AUGUST 2012, LONDON, ENGLAND
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.