I remember the rain, and the helicoptors ferrying so called personalities to the Giants Stadium in New York. Not the easiest place to get to, compared, for example, with Yankee Stadium downtown.
A friend had given me a ride 40 years ago on October 01, 1977 from Oneonta, New York and a Hall of Fame celebration at that out of the way college soccer town. It was to be Pele's final competitive match between the only two club teams that he had ever represented. Santos of Brazil and the New York Cosmos of the NASL (North American Soccer League).
Three years prior to that historic match he had arrived in the USA, signed by Clive Toye, with a mandate to make it a big time sport.
His first match had been for The Cosmos against The Dallas Tornado at Downing Stadium, Randall's Island under the Triboro Bridge in Manhattan, which was broadcast world wide, with a packed 22,500 inside and 300 journalists. June 16th 1975 was the date. I watched the match in a pizza parlour in Toluca, Mexico. It was an instant success and led to massive 70,000 plus attendances in New York and more big time signings such as Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, Johan Neeskens and Carlos Alberto,.
In fact I was in the press box at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart, during FIFA World Cup 1974 with Giorgio, who spoke English with a Welsh accent, where he and his family had previously lived and played, He had been dropped by the Italian coach Ferruccio Valcareggio for the 1-1 tie with Argentina, and he was unhappy. I told him about the professional league in the United States, and the people would love him, particularly the Italian-American fans. He obviously listened to my advice !! The Italians had beaten Haiti 4-1 in Munich, coming from 1-0 behind and lost in Stuttgart 2-1 to Poland..and returned home early after the first round.I was at all three matches.
Johann Cruyff, George Best, Bobby Moore Gordon Banks and others joined the league, and other clubs agreed to pay The Cosmos or Pele would be injured and not play at their stadium. One match I did attend was between San Antonio Thunder and the Cosmos in 1976. I had a photo of Bobby Moore (There's Moore to Thunder Soccer) and Pele shaking hands after the had played for their countries at the Jalisco Stadium, Guadalajara in 1970. I was at that World Cup match refereed by by friend Abraham Klein from Haifa, Israel.
I visited both hotels in San Antonio and got them both to sign my photograph. AWESOME !!!
Earlier in 1977 before his farewell The Cosmos had reached the Soccer Bowl in Portland, Oregon against The Seattle Sounders. I was at a banquet the day before and sat next to Beckenbauer's first wife. Steve Hunt and Giorgiao Chinaglia scored to win the championship 2-1. I was taking photos on the pitch and in the crazy scenes in the locker room afterwards Pele gave me his game stockings..which were slightly different shades of green !! I have never seen so many limousines in this laid back city.
At Giants Stadium for his farewell we had so called celebrities being 'coptered in. Robert Redford, Barbara Streisand, Muhammed Ali, Henry Kissinger and representing Presiden Jimmy Carter was his son Jeff Carter. I remember him entering the pitch with a bunch of Secret Service guys..but none for THE MAIN MAN, O REI -THE KING. Carter read a speech and presented a plaque while former World Cup captains, Bellini '58, Mauro '62. Moore '66, Carlos Alberto '70 and Beckenbauer '74 were presented. 76,646 was the attendance.
'"Love is more important than what we take in life", he said. '"Everything passes. Please say with me, three times LOVE ! LOVE ! LOVE ! ".
He played the first half for The Cosmos and the second half for Santos. The teams did not change ends at half time so that Pele could attack both goals. Santos scored after 14th minute from Reynaldo and then in the 30th minute, a rocket 30 yard free kick from Pele past Erani..HIS 1281st GOAL, and 64th for Cosmos in the NASL.. Ramon Miflin the Peruvian made it 2-1 for the Cosmos. The match finished in a downpour. He was lifted onto the shoulders of goalkeepers Shep Messing and Errol Yassin, carrying the USA flag in one hand and the Brazilian in the other.
EVEN THE SKY DECIDED TO CRY !!!