Former T&T footballers Everald “Gally” Cummings, and Steve David were both sad, but still full of praise for Brazilian football legend Pele, arguably the greatest player ever, who died at the age of 82 on Thursday.
Born, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but known as Pelé, he is credited with scoring a world record 1,281 goals in 1,363 appearances during a 21-year career, including 77 goals in 92 matches for his country.
The only player to win the World Cup three times, lifting the trophy in 1958, 1962, and 1970, Pele was named Fifa’s Player of the Century in 2000.
He had been suffering from kidney and prostate problems in recent years after having surgery to remove a tumour from his colon in September 2021 at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo, after the tumour was detected in routine tests. He was readmitted to the same hospital in late November 2022 where he died.
The 74-year-old Cummings, who played for six years in the North American Soccer League as well as professionally in Mexico and coached the T&T’s Strike Squad, said, “As a young boy coming up in the footballing world in T&T we use to get an opportunity to go to the Sports Council near Empire Cinema up by the Princess Building Ground, and we use to see all the stars like Sir Stanley Matthews from England, and Pele.
“So the first place I saw him was on World News where people in the community got the chance as young sportsmen to see these things at the British Council, and what stayed with my mind all the time was the kind of magic he used to create on the field and when I went to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1968 when we won the championship, the North American Soccer League Championship decided to bring Pele because they brought all sorts of teams there like Manchester United, and when Santos of Brazil was supposed to come it was the first time in Atlanta, Georgia, during the ‘Jim Crow’ law we had 25,000 people coming out to see a black player, and it was amazing because our games only used to attract 6,000 or 7,000 people and Pele brought out 25,000 people with Santos.
“What was amazing before the game was my teammate at Atlanta was Allan ‘Skill’ Cole, one of the best players coming out of Jamaica said, ‘Gally let’s go visit the King’ at his hotel and I said to him, ‘boy we can’t go there just so’, and he replied, ‘why not?’, and we went to visit Pele and he accepted us with open arms because we told him we will be playing against him the day after, and that is where I saw the genius in the man, not on the field, but the way he dealt with us and the kind of respect he showed us as young players in Atlanta.
“And the during the game I was like a kid in a candy store, I was playing a game and watching a player, so I was ball-watching and playing at the same time, which is very difficult to do at age 19. And he (Pele) did something that I took away from him and put it into my game and extended it and do different things, and what was amazing was that is that he had something where he stepped over the ball and you saw no movement and then his back leg would flick the ball through your legs.
“I used to call it a late drag flick, so I took that and put it in my game and it became my signature move when I was playing the national team, but what was amazing is that when they played us in Atlanta they beat us 6-2, and we had beaten all the teams like Manchester United, and Arsenal and all other English teams who came to Atlanta, because we had a predominantly English team, but when Santos came with that different ‘Samba’ style it mesmerised us and Pele scored two of the goals and assisted on two.
“But what I admired about him is the respect he had for people and the fact is that he never got on as though he was better than you, he always had time to talk to you with his broken English and Portuguese.
“In 1972, Dr Eric Williams brought Santos to Trinidad and Tobago as part of our Independence Day celebrations at that time I was playing with the New York Cosmos and I got an opportunity to come home, join the national team play against him (Pele) at the Queen’s Park Oval and he scored a header against us and nobody moved when he scored that header, nobody moved when the cross came over from Edu.
“People came out from 9 o’clock in the morning for this game at the QP Oval that was supposed to start at 4 pm and that is how important he was, and what I admired about him was that other than being a very good individual player all those skills and mastering the ball with his touch he was a team player also.
“Because if he scored two, bet your life he assisted about two as well, and then in 1974 when I left for Mexico he came and join the Cosmos and I remembered a teammate from when we won the Championship in 1972 called me and said Pele was with us now, but even though we played in different times at the club, what brought us together was that Cosmos had reunions every year, and I would see him at the reunions and we would talk about the movie Victory with Vernon Rod because in that movie Pele acted as a Trinidadian, which brought us close together when we met because I used to give him fatigue when we meet, and the last time I saw him was in 2015 or 2018 in New York when I took my entire family and he had the chance to meet my wife and kids and my grandkids and stuff and it was beautiful.
“What I can say today after the World Cup that just passed by, a lot of people started comparing people with Pele, but for me no, you can’t do that, I don’t care who and what they can do, I respect everybody’s ability, but Pele is in a different class by himself, he is a ‘God sent’.
“I was privileged to know the man and I feel very sad because this week was a trial for me because on Monday last I lost my elder sister, and then yesterday (Wednesday) I lost my mentor in calypso (Black Stalin), and then today Pele, but in all my coming together with him I always had a smile on my face because he practices what he preaches, he always had something positive to say and if its character that makes the man, then I think Pele will reign supreme when coming to the character in football and off the field, he was the greatest for me.
The 71-year-old David who also plies his trade in the North American Soccer League, reflecting on Pele’s career, “Pele was such a great person, personality and the best football that ever lived hands down, there is no comparison.
“He had no faults in his game, and he was always on the money all the time, giving you advice on the game, and all his time he never refused a kid an autograph.
“He was such a nice person, words cannot express how he carried about himself and he was just the best.
“In 1976, when we both played for the North American Soccer League against Italy, I believe in Washington DC, and I know he was a little bit older than me around 35 or 36, and he went on a run with me, and I didn’t play the ball to him because I saw the defender already took off and was going for him, so I kind of hold back the pass, and after he asked me why didn’t you play the ball and I said to him I just thought the defender would of had you, and he said no, no give it to me, play it, and another one came and I played it and we just looked at each other and smiled.
“After that game, a reporter asked me how did I feel playing with Pele and I just responded to ask Pele how he felt playing with me. But we had great times and I am stunned, and in awe that he passed. I know we have to go someday but he was such a nice person, St Peter got a great personality and seems to be building up a great team because he has got George Best, Eusebio, and Pele now, it’s unbelievable,” said a sombre David.
Angus Eve pays tribute to Pele: For me, he meant everything
By Jelani Beckles (T&T Newsday).
FORMER national footballer and head coach of the men's national team Angus Eve said Brazilian football legend Pele influenced players in TT as it was inspiring to see someone looking like him on the world stage.
Pele, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, died on Thursday in Sao Paulo, Brazil after battling cancer. He was 82.
“Firstly, this is one of the saddest days in football for us because we have lost not just an icon of the game, but an absolute legend,” Eve said.
Eve said seeing a football star of African descent inspired people in TT. “I think a lot of our influences as footballers in TT would have come from him. To see somebody who looks like you, who was doing what he was doing at the time that he was doing it, it made you feel proud, it made you want to play the game. He came from humble beginnings just like us and to rise to the level he has risen to (was impressive). For me, Pele meant everything. Besides my local heroes, Pele would have meant everything to me as a footballer.”
Eve said Pele is the greatest ever. “In my opinion, he is still the best footballer that I have ever seen play.”
Johan Cruyff from The Netherlands was a top player after Pele. Eve said Cruyff was remembered for the “Cruyff turn” but Pele was demonstrating that move long before.
In 1994, Pele was invited to Trinidad for the Caribbean Cup final between TT and Martinique at the Queen’s Park Oval in St Clair. Eve was part of the TT team and met Pele.
Reflecting on the 1994 match in Trinidad, Eve said, “I have tears in my eyes right now because I remember that day like if it was yesterday…we got to take pictures with him and we got to meet and converse with him…it was a fantastic honour…knowing that I have met him over my lifetime is good.”
Former national footballer Hutson Charles said, “Pele did a lot for football. It is a great loss. Pele really was one of the greatest to ever grace the football field. He will be missed.”
TT defeated Martinique in the final in 1994 with Eve and Charles getting on the score sheet.
Charles said, “On that day it was a big inspiration not just for me, but for the team…it was a big inspiration meeting the king of football.”