Mexico 70 – Pele


When you think of the Brazilian team that won the World Cup back in 1970 (whether you were alive at the time or not), it pretty obvious that the name Pele will be in your head. It was the third time he had won the tournament and he still remains the only player to have done so. Pele was part of the winning team from Brazil that had other legends such as Tostao, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho in its ranks. When I first started this challenge he was in the top five winners I wanted to get hold of, and luckily I managed to meet him in person.

I got in touch with Pele’s agents and in fact they were the first people I contacted seeing as 1970 was the year that Adidas became the official ball supplier to FIFA. The ball used in Mexico was the Adidas Telstar, a simple black and white ball made for the first widely televised world cup. As this was the first email I sent, I wasn’t really expecting a response but I got one and then the journey to meet Pele began. After a couple of follow up calls it was agreed that I would meet him in London while he was in town for the Olympics.

When the day came, I made my way down to Somerset House, where ‘Casa Brazil’ had been set up. I’ve been told that I had to come alone and wasn’t allowed to take any pictures, and I got a few texts to confirm who had already signed the matchballs (Pele would be 6th player to sign). After all that I still wasn’t 100% confident that I’d get to meet him. I waited around for a bit and then shortly after, Pele and his entourage turned up. He was doing some promotional work and his rep gave me a nod and said hi. They told me that I would be able to catch him shortly. As I waited, more and more people turned up, as well as security. They took Pele into a room. While he was in there, football fans (looked like competition winners) made their way into the room, not knowing that the Legend would be on the other side of the door to surprise them. It was pretty cool for them, they got some Pele time, signed goodies and off they went. When all of the winners had met him, they moved Pele to another room and I just followed the crowd.

It was a lot of waiting around and although it was a little frustrating, I kept calm and took in the Pele circus around me. They was a bit of a scrum to get near Pele as he made his way to another room, his friends, associated, promo staff, photographers, all wanted a piece. It looked he was floating at one point as the security guards parted the media sea so he could pass through quickly. Once Pele was in the room, others also tried to get in but not everybody could. You needed to get the nod from his staff and they pointed out the people who were allowed in, ‘everybody else, please move away’. Thankfully I got the finger in a good way and made my way in.

Once in the room, I watched the Pele show in full swing, working his way around the room, shaking hands, patting backs. They sat him down behind a desk at the top of the room and finally it was my turn to meet the legend. Pele looked confused at first, wondering who I heck I was, but then I introduced myself and explained why I was there. On the outside I was pretty calm and collected, while on the inside my heart was going mental and my brain was screaming ‘PELE PELE PELE’. He eyes lit up when I talked about the challenge, like a little kid was wooken inside him. He said it was a good idea for a project. I told him he was the 6th legend to sign and he seemed genuinely interested. He was meticulous with his signature too, going over bits that were slightly smudged or a bit light and it was great to witness and see in real life that he’s a bit of a perfectionist. I told him about I had a 1970 replica shirt too. He said ‘does it have number 10 on it?’ I said no but it will have soon. Pele said ‘let me see’ so I pulled out the Toffs WC70 Brazil replica and handed it over. H signed it. We posed for the camera (with shirt and ball in hand) and smiled. I was probably only with him for 5 minutes but it felt a lot longer.

What an experience! He wished me good luck with the rest of my project and I thanked him. Before I left I thanked his rep for hooking us up and made my way out. Legend signing number 6 was in the bag. I was in total shock that I’d made this far in such a short space of time, it was unreal! If anybody said to me back before that in 4 months you will have the likes of Romario, Tardelli, Maradona AND Pele signed up I would probably give them a slap for being so ridiculous. Yet, there I was, 4 months later and in that position. I gotta thank everyone who has supported my challenge so far, (you all know who you are!). Wow.


My First World Cup

‘A trip down memory lane’
It’s the summer of 86. England have just been knocked out of the World Cup in Mexico by the Hand of God. I get over the vision of seeing my hero Gary Lineker and the rest of the team leaving the tournament by playing lots of football and climbing the odd tree. Well I was only about 8 years old at the time!
The Hand of God and Argentina go on to win the tournament by beating the Germans in the final. This was my first proper World Cup. I say proper because I was still wearing nappies in 1978 and I really don’t have any memories of last week never mind 1982! What I do remember for sure is that 1986 was a great tournament in my view, and that is the view of the 8 year old me. Even though I wasn’t allowed to stay up late and watch all the matches, I’d go to bed dreaming about who did what and who scored then wake up the next day to my uncles winding me up with random crap like Lineker got shot AND got a red card as well. Thankfully he didn’t get shot but he did get the Golden Boot for his 6 goals scored in the competition, which is always nice and does attract the big boys to your abilities (Gary went on to play for Barcelona after that).

‘The Pakistani connection’
Every year we’d get the odd relative popping over to the UK visiting us from Pakistan. I never really knew who they were but if I was ever asked ‘what do you want from Pakistan?’ I would instinctively reply ‘a football’! (it was either choose or get a knock off sports T-shirt with ‘Mike’ across it instead of ‘Nike’). That’s because in those days (and even today) most of the footballs were ‘Made in Pakistan’. That was great for me because whenever I played football with my mates on our local pitch (which we called ‘Wembley’) I’d bring along my latest import from Pakistan and have a kickabout with it. So this coming and going of relatives (and my mum making the occasional trip too) ensured that I had a steady supply of the best footballs coming my way.
This continued to be my preferred present from Pakistan in the hope that one day I would amass this huge collection of world cup footballs. But it wasn’t to be, and ultimately I was a kid who wasn’t interested in putting a ball in a bag for years to come when I just could go and take it outside and recreate world cup moments.

’25 or so years later’
Fast forward to the noughties and hundreds of balls later (it really was hundreds, my family started an import/export business selling footballs for a little while) here I am wishing I had the patience to save my footballs from yesteryear. Thankfully it seems someone at Adidas heard me!
In 2009 Adidas produced a ‘Historical World Cup Collection’ which included all the balls from the previous ten world cups (1970-2006, Adidas officially started supplying the world cup matchballs from 1970), made to the exact specification and materials available at the time of each world cup. So I started to look to see where I could buy them. No luck, everywhere sold out online and offline. I wasn’t happy but I kept on the search and finally one day I got them!

‘Journey of the balls’
They came from the US, brought over by my mate’s inlaws who were here for a wedding and agreed to bring them only to be left in my mate’s garage for about 3 months (I’ve been pretty busy lately! No excuse though). When I finally got my hands on them I put them with my WC2010 Adidas Jabulani and took in the sight. Wow, every matchball from the last 11 world cups! The memories of 86 came flooding back. Proper. Buzzin’. I decided a few days later there must be some good that can be gained from this collection of balls and then it hit me, like a Mitre Mouldmaster ball smacked bang on the thigh on a cold wet Sunday morning (stinger!). I had to get them signed.

‘World Cup Legends Challenge is born’
So in 2011/12, I started on this amazing journey. I worked my way through the Internet, made contacts, spent a good few quid on international calling cards, couriers and flights, I even learned to say ‘hello my name is’ in about 6 different languages all for the love of something beautiful. I got to travel, as did the balls and I’ve met some amazing people along the way. Within 11 months I had completed my challenge. The football gods have been kind me and once I got my first signature (Diego, of course) it snowballed from there. I raised some money for charity and even did a ‘Rugby World Cup Legends’ version (every RWC winning captain signed from 1987-2015). Now here we are in 2018, on the eve of one, if not the greatest sporting events in the world.

‘World Cup Legends Challenge 2018’
So I’m back, and once we know who the World Cup 2018 winners are, I’ll be hunting them down to get the Adidas Telstar 18 matchball signed (bit of trivia for you; Its the second consecutive World Cup matchball to be produced in Pakistan!). It won’t be easy, despite having so much success to date, and that is partly down to a few things:
1. Despite all of the open access fans get into players’ lives through social media, it is still very difficult to get within 5 feet of these guys in real life, even harder when they are still active footballers (even even harder if they’re Premiership players).
2. The football industry is weird, its hard to infiltrate and make connections, I’m not sure I have the energy for it anymore. When I first started this mission I was really naive about everything, sending random tweets to players and clubs in the hope that someone might respond and say ‘yes mate, just come to the club and I’ll sort it out, here have some executive match tickets as well!’ So this time I’m going to be a little smarter and take my time, and there’s a very high chance that all the signatures will be gained remotely and not in person.
3. I have a young family, they mean everything to me and they will (and do take precedent) over everything. Maybe I’ll retire now and pass the responsibility to keep up this random and newly created ‘family’ tradition of buying a ball every 4 years and finding winners to sign it, probably ties in quite well as its the boy’s first World Cup proper. He can be like the sons of Clovis Fernandes (RIP) who are now in Russia to carry on their dad’s legacy of supporting Brazil. Clovis, sadly passed away a few years ago, he himself had followed Brazil around the world for over 20 years.

In the original challenge, I was looking for at least one World Cup winner to sign a ball, and so it will be the same this time around too. If I could get every player from the winning team that was in the final then that would be amazing. I might even go back through the collection and see if I can get more players to sign, like the players I really wanted to catch up with but never managed to do so (e.g. Zidane). But we’ll see how it goes, there’s no rush and I guess anything could happen! However, there are some ground rules:
1. At least one World Cup winner signature per World Cup ball
2. The World Cup winner must’ve played a part in the World Cup Final itself and not just be a member of the World Cup squad (e.g Casillas could (and did) sign, Pepe Reina could not)
3. Anybody who meets criteria number 2 can sign the ball, even Marco Materrazzi

‘Legends Blog Reloaded’
The site has been offline for a very long time so I figured I’ll go back through the archives and post a blog each day during the tournament so you can learn about how I managed to get 26 World Cup winning signatures to date (that includes a World Cup 66 matchball signed by Sir Geoff Hurst). I hope you enjoy them, and leave a comment if you like, that would be nice. Check us out on Twitter and Instagram too – @worldcuplegends

Enjoy Russia 2018 and may the best team win!