28 March Tuesday

Born to a poor home in far-fetched village, Pele reached summits of power and fortune forbidden for the blacks. Vijoo Krishnan writes..

Vijoo KrishnanUpdated: Friday Dec 30, 2022

Pele: My First Football Hero
My first memory of football and Pele is from the film 'Escape to Victory' which also introduced me to his bicycle kick, that was way back in 1981-82 when I was just seven. We watched with awe at a roadside screening in Sanjay Nagar, Bangalore, the film starring Sylvester Stallone, Caine and a bunch of international football stars. Set during World War II, a group of Allied prisoners of war agree to play a football match against the Nazi team only to use it as a method to escape captivity. The film is said to be inspired by the The Death Match: Dynamo Kiev vs. the Nazis. A group of POW's in Germany were challenged to a football match by their captors and the deal was: lose and be set free or win and face the firing squad.

I also have vague memory of yet another Pele film A Minor Miracle. Later as we were all so engrossed with the game and kicking around we also watched many videos of his magic with his feet. A small picture of Pele still remains stuck on the shelf at home. Which footballer was called Black Pearl or what was Edson Arantes do Nascimento better known as were questions in different quizzes that I took part in.

In his book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano beautifully captures the essence of Pelé’s status: "A hundred songs name him. At seventeen he was champion of the world and king of soccer. Before he was twenty the government of Brazil named him a "national treasure" that could not be exported. He won three world championships with the Brazilian team and two with the club Santos. After his thousandth goal, he kept on counting. He played more than thirteen hundred matches in eighty countries, one game after another at a punishing rate, and he scored nearly thirteen hundred goals. Once he held up a war: Nigeria and Biafra declared a truce to see him play.

To see him play was worth a truce and a lot more. When Pele ran hard he cut right through his opponents like a hot knife through butter. When he stopped, his opponents got lost in the labyrinths his legs embroidered. When he jumped, he climbed into the air as if there were a staircase. When he executed a free kick, his opponents in the wall wanted to turn around and face the net, so as not to miss the goal.

He was born in a poor home in a far-off village, and he reached the summit of power and fortune where blacks were not allowed. Off the field he never gave a minute of his time, and a coin never fell from his pocket. But those of us who were lucky enough to see him play received alms of an extraordinary beauty: moments so worthy of immortality that they make us believe immortality exists"