World Cup brings back memories

HARARE - It's hard to believe another World Cup is upon us, and for many of us this floods back wonderful memories of four years ago when the first World Cup to glow beneath the African sun was successfully and memorably staged in South Africa amid unprecedented fanfare and an enthusiastic spectator turnout.

What a great spectacle that was, a real treat for some of us lucky to be near the action, closer enough to capture the atmosphere of a tournament that left an indelible mark on everyone who was part of it.

I had the privilege of being at the last World Cup, working for leading news agency Associated Press alongside some of the finest and most recognised sports writers in the world – guys who wield the pen with the dexterity of the superstars we had gathered to cover for that memorable four weeks.

To this day, I am very thankful for that opportunity, not only because of the chance to savour the special atmosphere of a Football World Cup in a special country, but that invaluable experience can only sharpen your journalism skills and leave you much more the better in a profession that’s ever changing and pursuing latest trends of practice.

Aside from the fun, though, the tournament also had its sad memories.

One of my mentors at the World Cup, Robert Millward, tragically died in his room at our hotel in Johannesburg’s Bruma Lake area.

Millward died apparently of natural causes, aged 58.

Apart from being AP’s chief footballer writer for seven years, Millward was also a versatile scribe, with a deep knowledge of cricket, golf, rugby, boxing and horse.

He has covered an astonishing 52 sporting events for the AP, including the Olympics and British Golf Open, and South Africa 2010 was his seventh World Cup.

Despite that outstanding profile, Rob Millward had remained humble and approachable, a true gentleman in action and words.

Millward had taken me under his wings for my first match-day assignment of the World Cup. We covered together Ghana’s tournament opener against Serbia at Loftus in Pretoria, him doing the main story, and I the 15-minute updates and post-match press conference. 

Deadline pressure was on, because the boss back at the Media Centre at Soccer City, international Sports Editor Simon Haydon, had shown a no-nonsense side in his ready smile and witty sense of humour, and I was desperate to make an impression.

But Robert was a calming factor, stressing on the need for accuracy, as much as time was crucial in agency work.

I took refuge in him, and when a “good job, thanks” message came through from the boss after a hard day’s work, I wore a mile-wide smirk and said thank you to Robert.

An enjoyable environment is always a pleasure to work in, and that AP team was one such environment.

My roommate in the two-bedroomed self-catering lodgings – the warm, kind ever-smiling Argentinian-born Pablo Gorondi – who worked out of Hungary in what he called a one-man bureau in Budapest, went about his business quietly and effectively and was good company after the hustle and bustle of the day.

Themba Hadebe, one of South Africa’s finest photojournalists, who had not only christened his son Tinashe because his wife is Zimbabwean, but was also charmed over several seasons by Kaizer Chiefs midfield maestro Tinashe Nengomasha.

The youghful-looking Gerald Imray, the sports writer based at the Johannesburg bureau, a great pal with Zimbabwean roots who once had a brief attachment with the Zimbabwe Independent in Harare during his university days in London.

Englishman Stuart Condie and Swede Karl Ritter, who both were always ready for a chat and laugh as much as the next guy.

Then there was the genial Australian John Pye, who like most good Aussies, loved his cricket and often found ourselves discussing the gentleman’s game during a Football World Cup.

Most of these guys are probably in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, others are not. But I don’t doubt that those that are there are reliving the memories of four years ago and helping create unforgettable experiences for those lucky enough to be part of Brazil 2014. 

Feel it, it’s here again!

Feedback: sports@dailynews.co.zw.

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