
Congratulations to Esse Baharmast for winning the Werner Fricker Builders’ Award.
A well-deserved honor for a good man and referee.
Regardless how we might remember Baharmast, he will always be remembered for his penalty kick call that paved the way for Norway to defeat Brazil in a group-stage match in the 1998 World Cup at Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, France that June 23.
Kjetil Rekdal converted a penalty kick in the 88th minute after what was considered a controversial call as Baharmast ruled Brazilian defender Goncalves knocked down Tore Andre Flo in the penalty area. Television replays that night showed that Goncalves barely touched the Norwegian.
Needless to say, it caused an international uproar in the media.
A writer for the International Herald Tribune wrote in his game story lede, something to the extent:
Heaven help us from American referees.
A day later, a Swedish television station showed footage that the penalty decision was correct and Baharmast was exonerated.
Esse told me he always knew he was correct but was glad there was something to back up his decision.
As it turns out, Baharmast wasn’t the only American who endured a difficult day in Marseille that June 23, 1998.
When I arrived at the train station earlier that day, cab drivers refused to take many of us anywhere. They wanted the Japanese media who got off the train with us. They wanted to take them for a ride in more ways than one, charging them $20 for a cab ride around the block. We, of course, were deemed too sophisticated — or perhaps too poor — to be a rube in such a scam.
After finally negotiating with a cabbie, I got to my hotel, Le Grand Hotel Mercure, whose personnel claimed I was not the reservation list, although I had a voucher from a travel agency. It must have been the other Mercure, which, fortunately was within walking distance. I wasn’t on their list as well.
After much hemming and hawing, I finally negotiated a settlement in which I could leave my luggage there during the game, and wonders of miracles, if there was a room available, I would get it for the night.
I went off to the stadium to cover the Brazil-Norway match, and not surprisingly, when I returned after the match, the hotel was filled up. I did the next best thing. I wound up napping on a couch in the back of the lobby for a couple of hours with my computer bag clutched in my arms and wrapped around my feet. What a sight that must have been.
After watching the game in 85-degree heat with many smarmy journalists, you can get a bit sticky and smelly. The next day I was supposed to go to Nantes to cover the United States’ third and final match. However, you couldn’t get from Marseille to Nantes by train in a straight line in a decent amount of time, at least in 1998. TGV’s ran from north to south and vice versa. A direct and slower train would take somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 hours.
So, I had another plan — to travel five hours back to Paris to switch to another train for a 2 1/2-hour ride to Nantes.
Well, it got crazier.
With a two-hour layover in Paris, I decided to attempt an audacious maneuver. I bolted back to my apartment from Gare de Lyon on the southeast side of the city, threw myself into the shower, repacked a small bag and made it to Gare de Montparnasse in the center of the city with 20 minutes to spare. I even had time to grab a baquette before boarding the train.
I never had time to write a note to my roomies, fellow New York Daily News scribe Filip Bondy and Mark Starr of Newsweek, who were out eating lunch. When Mark discovered what I had done, he called me the wind.
Hmmm, if the American players on that World Cup team could have moved as freely and fast as I could during then.