The day I saw Pele play…

The debate about the Greatest of All Time will continue as long as the game of football is played and thanks to the internet, footage of those greats from down the years allows us to compare players from different eras. However, there is nothing like being able to say that you saw them play in the flesh. And I can humbly say that I was able to see ‘live’ the player who at the time was probably the most famous and greatest player on the planet – Edson Arantes do Nascimento or as the world knew him – Pele.

Unbelievably his club team, Brazilian side, Santos, played a friendly against my team, Fulham on 12 March 1973 and Pele had even attended the league game on the Saturday before against Carlisle United, meeting old adversary from the 1970 World Cup, Fulham skipper Alan Mullery before kick-off. The excitement I felt at being able to get the chance to see Pele and other World Cup winners such as Carlos Alberto and Edu was mind-blowing for a ten year old only used to a diet of English Second Division fare.

Given that there would be a bumper crowd we got seats in the Stevenage Road Stand rather than our usual spot on the Putney End terrace. Fulham averaged just over 10,000 in the league that season, but for the Santos game it was officially recorded as 21,464 – the biggest attendance I’d seen at the Cottage up till then.

It’s funny what you remember from that night. One thing that sticks in the mind is my dad managing to park the car in what seemed to be an incredibly tight space, moving the car back and forward for what seemed like an eternity. Another is that in order for Santos to wear their famous all white strip, Fulham played in red shirts, with white shorts and red socks on the night. Bizarre minor details but still linked to that night in March.

Of course, the reality in terms of the game itself, was that it was a friendly, an exhibition match, but for those there that night, that didn’t matter. We were there to see Pele and we can all say that we saw him score as well. Even though he was 31 at the time, his genius was there for all to see, and the buzz in the ground whenever he got the ball was palpable. In terms of the action, Fulham had taken a first-half lead through Alan Pinkney but were pegged back in the second half. Pele latched onto a long ball and as he attempted to go round Fulham ‘keeper Peter Mellor, the Brazilian legend was brought down. Up stepped Pele to send Mellor the wrong way and level the score at 1-1. Fulham though would go onto win 2-1 with Steve Earle getting the winner seven minutes from time.

The programme from that game is a prized possession amongst my collection as are my memories of the night I saw Pele play.

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Book Review: Neymar: My Story – Conversations with my father. Neymar Jr and Neymar Sr with Ivan More

NeymarThis book is released as ‘the official autobiography’ of Neymar Junior and is the English translation of the version published in Brazil in 2013.

The term ‘official’ can be be a good thing and also be less so. On the positive side it is used so that those buying officially authorised products know they are of a certain quality, that they have been sanctioned for release and that there is no financial gain for those producing pirate goods. What it can also mean though, is that there is a great deal of control over what is produced and in the instance of a book, can compromise the content in that it can become very sanitised.

This book in terms of format is 150 pages long and consists of 30 small chapters. These alternate between Neymar Junior and Neymar Senior focusing on a specific theme and a style and tone that attempts to reflect a conversational answer to a question.

As readers we learn that Neymar Senior also played football professionally in Brazil, although not at a level achieved by his son and has for a number of years managed the affairs of the current Brazilian No. 10. As you would expect Neymar Senior expresses his love for his son and the pride he has for what Juninho (Neymar Junior’s family nickname) has achieved. Neymar Senior also covers such areas as family life, Neymar Junior’s progression into the ranks at Santos and subsequently playing on the international stage with Brazil, as well as the aborted transfer to Real Madrid.

In his chapters Neymar Junior talks about the positive influence of his family and especially his father and in addition, how he feels now that his is a father. Juninho like his father talks about his career to date and the highs and lows he has experienced since making his professional debut as a 17 year old including his recent move to Barcelona. He expresses his pride in playing for Brazil and how that nothing less than winning the World Cup in 2014 will be good enough for the Brazilian public.

On the one hand there is a warmth to the personal insight that the two men provide in terms of their relationship and if you know nothing of Neymar (Senior and Junior) this book provides a useful introduction. However, because the chapters are so brief there is the feeling that topics are not fully explored. There is the impression too – and this comes back to the idea of ‘official’ being constraining or sanitising – that as a reader I was left with the feeling that it was all a bit ‘nice’ and lacked a bit of an edge.



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