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Alex Yannis, who chronicled soccer’s rise in US, dies at 84

Alex Yannis, who chronicled Pelé’s career and the rise of soccer interest in the United States during three decades with The New York Times, has died. He was 84.

Yannis died Wednesday at a residential hospice in New City, New York, of interstitial lung disease, his son, John, said Thursday. Yannis would have turned 85 on Sunday, the day of the World Cup final.

Born in Kartharitsi, Greece, Yannis worked in Paris selling papers for the International Herald Tribune, then co-owned by the Times. He moved to the U.S. with his wife and young son in around 1967, traveling on the Queen Elizabeth ship, and went to work for the Times as a news assistant on the metro desk, at the time a rare editorial employee whose first language was not English.

He became a news assistant in sports and while holding that job traveled to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, offering the paper coverage in exchange for a credential and possible expense reimbursement. His story on the hosts’ 2-1 win over the Netherlands in the final was run on the front page, and he did get his expenses reimbursed, according to his son.

Yannis met Pelé at the tournament and he covered his transfer to the Cosmos in 1975, which jump-started interest in the sport in the U.S. After Pelé’s farewell match in October 1977, Yannis began an appreciation by writing: “Pelé is to soccer what Shakespeare is to the English language: he puts it all together.”

Yannis was promoted to a staff reporter in 1977 and remained with the Times until his retirement in 2004.

He covered college soccer in the 1970s and early ’80s, when it was the sport’s most prominent regular competition in the U.S. He chronicled the demise of the North American Soccer League in 1984 and the launch of Major League Soccer in 1996 and covered three World Cups in all, traveling to the 1986 tournament in Mexico and also writing at the 1994 tournament in the U.S.

In addition to soccer, Yannis reported on the New Jersey Devils’ NHL team and golf tournaments.

Yannis received the 2009 Colin Jose Media Award from the National Soccer Hall of Fame, given annually to a journalist whose career made significant long-term contributions to the sport in the U.S.

Since his retirement he had worked as a starter at Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River, New York, in exchange for reduced green fees. according to his son.

His first wife, the former Joan Weber, died in 1998. He is survived by his second wife, the former Guoquin Zhang, whom he married in 1999, and by his son.

A funeral is scheduled for Monday at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in West Nyack, New York.


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