Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|December 5, 2022|3 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Hail Pele and his African dream.

As the World Cup enters its final stages this week, it is sad, beyond measure, to see the fading of one the biggest names in its 92-year history.

Eighty-two-year-old Pele – who won the cup three times  with Brazil – inspired generations of African footballers with flair and skill that took the world game to a new level. His influence on the game is immeasurable.

It is sad to see that light of Pele fading. Doctors say his cancer treatment is flagging  and the great man has been moved into palliative care.

I was privileged to meet the man when the World Cup came to Africa in 2010. I had arrived at the launch of Pele’s paintings in Johannesburg, a not too subtle attempt to cash in on his name. As I stepped over the threshold a man in in early 70s walked up to me and shook my hand.

“Welcome, sir,” he said.

It was only a few moments later that I realised the legend who had shaken my hand was Pele himself- the man I had first seen leaping like a salmon to head the ball in flickering black-and-white pictures 40 years before. My face must have been a picture. I vowed never to wash my hand again and I did last a couple of weeks.

On that golden afternoon in Johannesburg it was wonderful just to be in the presence of the man who had defined passion for the game.

There is a lot of nonsense talked these days about passion in football, which usually means players kissing badges or beating their chests, or fans painting their faces, waving flags and chanting abuse at other fans.

For me, one act of dignified passion from Pele trumps it all in the beautiful game.

It was his last game for Santos, his beloved team in Brazil, a club that gave him his first break in football and meant everything to him.

The ground was packed and the fans were at fever pitch. Halfway through the game Pele scored and decided it was all too much. He placed the ball on the centre spot, knelt down in homage to the crowd and walked very slowly off the pitch in tears. Dignity, class and passion in one simple action.

That is the colossus that is Pele. It is sad his proud prediction of an African nation winning the World Cup by the end of the century never came to pass. Last night Senegal – one of the last African survivors – went out at the hands of England.

Maybe the day Africa lifts the World Cup will be a fitting tribute to the passion of a man who truly lived and breathed the game- called Pele.