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World Cup 1966: The day I met Pele

Ian Thomson

Ian Thomson

A tiny scrap of paper with soccer legend Pele’s autograph is a treasured possession of soccer fan Ian Thomson.

And, as the 2014 World Cup draws nearer, Ian can look back at those heady days of 1966 when England won the Jules Rimet trophy and say “I was robbed” ... of the chance to play against the great Brazilian star.

Ian (67), of Moorland Crescent, Clitheroe, was a 19-year-old building society worker in Lymm, Cheshire, at the time.

The Brazilian squad was based at the Lymm Hotel, the classiest in town, just a few hundred yards from his home.

The team included big names such as Tostao, Garrincha, Jairzinho, and Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele. Ian was a player with Lymm Rangers, and his team tried to fix up a training game with the Brazilians.

“I used to play right-half and Pele was number 10, so I would have been up against him,” recalls Ian, a retired council officer and Blackburn Rovers fan. In the event, it didn’t happen. Alderley Edge had a better ground and got to play with the Brazilians. We weren’t happy.”

However, Ian consoled himself by walking to the Lymm Hotel with his pals, chatting with the players and getting Pele’s autograph.

“Pele didn’t speak much English, but Tostao spoke good English and did most of the talking,” Ian said. “Pele would never walk past the fans. He’d stop and sign autographs for anyone who was there. He was a real gentleman.

“I actually got his autograph a few times, but over the years they’ve been lost and I just have the one left.”

Ian bought a 10-match ticket for all the matches at Goodison Park and Old Trafford, and watched Brazil get knocked out of the competition in their controversial 3-1 defeat by Portugal at Goodison.

“From the start they went out to kick Pele off the pitch. I saw him at Lymm the next day and he was on crutches.”

Ian went on to watch the third-place play-off at Wembley in which Portugal beat the Soviet Union 2-1, and the great final in which England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra time.

“The atmosphere in Wembley was fantastic,” Ian said. “There was no aggro, and the Germans were gracious in defeat.”

Even after 38 years, there is still controversy over England’s third goal and whether Geoff Hurst’s shot against the crossbar actually crossed the line before rebounding out.

Ian says: “If you see the replays, it didn’t fully cross the line. The linesman was Russian, it was 21 years after the war, and the Russians still hated Germany.”

Now, as England fans eagerly await this year’s tournament in Brazil to see how Roy Hodgson’s team fare, Ian isn’t expecting a repeat of the 1966 triumph.

“I think Argentina have the best chance, possibly Uruguay, and you can never rule out Brazil as the home team always does well.

“England are a young squad and I don’t expect them to win this time, but maybe next time...”

 

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