Jun 8, 2009

When a Malaysian triggered Maradona's abrupt exit from Berlin stadium

By Lazarus Rokk - July 23, 2006

LIFE on Planet Football must be going back to normal again as its 4.5 billion inhabitants, inarguably suffering from withdrawal symptoms, savour those magical moments of the greatest show on earth – The FIFA World Cup Germany 2006.

The rest of the world would remember this World Cup more for that Zinedine Zidane-Marco Materazzi incident but my thoughts would be on those up-close-and-personal moments with players and coaches as a FIFA media officer.

I don’t know what thoughts were running in Zidane's head as he trooped down the stairs (where I stood just two feet away) leading to the locker room.

He was wiping away his tears. There was no cursing or swearing from the football genius.

Minutes after that, I did something that I never imagined I would ever do in my life as a Malaysian. I cautioned France and Liverpool striker Cisse. He was standing with the team’s media officer about five metres behind the France bench.

Cisse in his suit and crutch was violently gesticulating at some of the decisions of Argentine referee Alizondo Horacio .

I walked up to him and said: “You are very lucky to be allowed to stand here when you are not supposed to, but if you are going to behave like this I will have to ask you to leave.” And he didn't said a word.

I know I was just doing my job, but personally, it felt good to have that authority over players whom you watch week-in week-out in the English Premier League.

But the high point must surely be on the day of the final itself. When Fabio Grosso crashed in the winning penalty that gave Italy their fourth World Cup title, that was when our work – the media officers – got really hard.

Our job initially was to guide the victors through a specific “lap of honour” path round the stadium.

But all hell broke loose. The Italians were all over the place, the 100-odd photographers became initially uncontrollable, and for a while it became a nightmare. One photographer was almost trampled in the melee.

When order was finally restored, and the players continued the merry-making in their locker room, there was Materazzi sitting on the floor, feet stretched out with his towel just barely covering his family jewels, chatting on his cellular phone for a good 40 minutes.

The only marks on his upper body were tattoos. There was no visible sign of that head-butt incident either on his chest, or in his disposition. The Italian was in high spirits, enjoying the conversation on the phone, and you would never have guessed if you hadn’t seen it yourself that this was a man who had been head-butted and had one of the world’s best players sent off in shame.

In the locker room, there was Malaysian Windsor Paul John, hurrying the Italians to return the precious trophy. You see, no one keeps the original, what the victors get is the replica. The original only comes out on the day of the final and goes back to a Swiss bank the next day. There are apparently four replicas.

Anyway, as the French players came out of their locker room, dreading to take the stairs up to the mixed zone where some 800 reporters were waiting for interviews, the Italians naturally didn’t need convincing. They were only too glad to meet the media.

It was almost 3am before we left the stadium, totally drained of not just the night’s but the month’s events.

I can’t say if it was a great World Cup, as they were really no one player or players who stood out in Germany.

But I know, speaking with many Germans, what the World Cup meant to them. They were just glad it came their way, as it gave the world a chance to know the Germany in a different and more positive light.

Speaking of Windsor, there is one story that was left untold. He was the man who eventually made football’s brat Diego Maradona leave the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in a huff before the Germany-Argentina quarter-final!

Maradona was only allowed to come in with two friends, but he wanted his whole entourage of about 20 to come in. But FIFA didn’t allow that. Then later, his manager told Windsor, the general co-ordinator at Berlin, that Maradona wanted to visit the team in the locker room. That was three minutes before the teams were to troop out.

And Windsor, being the staunch follower of rules, emphatically turned down the request, which caused Maradona to storm out of the stadium in a huff before the kick-off.

The beautiful game truly, is bigger than any individual.

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