Four years ago Associate Editor Clive Gammon, then a special contributor to SI, covered the World Cup soccer matches in Munich for us. This year the Swansea-born Welshman is again reporting on the Cup (page 10), this time from Argentina, a vastly different venue.
For Gammon, one of the pleasant surprises of Cup matches in Argentina came midway through the tournament, on the morning that press credentials for the final game were allocated. Mindful of his experience in West Germany, he set aside at least three days for the battle and arranged to have a Spanish-speaking helper at his side. Four years earlier, at Munich, he had been told, with ill-concealed scorn, that the U.S. was not a soccer nation and that there would be no room for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in the press box on the final day. It took 10 days of infighting to get the decision reversed. Thus he was flabbergasted in the Buenos Aires press center to be handed his credential for the final match within five minutes of requesting it, and by a smiling girl speaking perfect English.
Perhaps this reflects a growing awareness of the U.S. soccer boom, but it is more likely a measure of what many of the 4,000 writers, photographers, TV and radio men assigned to the World Cup consider to be the superior organization—particularly in terms of flexibility—of Argentina '78 over West Germany '74, a small miracle when the appalling political and financial difficulties the Argentinians face are considered.
This holiday from the troubles that have racked Argentina for more than four years may explain the explosion of joy, growing in intensity night by night, that made every city in Argentina a crazy abstraction of color, light and noise for the past three weeks. The whole population was out on the streets, and sleep became a neglected activity. The crowds were awe-inspiring, calling to mind a sort of mad combination of Mardi Gras and the French Revolution—the latter in point of patriotism only, because, almost miraculously, there was no violence. Gammon says, "On mature consideration, I believe the scene in Buenos Aires—indeed, in the whole country—after the defeat of Peru amounted to the greatest celebration of a victory in the history of sport. There are nine million people in greater Buenos Aires and La Prensa estimated that there were more than six million of them on the streets. I remember V-E and V-J days in London. In comparison, they were tea parties."
As a foreigner, however, Gammon had to take care. After the Peru game, he joined the millions of porte�os, as the natives of Buenos Aires are called, in their outdoor celebration. Calle Florida was one huge conga line, and as he watched, bemused, a very large lady with rollers in her hair grabbed him and said a few words in Spanish. "She says, 'Dance, or you're a Brazilian,' " somebody interpreted. Gammon danced.