John at the 'Helm' again as Brazil take on Germany
Both Brazil and Germany might have downplayed their senior teams' 2014 World Cup semi-final in Belo Horizonte ahead of their U-17 World Cup quarter-final clash in Kolkata. However, there is one common link to that match that will bind the two teams as they take to the pitch at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Commentator John Helm, who will be calling the game on Sunday, was also the world-feed commentator on July 8 three years ago in what he describes as the "most extraordinary day" of his football commentary career -- one that began with radio in England in 1970.
"I have done massive matches -- World Cup finals -- and we have all done some of the most boring games imaginable, and we have done some great games. But to see spectators leaving after 25 minutes of a World Cup semi-final in tears was quite the most moving experience," says Helm, remembering the 7-1 at the Mineirao. "Our director was cutting to pictures of the crowd, absolutely in tatters. They were shredded. This wasn't just a football defeat -- it was a defeat for the nation."
Helm, 75, began as a journalist at 17, and still remembers the first match he covered fondly -- a clash between two teams in the erstwhile Yorkshire Football League, where Football League clubs would enter their reserve and third sides to play alongside the semi-professional and amateur teams that were competing.
"My first football match as a reporter was 1959. It was Salts against Thorn Colliery and I actually traveled with the Salts team and I was thrilled about it. They were amateur footballers but a good side, and they got hammered 5-1 and I came up with what I thought was a good headline for a 17-year old: "Thorn in Salts' side"," chuckles Helm.
His debut as World Cup commentator came during the third-fourth place match at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina while working for BBC Radio as producer. Brazil beat Italy 2-1 and set off Helm's lifelong affair with Brazilian football, as he ended up commentating on all of Brazil's games in Spain four years later.
Was that where his love of Brazil came to be? "Well, yes and no - yes, because I commentated on every Brazil game in that World Cup, and that team of Socrates, Falcao, Zico -- they were a wonderful team. I could have cried when they lost to Italy, I really could have -- that Paolo Rossi bloke getting a hat-trick," he says. "But I can remember the 1958 World Cup. I also remember the '54 World Cup, but '58 was the first time really that it was covered back in England. Seeing Pele, Vava, Didi, Nilton Santos and Djalma Santos -- the names were fantastic. It was a bit like my first experience with the Indian cricket team, with Vinoo Mankad, Pankaj Roy, Polly Umrigar and Vijay Hazare -- I loved all the names. It is strange how you can love names. And I have loved Indian names ever since, and I love Brazilian names."
"Brazilian names, I made a point the other day, the way they play football suits their names as well. 'Romario' or 'Zico' rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? It is fantastic and they play with a rhythm and their names tend to have the same rhythm as well. Romario, Junior, Socrates -- one of the great ones of all time."
For someone who also called every World Cup final on world feed between 2002 and 2010, was it difficult then to retain objectivity when watching the 2014 semi-final, especially when one of his favourite football nations was involved?
"To me, you retain a level of professionalism because the story was Brazil. Yes, of course, you were admiring what Germany were doing -- they could have been seven or eight in front -- but the story for me was here was a nation which had been looking forward for so long to hosting the World Cup finals, and of course, the only other time they had done (in 1950) they had lost as well to Uruguay. So, that was the story. You always have to be aware of what is the story at the time, and the story in a game changes as the match unfolds, but that day the story had already been told by the first 25 minutes. And that was the sadness of it."
Helm called the 2016 Olympic football final off-tube, and believes there was some semblance of closure when Neymar put away the winning penalty for Brazil against Germany at the Maracana, but wonders how the images of the 2014 game might affect the two sets of youngsters who will step out on the field on Sunday.
"It's an interesting one, because I read an article that said that some of the young Brazilian players remember that day and watching it on television and what a horrible day it was," says Helm. "They would not have played against Germany before, and they were 13-14, and as we all know, that means a lot to you when you are that old. That would be one of the first World Cups that they all remember. It was the humiliation that they would remember. There might be some added determination, a little bit, on part of some of the Brazilians."
"As far as the Germans are concerned, I don't think it matters at what age level -- they will all have the same never-say-die attitude. One of our colleagues here said privately this was the worst German team he had ever seen at an U-17 World Cup when they lost to Iran. I told him, you never ever say Germany is going to get beaten. And I wouldn't say there are going to get beaten here by Brazil. Never predict against them."