For decades, his voice was just as much a part of football as the goal and the ball. In December, Béla Réthy (66) retired after almost 400 live games as a commentator. In the “Bild” podcast “Phrasen Mäher”, the ZDF legend now reveals the best anecdotes of his career.

Béla Rethy on…

… a missed live broadcast of the water polo preliminary round match between Germany and the Czech Republic at the 1992 Olympic Games: “My colleague Thomas Wark and I had to edit the very up-to-date Olympic review at night. At three, half past three we were done and took a little brandy at the bar – three fingers up. In hindsight it was said that I overslept the transmission because we were at the bar until 4am. But the fact that we only got there at half past three is the true story. In any case, at water polo, only ‘splätscher, plätscher, plätscher’ was heard on ZDF – and then there was real theatre. My colleagues switched to badminton, and the head of sports at the time, Karl Senne, asked me to report: ‘Well, my friend, oversleeping live broadcasts – it couldn’t be worse!’ He gave me a yellow envelope from Lufthansa and said: ‘That’s it your return flight ticket, you go home at 7 p.m.’ But: there was no ticket in the envelope! I had learned my lesson that way too.”

… his start at ZDF: “I’ve been working in the archive since 1977 and at the same time as a taxi driver. I used to take a taxi to ZDF on Mondays and see if they had anything for me – and if they had anything, I called the middle-class driver and said: Frankie, you can have the car, there’s better work for me! “

… the first meeting with Pelé: “It was at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico at the bar of the Hotel Camino Real in Guadalajara, where O Globo’s TV colleagues also stayed with Pelé, who was their expert at the time. I was sitting in my regular place, tapping one on the shoulder and saying: ‘You are supposed to be Don Margarita’.’ That was Pelé. The bartender gave me the name ‘Don Margarita’ and even carved a sign on my seat, saying no one else was allowed to sit there. Neither does Pelé.”

… his best Pelé moment: “At the 1990 World Cup I was there as Marcel Reif’s assistant, who commented on the opening game, among other things. World champion Argentina lost sensationally against Cameroon. Before our second game, we met TV legend Rudi Michel at the stadium in Turin, who praised Marcel effusively: ‘Man, Mr. Reif. You are the greatest reporter in the German language. Nobody has such an articulation and such a wit like you.’ Marcel is known to be a proud man and was particularly moved: ‘Did you hear that, Béla? Rudi Michel!’ Shortly afterwards we were waiting at the elevator and the entire O Globo troupe came towards us. Right in front – Marcel’s idol. ‘Béla, Béla, Béla, my childhood hero. There look: Pelé! I’ve NEVER seen him SO CLOSE.’ And Pelé? See me, hug me and laugh: ‘Hey, meu amigo, everything alright my friend?’ And Marcel stood by and said: “You bastard arranged that. Rudi Michel comes to me – and King Pelé to you.”

…the question of which sport he never wants to comment on: “Dressage. I think these animals are beautiful, but I don’t understand it. My access to baseball is also limited. Whenever people are cheering, nothing happens – and vice versa. I think I’m too stupid for that!”

…his best World Cup in terms of beverages: “At tournaments I always tried to live, eat and drink in a way that is typical of the country. If it’s not about the effect, but about the quality of the alcohol, Italy was the best World Cup. I love Italian red wines.”

…his thermos trick at the World Cup in Qatar, to which he smuggled a liter of single malt into the country: “Various colleagues had told me that you are not even allowed to import duty-free goods into Qatar. And if you want to have another sip with your colleagues in the evening, you had to organize something. I didn’t have a thermos at home, but I ordered one, filled it with whiskey and took it with me to Qatar in my suitcase. They would have checked my hand luggage and caught me – so it wasn’t a problem.”

… the drinking motto on ZDF the day before the important games: “Today not so much, tomorrow is a difficult game!”

… the question of whether he has ever commented on one of his almost 400 games with residual alcohol: “Once in a lifetime, yes. A few days before a cup final between Bayern and Bremen, there was a separation and personal grievances for me. We stopped into The Trumpet, a bar owned by actor Ben Becker, the night before the game and just wanted a nightcap. Then a Cuban band played, and Ben Becker himself was there too. We drank until it got light. Back at the hotel, Poschmann, our head of sports at the time, just went out for a jog. We had to duck away for a moment – and slept for another three hours. During the preliminary talk at noon, Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Bayern coach at the time, greeted me with the words: ‘Well, Mr Réthy, how was the night?’ But he was a gentleman and provided me with two or three pieces of exclusive information: ‘That helps you over the hurdles, but go back to sleep for two hours.’” What information was that? Réthy: “It was about a national player, a defender, with whom FC Bayern did not want to extend the contract and Hitzfeld said to me: ‘You would do me a favor if you got the information.’ That must have been Thomas Helmer. “

And how did it go despite residual alcohol? Réthy: “On the Monday after the final, the broadcast was very well received, because I was back on point in the evening – although I had already thought to myself from the 70th minute: I hope there will be no extra time here so that I don’t get totally tired here become. It was a lesson in itself – and the only time.”

… Jürgen Klopp’s question as to whether the “Réthy bracket” still exists: Réthy laughs: “When I wasn’t married yet – and later when I wasn’t anymore – I had one certain contact tactics. I would prefer to approach women sitting in the corner of the bar and then stick my arm out like a barrier. The colleagues rated this method as very clever – and called it the ‘Réthy bracket’. You had to argue well to get past it (laughs).”

… the smoking ban in the stadiums: “I continued to smoke in the stadium – even during the games. But always with a guilty conscience. I like to have a bad conscience and I’m someone who likes to do forbidden things. The stewards always kindly asked me not to do it so obviously, there were always possibilities – even during the half-time break when the ‘Heute Journal’ was running.”

… the EM final in 1996, which he commented on from a pizza box: “We were given laptops for the first time before the tournament. I’d been writing all the information into the laptop for days and wanted to add a little something after a walk down Oxford Street on match day – and then the screen went black and it was all gone! Most of the time, the problem is behind the computer, but no technician could help anymore.” And then? Réthy: “You get to know yourself! First I lay down on the bed and watched a giraffe documentary on the BBC to calm down.”

Giraffe documentary? Réthy: “Yes, I have learned in my life that panic only creates more problems. My assistant Martin Schneider and I then drove to the stadium two hours earlier than usual and – because Martin is always hungry – ate a pizza. Once Martin had plastered most of that wagon wheel, we started recording the key information on the back of the pizza box – and from the pizza box I annotated the game.”

… the picture failure at the 2008 European Championship game between Germany and Turkey in Basel (3: 2): “I only saw that my assistant was getting restless. And when Martin Schneider gets restless, he’s either hungry or something dramatic is on the way. That’s exactly how it was. He said, ‘We don’t have a picture anymore. Just keep commenting. Do radio.’ We were then able to tap into the signal from our Swiss TV colleagues, but there was a picture-time offset. I was three seconds in front of the picture and called out Tor Klose when the cross was still in the air – in the days that followed, people wanted to know the lottery numbers from me.”

… the best game he has ever experienced: “The 2001 Uefa Cup final between Liverpool FC and Deportivo Alaves in Dortmund. 5:4 – a golden goal through an own goal. Liverpool still with Hamann, Babbel, goat. My colleague Oliver Schmidt had the song ‘You’ll never walk alone’ on a cassette in the car and we took it to the hotel and celebrated with Liverpool fans. We had free drinking and since the fans were well-heeled, it was only champagne. A spectacle.”

… his worst game: “WM 2006 round of 16, Cologne Müngersdorf: Switzerland against Ukraine. No one was willing to go to the 16s. After 15 minutes I looked at the clock and thought: When will this drama finally be over? In the end it came to penalties. Switzerland shot all three. Hit Ukraine one or two. A horrible soccer game!”

… the “Bild” demand that he should continue: “I thought that was very nice from BILD, it was a great mark of honour. I’m only out of business because I’ve reached retirement age. I would have gone further. My last major events were the Winter Olympics in Pyongyang, where I commented on cross-country skiing in freezing temperatures, and the World Cup in Qatar. Now the Olympic Games in Paris, the World Championships in the USA, Canada and Mexico and then the Olympics in Brisbane are coming up – all the great things are coming and I’m retired, that bothers me!”

… the question of why he was wanted: Réthy: “When I was eleven, my parents, who had emigrated to Brazil after the Hungarian uprising in 1956, sent me to a boarding school for Hungarian refugee children in Bavaria. The first time in Germany was miserable. I didn’t understand the language, you shared a room with 20 children and could only take a cold shower. At that time, completely different pedagogical principles applied. For every piece of crap you got scrubbed. I then fled and convinced my buddy – whose funny name was Löw – that we should make our way to Brazil. By train from Neumarkt to Regensburg, then via Munich to Hamburg, then on a ship where we wanted to work as dishwashers and then we’ll visit my parents, they’ll definitely be happy. But we only got as far as Neumarkt. They had already been looking for us on the radio at Bayern 3. An elderly man hitchhiked us to his home and lured us in with hot chocolate as it was so cold. While the chocolate was on the table, the police rang and took us away again.”

At the end of the phrase mower episode, Réthy, who grew up in Brazil, comments in Portuguese on legendary scenes from the 7-1 win in the 2014 World Cup semi-final and the Selecao 2-0 in the 2002 World Cup final.

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