As a 12-year-old boy living in Frankfurt in the 1950s, Hartmut Scherster was known as the king of autograph collectors.
There wasn’t a sporting event he wouldn’t miss, nor a sports star he wouldn’t chase.
Even the local journalists knew him and asked him for interesting bits of information he might have heard while hanging out with athletes and their entourages waiting for autographs.
So when Scherster applied for a job at the local newspaper during his school holidays, he was welcomed into a world that began a love affair with the beautiful game and its global prize – the World Cup.
Scherster is now 84 and Qatar 2022 is his 16th consecutive FIFA World Cup. That means that only six tournaments have been organized in which he has not participated.
His first was in Chile in 1962, with the tournament famous for what was called the “Battle of Santiago”, a match between the host nation and Italy that required several police interventions to quell the violence on the field.
Times were different then.
The referee of that match reportedly invented football’s red and yellow cards as a way to deal with bad behaviour.
Today’s players are so scared of yellow cards that teams like Germany relented on their highly publicized pledge to wear a OneLove bracelet to highlight Qatar’s lack of LGBTQI rights after the players were told by FIFA that they got a yellow card for that.
The environment for journalists is also very different these days.
When Scherster traveled to Chile as a 24-year-old reporter for the international news agency UPI, he had to find a public payphone at the end of the day to play his stories and dictate them to a stenographer at the end of the day. line.
Mixed zones and post-game press conferences with coaches and players – considered standard fare today – did not exist in the 1960s.
Back then, journalists like Scherster would walk into the dressing rooms and chat with the stars of the game to get the quotes they needed for their stories. Those conversations led to friendships for life.
“Today the stars are no different, but communication with the media is completely different,” Scherster told the ABC in Doha.
“They have their own social media. You don’t have to ask them anymore, they send it via Twitter.
“All the excitement and challenge of my generation [of reporters] is no longer necessary.”
About 12,000 print and broadcast media workers work at the Qatar World Cup, which is virtually the population of a large city that needs its own infrastructure.
Reporters and broadcasters are provided with transportation, hotels, restaurants and work facilities in each location’s media workspaces.
It’s in these workrooms and on these buses that you’re likely to bump into Scherster as he goes from game to game filing his reports.
The changing landscape of football
In the 1960s, he said that no one could have imagined that one day television and radio reports would be filmed on a mobile phone and broadcast live to anywhere in the world.
“The whole world has changed in those 60 years, including football,” said Scherster.
Scherster said those changes were why his home nation Germany – fourth in the FIFA rankings – was bundled into the group stage at a second consecutive World Cup.
He said the job of national coaches is much more difficult these days as national leagues were no longer the domain of domestic players.
The internationalization of Europe’s top leagues – including Germany’s Bundesliga – has changed the game, but some national structures have been unable to adapt.
Senegal has over 500 footballers playing abroad, 51 of which are in the top five in Europe.
The national team, nicknamed the Lions of Teranga, is one of the most notable players in Qatar. They are the reigning African champions and have climbed to 18th place in the FIFA standings. In the early hours of Monday morning AEDT, Senegal will play England for a spot in the quarter-finals.
Scherster was present when England won its only World Cup to date on home soil in 1966. He said it was one of his fondest memories.
“In 1966, after the final between (West) Germany and England…because I was a member of one of the major news agencies in the world, we were allowed into the dressing room after the game,” he said.
“So I sat on the bench in the dressing room… with Franz Beckenbauer and we talked. He was only 20 at the time, he was very shy.”
Scherster remembers exactly what Beckenbauer said in the dressing room after losing the World Cup final.
“He said, ‘Of course we’re disappointed… but I think I played a good game against Bobby Charlton. I was instructed by our coach to look after only Bobby Charlton, he’s a great player and a very fair player. player’,” Scherster said.
Beckenbauer would lead West Germany to success at the 1974 World Cup, while 16 years later he coached his country to its third tournament victory in Italy ’90.
He later led a successful German bid to host the 2006 World Cup.
Scherster has seen it all, and then some. He’s like a walking archive, charting the course of the stars as they rise and fade: yesterday it was Beckenbauer and Charlton, today it’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé.
Most people in the media workrooms are decades younger than Scherster. It is unlikely that many will ever come close to his record for covered World Cups.
So why is he still doing it?
“Because I love football and the World Cup,” said Scherster.
“I keep working, it keeps me fit and I enjoy it.
“Other people my age are going on a dream ship, on a world tour holiday: I’m going to a World Cup.”
Now Scherster is back at his computer finishing a story he needs to submit. Once that’s done, he’s back on the media bus, heading to another media center and another World Cup match.