Howard recalls the day we met Pele

08 Feb 2023 / News

The sad death of Pele on 29th December 2022 led FURD's founder, chair of Trustees and former Project Co-ordinator Howard Holmes, to reminisce about the day he met Pele:

Pele with FURD coordinator Howard Holmes
(Image: FURD)
"In November 2007, as part of the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the formation of the world's oldest football club, Sheffield FC, Pele came to Bramall Lane.

A couple of days before his visit, I took a phone call from Andy Pack, Head of Comms at Sheffield United and a FURD trustee, inviting key workers from FURD to a welcoming event for Pele in the club's 'Legends of the Lane' museum, where the original Sheffield FC rules establishing Association Football would be on display.

Andy also asked me to say a few words about FURD and our research into the history of Black football pioneers, so the following night I wrote my speech and looked forward to impressing Pele with my carefully constructed words of wisdom.

Next day we gathered in a packed Legends of the Lane room when suddenly there was a commotion as the emergency exit was flung open by stewards and in strode the greatest footballer of all time. He shook my hand warmly and stood alongside me expectantly. The next five minutes is still a blur, 15 years later.

I fumbled in my jacket pockets for my speech....nothing! Trousers....nowhere!. Pele must have sensed my mounting panic as he reached out again and shook my hand reassuringly.

Pele speaking in 2007
(Image: FURD)
I had no choice but to make it off the cuff and remember bumbling about how he was the first black player I had seen when he scored twice in the 1958 World Cup final against Sweden (I'm pretty sure the BBC only showed the final live). He was 17 - just 5 years older than me - and at school on the Monday following the final we all wanted to be Pele at the lunchtime kickabout. He had an incredibly profound effect upon many kids in my generation.
Pele responded to my babbling to say that he kept asking his Brazilian team mates where were the other Black players at the World Cup?... but no one could give him an answer.

I had with me the biography of Arthur Wharton, the world's first black professional footballer way back in the 1890s and presented it to the great man. Then suddenly FURD's head coach, Luis Silva, dashed up to Pele and they warmly embraced. Luis, a former Chilean international. had played against Pele in Brazil.

Moments later Pele was whisked away and the dream was over. I could stop pinching really did happen, the Day I met Pele".

Here's a link to how we reported the event at the time: