In 1972 the great Brazilian team Santos who included Pele, the King of football amongst their number, visited England for a bit of a mini-tour. As far as I know they played two games; one at Aston Villa and one at Sheffield Wednesday. The photo above shows Pele in action against Wednesday at their Hillsborough ground.
This wasn’t Pele’s first visit to Hillsborough. Santos had visited once before in 1962 and ran out 4-2 winners with Pele bagging a goal from the penalty spot. He wasn’t to repeat his goal-scoring feats on the afternoon of Wednesday 23rd February 1972. The game had originally been scheduled to kick-off at 730pm. However energy restrictions caused by a national miner’s strike meant that football floodlights could not be used hence the move to an afternoon kick-off. The electricity rationing had not affected the evening game at Villa two days earlier for the club had bought a generator for five grand but only enough power was generated to light three of the four floodlights! There had been some controversy at Villa Park prior to the game. Santos, very much aware that Pele was the main draw, demanded an increase in their match fee otherwise Pele would be withdrawn from the team. Aston Villa reluctantly agreed and a crowd in excess of 54000 saw Villa win 2-1.
Fortunately Wednesday weren’t subject to such underhand financial shenanigans and Pele promptly turned out for Santos. Due to the game being played in the afternoon many schools Sheffield found themselves deserted as school children and their parents converged on Hillsborough. Over 45000 were at Hillsborough that day and they saw something of a drab affair as Santos won 2-0 in a match that lacked the excitement of the game ten years earlier.
There’s some great anecdotes about the game here. My two favourites being the father who told his son, “if I find out you’ve been to school and not been to see Pele, they’ll be serious trouble” and the soldier who went AWOL to watch the game only to find two regimental police sergeants waiting for him when he got home. “I got seven days in the nick,” he says, “but it was worth it.” Such is the pull of Pele.
Here’s some great vintage footage of the game at Villa Park. Enjoy.
SWFC v Santos 1962 programme cover courtesy of Sheffield Wednesday Programmes & Tickets
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