Simone O’Kane meets multi-lingual Helen Summers who helps footballers around the world
COMBINING her passion of football and languages, has enabled East Lancashire-born Helen Summers to work with some of the biggest names in sport.
Helen, who started out as a television producer and director, has interviewed Brazilian legend Pelé, and taught languages to Frank Lampard and David James.
She now runs her own business Vivrevida, offering language solutions. Vivrevida incorporates the words ‘live’ and ‘life’ in a combination of French, Spanish and Portuguese, languages spoken by so many top Premier League and other league players.
A former chief press officer at Chelsea FC, one of Helen’s most memorable events in her career was when she sat alongside Jose Mourinho as he declared himself ‘The Special One’.
Her multi-lingual skills – she is fluent in French and Spanish – have taken her across the globe . . . not bad for a girl from Higham.
“The business is important in every way and, as more international players come through, interpreters are sought-after,” she said. “Football players or managers need more support when they come to England, they need to get their message across. Players have claimed they have been mis-quoted in the press, but more often than not, they are not certain or covering what they have actually said.”
After graduating with a degree in modern languages at the University of Salford, Helen produced and directed three one-hour football documentaries: History of Football: The Beautiful Game.
And, although she is well-travelled, Helen still manages to make time to follow her beloved Burnley FC. “When I was in Brazil I did a long interview with Pelé but I couldn’t have left filming without having him sign two Burnley shirts. He wrote on them both ‘Up the Clarets’. I gave them to my brothers Colin and Graham but never saved one for myself,” said Helen, who has also worked in the media department of UEFA in Switzerland, travelling to Sierra Leone with Europe’s top referees.
In 2011, Helen left her job as director of communications in Portsmouth and moved to the North East with her husband Paul. Now she works closely with Sunderland.
“The players’ families come to me for advice too. It’s not just about playing for a new team, it’s also about them getting used to the new cultures, they often don’t know how to drive on the opposite side of the road. You are teaching them the language and the culture as well,” said Helen, a former Westholme pupil.
In November 1996, former Arsenal and Portsmouth footballer Kanu underwent heart surgery to replace an aortic valve. Helen, 39, worked alongside the French-speaking player when he founded the Kanu Heart Foundation, which helps mainly young African children who suffer heart defects.
She also worked with Tony Adams, teaching him French as he embarked on an international management career.
“I thought it was good of Tony to take on another language. He needed to be able to speak French to improve communication between himself and the players,” said Helen, who has also built great friendships with footballers such as Didier Drogba.
Currently, Helen is helping Sunderland’s Senegalese player Kader Mangane and his wife and daughter.
The mother-of-two has also played the game – she was a midfielder for Brentford Ladies FC and Stade Nyonnais in Switzerland.
“The team that I have at Vivrevida are experienced in every way. We provide immigration assistance, wealth management, help with accommodation, schooling and transport, commercial and charity partnership opportunities as well as providing links to the local community.
“The care an international player gets varies from club to club, but it’s rewarding working with them to ensure they are happy and well-settled.”