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Down memory lane: When Pele mania gripped India

Watching Pele weave magic in flesh and blood was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the large number of 80,000 in a jam-packed Eden Gardens stadium.

Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra
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PelePhotoPhoto: AIFF

Pele interacts with footballers in India

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Pele mania once gripped India in 1977. When the football legend arrived in Kolkata, he was greeted by around 40,000 crazy fans at the airport.

The great footballer was part of the New York Cosmos team that played Mohun Bagan in a one-off friendly at the Bagan Stadium in 1977. It is a story, a huge number of Indians still live on. The game ended in a 2-2 draw with 80,000 people in the audience. Pele played the game for just half an hour without scoring but instead setting up a goal.

It was not Durga Puja time in Kolkata, but the city wore a festive look as Pele was in the city with a star-studded New York Cosmos team. The team was part of the North American Soccer League.

Watching Pele weave magic in flesh and blood was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the large number of 80,000 in a jam-packed Eden Gardens stadium.

Pele’s meteoric rise from poverty to one of the most decorated footballers of all time made him a legendary figure. He garnered the love of the masses wherever he traveled and Kolkata was no exception. He was humble and also sported a smile that became his trademark.

Large number of fans who had turned up to watch Pele in action at the Eden Gardens were able to witness not just his greatness but the qualities of the man that made the small-town boy a towering figure in football.

Pele had just played the penultimate game of his career. Mohun Bagan had organised a felicitation ceremony for him in the evening. Pele was set to be presented with a diamond ring. However, the celebrated footballer was more interested in meeting and interacting with the players of Mohun Bagan, who was coached by legendary Indian footballer PK Banerjee.

The legendry footballer returned to India in 2015 as the chief guest at the Subroto Cup that was a school-level tournament organised by the Indian Air Force, annually. Again, there was pandemonium when he arrived at the airport.

Pele’s presence as a chief guest left the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Mamata Banerjee and AR Rahman far behind. Pele’s love for India also was seen during his visits to the country. The Brazil great will forever be remembered in the cricket-crazy country.

The football legend won his first World Cup medal in 1958. He was just 17 then. He went on to win his second in 1962 and clinched the third title in 1970 in Mexico. Pele scored 12 World Cup goals, which is part of the 1281 goals attributed to him by the governing body of global football FIFA.

Apart from regional and national titles, Pele won two Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the Champions League, and two Intercontinental Cups.

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