For the foreseeable future, I will be posting and doing daily pictures and stories about the various press passes I have accrued through the years. They come in different shapes and sizes, colors and information on them. They range from the World Cup and the Olympics to high school and college events.
By Michael Lewis
Press pass share Day 2: My first World Cup was Mexico ’86.
I went for the final two weeks and with the attitude that this might be the only one I would cover. Got to see the infamous “Hand of God” goal, survived a scary flight to Guadalajara and saved Grahame Jones from getting beaten up by some drunk Germans.
A little background about Mexico ’86.
Trying to find out the status of my credential was like a Marx Brothers movie. Every time I contacted the Mexican Organizing Committee, I received another answer, that they got it, they didn’t get it. They misplaced it. They were going to send an official letter to me that it had been approved. That they didn’t send one.
Finally, I did get approval, but in my frustration, I wrote a column for Soccer America assailing the incompetence of the Mexican (Dis)Organizing Committee.
At the time, I just started as a sports copy editor at Newsday and then sports editor Dick Sandler, in his infinite wisdom, gave me two weeks off to attend the World Cup, even though I did not write a word about it for the newspaper. So, I decided to attend the final two weeks and needless to say I am glad I did.
I arrived in Mexico during the Mexico-Bulgaria match, when Manuel Negrete scored his “butterfly goal.” Just about everyone in customs was watching the game on TV and I walked through without being stopped or questioned. Yikes! No security.
My fears of the (Dis)Organizing Committee were buried when I picked up my credential in record time. I also got my $500 back. Oh, I didn’t tell you about that. Back in the day, all journalists had to pay $500 to FIFA for their credentials. FIFA would return the money after the journalists checked in. It was a way to make sure journalists would actually show up and an underhanded way for FIFA to draw interest on the $500 each member of the media had to pay, even over a short period of time.
I wound up staying at El Presidente Chapultepec, which had a bridge to the press center in Mexico City. I paid $80 a night to stay at what was a damn good hotel. I couldn’t complain at all.
My first World Cup game ever was Argentina vs. Uruguay in the rain in Puebla. I remember sitting in press seats — no room for a typewriter or computer — or electricity near the back of the stadium. The wind and rain were so hard that part of the stadium behind us that made clanging noises as the metal/aluminum bounced off each other. I don’t remember much about the game, which was pretty mediocre (Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner who was working as a TV analyst at the time, attended the game). I do remember a South American journalist asking the coaches a question that was so long that it sounded like a soliloquy.
Yes, I saw the Hand of God game live.
The American contingent, all 10 of us, sat together. The press box was, well, less than spartan and seemed to be miles away from the action somewhere near the top of the stadium. We sat on concrete (OK, time to insert a stone-age joke in here, folks) and there were no desks, at least not for us gringos. Thank heavens most, if not all of the games, were not on any sort of deadline.
England and Argentina played for the first time since the Falkland Wars, which was a battle between the two countries over several islands east of Argentina in 1982.
There were banners all over the stadium, including ones claiming the Argentine attack was powered by Exocet Missiles (those French-built weapons were used by Argentina in the conflict).
Diego Maradona, however, made certain no one would remember what transpired four years’ prior in a 2–1 victory.
Six minutes into the second half, Maradona had tried to play the ball into the penalty area, but English midfielder Steve Hodge out battled the Argentine for the ball and lifted a back pass to goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Maradona and the keeper arrived at the same time and the Argentine knocked the ball into the net with his left hand. Despite protests by the English, referee Ali Bennaceur of Tunisia pointed to the center spot.
When Maradona batted the ball into the net, I exclaimed, “It’s a hand ball!” I looked at the linesman (that’s what assistant referees were called in those days) waited for some sort of reaction, but nothing at all. He never had his flag out. I was astonished.
Maradona later claimed “the hand of God” scored that goal.
As if to make amends, Maradona embarked on an amazing journey four minutes later. He took possession of the ball 10 yards into Argentine territory. He performed a 180-degree turn that left Peter Reid and Peter Beardsley standing in their tracks. He then raced down the right side into English territory past Ray Wilkins. Terry Fenwick tried to pull him down at the top of the penalty area, but Maradona shrugged him off. Shilton came out of the goal, committed himself and fell to the turf, eight yards out. Terry Butcher tried a last-ditch effort with a sliding tackle under Maradona, who pushed the ball into the unattended net.
Heck, there was no wireless or internet to do fast research or a TV to watch the replay. To do so, we had to wait until after the game and press conferences. I gave up my press credential for a tape of the match and we huddled around a TV until we got to the right times of the goals.
Total time: ten seconds. Number of touches: nine.
Interesting aside: I have a unique perspective with Argentina-England battles in the World Cup because I attended all three confrontations (1982, 1998 and 2002).
We traveled to Guadalajara for the semifinal between France and Germany. We took off during a severe thunderstorm. Some journalists who were on a plane ahead of us wound up getting after us. Perhaps their plane circled the Guadalajara airport before getting the OK to land.
Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune, my roomie in Mexico City, shared a motel room with yours truly on that trip and I think we paid $20 total for that night. Grahame Jones of the Los Angeles Times and I walked over to a nearby bar for some drinks. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a table of two of West Germany supporters who were hoisting beer mugs, singing, outside their hotel adjacent to a pool.
Jones, who had a drink or two or perhaps three in his system already, started yelling, “Vive la France! Vive la France.” I pulled him away before the German fans could hear him and retaliate. I didn’t think anyone wanted to read about two American journalists found at the bottom of a Guadalajara hotel swimming pool the next morning.
If you read my affiliation on the pass, it says Berling Communications. I was covering the cup for Soccer America, which at the was owned by the Berling family. There were so few American writers at the competition, even though we were neighbors with Mexico. After reading my affiliation on my press pass, some international journalists thought I was from Germany (probably East Germany because it was a few years before unification). Berling and Berlin.
I am happy to say I went onto cover eight consecutive World Cups, each one memorable in its own way. Given the state of the world these days, I am uncertain if I will be able to attend or cover another one. While that might disappoint me, I feel fortunate to have witnessed and written about soccer history.
Here is another story you might be interested in: