- John Helm saw the emergence of Saviola, Messi and Pogba
- Legendary British journalist has covered over 5,500 games
- Why he will never use the word ‘tragedy’ when calling a game
Broadcaster John Helm has witnessed countless goals, victories, defeats and plenty of drama while commentating at major finals, as well as a tragedy that still haunts him to this day. A veteran of over 5,500 games, the commentator spoke to FIFA.com about the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland and his career.
“I’ll have been covering football for 60 years in September; I started out as a journalist in 1959,” Helm told FIFA.com. “What’s amazing is that I still have the same enthusiasm I had when I started. If you compare my first day on the job with today, that sense of satisfaction is the same!”
Helm has covered ten FIFA World Cups, as well as numerous international tournaments including youth and women’s competitions.
The John Helm fact file
- Born: 8 July 1942, Yorkshire, England
- Started working as a journalist in 1959
- Covered 10 FIFA World Cups
- Enjoyed long career at the BBC
- Worked for FIFA on major tournaments
- Commentated on FIFA U-20 World Cup since 2001
“It’s great I’ve had the opportunity to cover Poland 2019 because the level of football has been very good," he said. "In my opinion, we’ve seen more stand-out team performances than pieces of individual brilliance – apart from [Erling Haland]’s nine goals against Honduras. There have also been some surprises; a good Argentinian side are out and France are, too. Mali and Senegal have shown real promise, as have New Zealand.
"I have lots of memories when it comes to the U-20 World Cup. I started covering the competition in 2001 in Argentina; Javier Saviola broke onto the scene and scored a record number of goals. I also saw the emergence of Leo Messi at the 2005 edition in the Netherlands, as well as Pogba in 2013."
Helm has worked on a multitude of events, not just junior tournaments: “I’ve commentated on more than 5,500 matches during my career. Which one was the best? I’d single out two. One is Brazil versus Italy at the 1982 FIFA World Cup. What a game that was! Rossi scored a hat-trick as the Italians upset the Brazilians 3-2.
"Nobody probably remembers my other pick, but I’ll never forget it. It was at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Finland. Portugal were up against Cameroon and needed just a draw to qualify. They led 5-0 at one point, but the African side pulled it back to 5-5 in injury time. If the final whistle hadn't blown, Cameroon would have got a sixth. I’m not kidding you! I’ve never seen anything like it."
The commentator has witnessed many remarkable events over the years, including some that brought tears to his eyes. In 1985, Helm was commentating on a Bradford City match – a team close to his heart as he was born and raised in the area. A fire broke out during the match and claimed the lives of 56 people.
“I knew lots of the victims personally," said Helm. "It was extremely traumatic for me; it still sends shivers down my spine when I talk about it. That’s why I’ll never describe a goalkeeping or defensive mistake or a missed penalty as a tragedy. Because a tragedy is when someone loses their life, and I saw that with my own eyes. We need to keep things in perspective."
Although the legendary journalist has travelled the world for many years and is hardly at home, there have been no issues when it comes to family as his wife also leads a busy life. She does charity work in Gambia, so John is able to balance his family life with his passion for the job.
When asked about the best player he has seen, Helm’s response is somewhat surprising.
“Even Sir Alex Ferguson agrees with me on this one and I always tend to give this answer: Welshman John Charles was one of the best players of his era when he went over to Italy," he said. "He played for Juventus and moved there for £65,000, which was a record transfer fee back in 1957. What a player he was!
"He couldn’t play in Wales’ match against Brazil at the 1958 World Cup because of an injury. Even Pele said that if Charles had played, then Wales would’ve become world champions. I’ve also seen the emergence of many stars. Diego Maradona has to be up there, as does Leo Messi."
The 76-year-old Helm is still full of vigour and passion, and he will be covering the Poland 2019 final in Lodz. Maybe he'll utter the name of yet another future star.