Some Brazilian Memories

With the impeccable timing that has punctuated my showbiz career, I finally found my signed picture of the legendary football player Pele that I'd intended to post something about during the World Cup in Russia this year, and finally, a month after the tournament finishes, I'm in my basement looking for a book, et voila - it turns up! I can't say I'm much of a football fan, but I do like to watch big games and they don't get any bigger than the World Cup.
My memories of that time are pretty vague, but my Dad had worked in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil from 1969-1971, during which time the country was under a military dictatorship, with many Brazilians living in exile (musicians Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso for example). Given that we lived in a diplomatic ‘bubble’, my response to this situation was to learn to surf (sorry for the flippancy Brazillian readers - I was only twelve at the time).

Surfing at Arpoador beach (self portrait!)

The cine film at the top was taken by my Mum and shows scenes from a logging camp up in the Amazon that my parents visited (where the warning signs of deforestation were already present) and views from the top of the Corcovado mountain looking down onto Rio de Janeiro (where we lived). Rio is geographically a stunning place and Brazillians are reknown for their love of fun and partying, hence the famous Carnival!

View of the Sugarloaf mountain from Parque Guinle

Copacabana beach

Cathedral, Brasilia

During one of our holidays (I was at school in England at that time) we took a trip up to Brasilia - the capital city, built by the architect Oscar Niemeyer in the shape of an areoplane. On that long hot journey we drove all of the 600 miles and saw quite a lot on the way, the town of Ouro Preto for example, is a well known tourist destination near Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais.

Artists view (not me!) of Ouro Preto

Gold prospectors

A copy of Manchete magazine (the 'Paris Match' of Brazil) with a record of him singing (hint; he's better at football)

But the thing I remember the most about that trip was a chance meeting with Pele or Edson Arantes do Nascimento in a hotel in Belo Horizonte. At that time my brother and I were crazy about the Brazilian football team - football being the dominant sporting culture and the national team had just won the World Cup (Mexico 1970) for the third time. For any European football fan, the whole Brazilian team had been a revelation at that tournament. For a start, the team was multi racial (unusual in those days) the way they passed the ball around was pretty amazing - almost like some sort of ballet and all the players had weird nicknames. One of the players, Tostao (little penny) had one eye and Pele's own nickname literally meant 'skin' in Portuguese - they all wore vivid yellow shirts. We had been to see his club (Santos) play at the local stadium, Maracana in Rio - the man had even scored 1000 goals in the Brazilian league!

Watching football at the Maracana Stadium

'To my friends from England - yours Edson' (it said before the ink faded!)

So in the morning, we came down to the lobby of the hotel in Belo Horizonte, after having driven all day, the previous day from Rio. There he was, standing in the middle of the room surrounded by perhaps, fifty star struck Brazilians - all standing ten feet from him - such was his fame at that time that he had an almost God-like status in Brazil amongst the population.

My brother and I were as dumbstruck as everybody else, and it wasn't until my dad said: "Look! there's Pele" and we walked over to say hello (in portuguese thankfully). I seem to remember him telling the great man that we were fans from England and with that, Pele opened his briefcase, which had a pair of football boots and a stack of photos and got two out for us which he signed and shook our hands.

There aren't many sporting greats like him any more.

If you want to read further on football in Brazil (or Futebol as they call it) I can highly recommend  the Alex Bellos book

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