The great PELE got a raptuous welcome by a crowd of 19,000 at Bramall Lane last night as he trotted onto the field prior to the Sheffield FC vs Inter Milan match to mark the 15 Anniversary Year. He was lost in a swarm of photographers and admirers followed by his bodyguard, who was the size of a large refrigerator, or in the language of the Republic of South Yorkshire-'built like a shit house'.
Pele was also in town to help with an exchange between Sao Paulo Futebol Club and host Sheffield United. Although The King played for Santos FC, 40 miles away and 3,000 feet down the mountains on the coast from Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo are a much bigger club. Their Stadium, Morumbi is in a wealthy suburb and was once capable of holding 150,000 fans, but like most Brasilian stadiums, is not safe and now reduced to half that number.
Santos is the largest port in Latin America and in 1894, 19 year old Charles Miller, son of a Scottish born rail engineer and a Brasilian born mother disembarked from a steamer after a 10 year stay in Southampton, England with 2 soccer balls. He had attended the Bannister School and played for St. Marys', forerunner of Southampton FC and introduced the new sport to his home country. Near the other major stadium in his home town. Estadio do Pacaembu, used during the 1950 World Cup, there is a street Praca Charles Miller. Many years ago I was invited to Pele's home about half an hour north on the coast from Santos. He has a modern flat roofed house with a tennis court on top, an entrance walk way lined with exotic parrots and Amazonian birds, a swimming pool with bar stools in the water and a chapel and a movie room.
Prior to the evening's main event the Sao Paulo U 17 team played jogo bonito to beat Sheffield United, and their touches warmed the soul on a bitterly cold night. After previous wins over Manchester United and FC Porto they were presented with The Pele Trophy on the pitch by their Brasilian hero. In the stands was Sir Bobby Charlton in a magnificent Astrakhan fur hat. Entry prices were very cheap, and if you brought a pair of worn soccer boots for Sheffield FC's BOOTS FOR AFRICA campaign, entry was free.
For Sheffield FC , CLUB, who had played in front of 300 fans last Saturday, this was A Night to Remember. Pele coming out of the tunnel to an army of photographers, shook hands with all the players before the kick-off, including David Wilkins who had his baby son in his arms. Internazionale are Serie A Champions while Sheffield FC are an amateur team in Unibond League South. After going into a 4-0 lead early in the second half the crowd did 5 waves and chanted 'Sheffield We Love You', and CLUB responded with two goals from Stewart Copnell after 61 minutes and 3 minutes later a header from Stewart Ward, and it finished 5-2.
The Nerazzuri (black/blue) had a young squad but it included Marco Materazzi, back from injury, and famous for his head butt from Zinadene Zidane in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final. 8 season veteran CLUB manager Dave McCarthy looked elegent on the touchline with a nice dark suit. He looks a bit like former Leeds and Aston Villa boss David O'Leary, the major diffrence being that he has a job!!
Bramall Lane is a 15 minute walk from downtown and outside is The Cricketers Arms. For many years, and on my last visit a long, long time ago, It only had stands on 3 sides, with the 'open' side having a cricket field and pavilion. Yorkshire County played there a few times annually, and it hosted cricket before football came onto the scene. Now THE LANE is a wonderful stadium with 4 towering sides and the fans almost on top of the players, giving it great atmosphere. It also boasts my favourite mascot, Captain Blade, in his pirates outfit and splendid giant swords, or blades. The Sao Paulo youth danced with him and had a ball.
Inter Milan are also doing valuable work in Brasil, whose Confederation is pretty corrupt. Inter sponsor programmes in 8 Brasilian states. The CBF earns millions from their NIKE contract yet nobody, except 2-3 at the top know where all the money goes. I once went to their HQ on Rua Alfandega and it was such a mundane entrance with no plaque that I had to ask to be sure I was in the right place. There was a scruffy janitors office and I was told to take the elevator to the 9 floor. I viewed the Jules Rimet Trophy that had been given to them permanently after winning it 3 times.
It was in a glass cabinet nailed into the wall, and no security. A couple of years later some robbers came in the middle of the night, tied up the night watchman and stole it pretty easily and were gone in 20 minutes. It was never seen again and rumoured to have been melted into gold bars. There was a 'back up' copy, but this was in hiding. It's now on show at the National Football Museum in Deepdale, Preston North End.