The very last time that I saw the great EUSEBIO was about 10 months ago in Manchester. We had both been at the SOCCEREX EUROPEAN FORUM. I had a brief chat with him and Sir Bobby Charlton. I had a photo taken with Bobby but before I could do the same with Eusebio, he was thronged by other admirers.
That evening at a 'mixer' reception in a nearby hotel he was eating a lobster and drinking a whisky, again beseiged by fans, and I never got another chance.
My very first sight of him was not so far away, maybe a mile or so, at OLD TRAFFORD in 1966 watching Portugal v Hungary in World Cup action. It was 47 years ago on July 13th. Jose Augusta scored in the 1st minute and again after 67 minutes with Torres making it 3-1 in the 90th. Eusebio da Silva Ferreira was No. 13 and my long time friend since then, Antonio Simoes was wearing No. 11.
I had been busy watching all three of England's group matches at Wembley, a 0-0 tie with Uruguay and wins over Mexico and France. At Hillsborough, Sheffield I saw Franz Beckenbauer score twice in a 5-0 win over Switzerland and up at Ayresome Park the most famous of upsets, I watched North Korea 1 v Italy 0.
In the quarter final stages I was watching England grind out a 1-0 win over a Argentina when high above the end terrace the scoreboard showed N. Korea 1 v Portugal 0 after one minute. Later in the half the two men in white coats were about to change the score.. BIG SHOCK. North Korea 3, Portugal 0.!!! That's when Eusebio decided enough was enough. He scored FOUR TIMES in the 27th, 43rd, 56th, 59th minute before Jose Augusto made it 5-3 in the 80th minute.
The semi-fianl at Wembley with 95,000 fans. England went ahead with a brace from Charlton before Eusebio beat Gordon Banks from the penalty spot eight minutes from time.2-1. The great man was crying as he left the field, although they won third place over USSR at Wembley two days before England triumphed 4-2 in extra time over West Germany in the final. He was the tournament top scorer with nine goals.
In 2010 during the last FIFA World Cup I took the bus from Pretoria to Maputo, capital of post independence and post Marxist Mozambique, where Eusebio had left as a 19 year old to join Benfica in Lisbon. Maputo was then Lourenco Marques, in Portuguese East Africa. I visited the MFF office and told my story of watching their favourite son play so long ago. I also had an introduction from Mario Coluna an earlier exile, who I had met in the Presidential Box at Estadio da Luz His father was a white Angolan railway worker, who died when he was 8 years old, and mother a local black woman.
Every time I visit Estadio da Luz I stop by the life size statue of the Black Pearl where his body was taken yesterday to lie in state inside the stadium, with three days of national mourning. In front of the statue I saw Antonio Simoes being interviewed on CNN.
733 goals in 745 matches and 15 years at Benfica. 5' 9" (1.75 m). Twice Champions of Europe and 64 matches for Portugal with 41 goals. He played for 5 clubs in North America including Boston Minutemen. Toronto Metro Croatia(for whom he helped win the 1976 Soccer Bowl in Seattle over Minnesota), Las Vegas Quicksilver, New Jersey Americans.
1966 was the only time that the great player graced the stage of the World Cup Finals. European Player of the Year, twice Champions of Europe with Benfica and an illustrious career. One of the truly greats in the history of The Beautiful Game.