Most every football official from Dr. Havelange to George Weah has been with me to dinner at Campagnola's Restaurant on First Avenue between 73rd and 74th Street on New York's Upper East Side. It isn't open for lunch, just dinner. It normally attracts a business clientele to its first sitting of Wall Street types and a later sitting with just about anybody that loves good Italian food.
Tuesday, on the street in front of the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, the President of the Northern Ireland Football Association, Jim Boyce came up to me and said, "Chuck, I was just at your favorite restaurant in New York. Our team had a game and we went there for dinner." So, this is more than just another one of New York's 28,000 restaurants; this is one that I have been eating at for over 15 years. Curiously enough, it has an Italian Manager, Salvatore Lombardi and a French Chef, Etienne Lizzi.
In 1998, we waited through the Quarter-Finals on July 3rd to see which of them I would be inviting to join me in Paris. It turned out to be the Chef, with the Italians being eliminated 4-3 on Penalties. Etienne hopped a jet for Paris following France's discharge of Croatia on July 8th, giving them the ticket for the July 12th showdown with Brazil at the Stade de France.
I told Chef Etienne to join us in the police escorted convoy to the stadium. Even now, you can hear him tell the story of his ride with sirens wailing through the city streets of Paris to Saint Denis. But, best of all, he remembers France winning the day and making his trans-Atlantic trip very special.
Last night I made a critical decision. It was no longer a question of inviting one or the other. So, as we left the stadium, at a time equating to 6pm in New York, I called the fashionable restaurant and asked to speak with both of them. Yes, they are both invited! So, on July 9th the bragging rights of this New York landmark restaurant will be decided for the next four years.