Did I ever imagine where the World’s-Greatest-Football-Player-EVER had grown up?
When I was growing up it was impressed upon us boy-footballers in England that Pele, as with Jairzinho and Tostao and others “came from Brazil” – as if that explained everything. The smiling shiny diminutive black man shaking hands so warmly with our own Bobby Moore (and about to swop shirts) at the end of the Mexico 1970 World Cup encounter immortliased in photograph and on tv …CAME FROM BRAZIL. And he was surely “the greatest”.
We believed that.
(PHOTO to be added here of two small Brazilian boys climbing steep road to fly their kite)
Returning from the world’s extra-terrestial-epicentre in nearby Varginha, to where we had seen in the darkness the night before the huge statue of Pele carved in wood and surrounded by love hearts in the middle of the motorway that would take most people past and away from the Pele hometown – my accomplice in framing her camera view, falls backwards down a manhole and, just as I am coming to terms with that, my eyes zoom in on a long metal spike cleanly impaled into her exposed calf muscle. It’s in deep.
Unbelievably she withdraws it, an inch at a time, withdraws too from the mantrap to take her picture, score her goal.
In the centre of the Pele town (Tres Coracoes) we ask the first person who we think might speak a word of English (and who turns out to be a doctor) of the whereabouts of the Pele home. His look of interest turns to wonderment and then to a broad smile; he knows why we have come. And, slowly lifting his hand and clearing his throat and placing the one hand tenderly on my shoulder, peers over his spectacles and points a long finger to just across the way. It’s behind me : “The Pele house is just there”.
THIS was Pele’s pavement beneath his bare feet, these were his mother’s shops, his family’s town, his father’s light and his darkness. We, now, years on, are not being sent away, redirected to a distant edge-of-town, to a shanty district not now as it was, but rather to a townhouse, bang-smack in the centre of town…where Pele grew up.
His house is slightly raised on a slope above the town’s market-cross. It has a view. And as I look down that view : it is to a football ground beyond the fruit shop and the other huddle of shops. A clear terrain, fenced off. The Pele house has its own walled-garden, almost flat. It has 3 trees, two of which could have taken a hammock – but I think mostly of footballs or things football-shaped, flying in from all angles, mostly from the head, chest, feet of a mere boy who has already perfected “the bicycle kick”, “the volley” and who had made an art of jumping way above others, straining his neck muscles, heading the ball almost back to where it came from, with power.
A beautiful light seeps in and out of every window and doorway of the small townhouse, now being prepared by a team of decorators and electricians as the PELE MUSEUM.
He grew up…HERE.