Almost immediately after completing a story on the growth of American football in England (page 34), Clive Gammon set off to cover the World Cup soccer tournament (page 14). The month-long competition was spread over 12 stadiums in nine Mexican cities, with more than 4,000 journalists scrambling to and from game sites and practice fields in quest of fresh observations from players and coaches.
Fortunately Gammon, a native of Wales, knows the ropes. He attended his first World Cup in 1966 in England, covered the 1970 tournament for the London Daily Express and made his Cup debut for SI in Munich in 1974, all the while developing little tricks for beating rival reporters and massive traffic jams. In 1978, when Argentina played Holland in the Cup final in Buenos Aires, Gammon arranged to be driven by motorcycle from River Plate Stadium to SI's downtown bureau immediately after the game so that he could file his story to New York expeditiously. Argentina won the game and, says Gammon, "no one left the stadium for two hours. We looked entirely foolish screaming through empty streets. We got to the bureau in about three minutes flat."
One of Gammon's favorite World Cup memories is from 1982 in Spain. He was flying from Valencia to Madrid on a plane packed with Spaniards who were dejected because their team had just lost to Northern Ireland. "I had never been in a full plane so silent," he says. "I felt very self-conscious because I was wearing a green shirt."
Getting through this past month in Mexico took every bit of Gammon's know-how. "You can't be in two places at once, let alone nine cities," he says. In SI's office in the Mexico City World Cup press center, he had at his disposal two computers, a videotape recorder and two color television monitors, one of which was a battery-powered model that he took to games to watch replays of goals, near-goals and fouls. He also had a shortwave radio so he could listen to the English commentary on the BBC World Service.
July 6, 1986
Gammon is no master of the Spanish language, but in English he has few peers. A columnist for the English-language Mexico City News, Alan Robinson, named Gammon one of the two best soccer writers in the English-speaking world. He observed that Gammon "sings [Argentine superstar Diego] Maradona's skills and mourns the game's brutality on a harp that only a Welshman could play."