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    Better than all the rest, better than anyone

    Pelé was the best footballer ever for me. He cemented my love of football at the 1970 World Cup. I was 12 years old. The Brazil team that won were extraordinary, and he was accompanied by such flair as I have never seen before or since. It was a magical time, watching Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto and the illustrious squad play a different type of football than I had ever seen. When we played football in our local fields we all chose our favourite Brazilian, often not Pelé, they were so good that we would have loved to be any of them. The ball just seemed to move like sorcery and I wish all my readers today could have been alive at that time to see the majesty of a team that for me will always be the best of all time.

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    An unprecedented collection of players

    The kids that were good footballers would adopt a name of a Brazilian and we would all call him that, and sometimes the name stuck for a long time. I want to put that into perspective, English football was king when I was growing up, we watched British television and read British newspapers and magazines. Irish football was popular too and we would watch Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians but generally the top players would migrate over to England. But it was a restricted worldview with a very Anglophone media. The players of Manchester United, Liverpool, Leeds and Celtic were worshipped. When I was young I knew no Arsenal supporters. But all of us cast that all aside in favour of the magnificent Brazilians, led by the astonishing Pelé.

    He made football

    If he had that impact on a small island on the edge of Europe, you can only imagine what impact he had on the whole of football and the kids to come. He was one of the key elements to football being the biggest sport in the world and the huge salaries paid today owe a gigantic debt to the man who made so many love football.

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    The 2 greatest

    He could head the ball as if with spring heels. He could shoot with right or left, he could dribble, lead the line, inspire, find an astounding pass or a wizardly interplay, had an amazing twist to his body that bewildered opponents, and most crucially, he could  score tons of goals. And except for an occasional dive, was no cheat or kicker of men. He was a gentleman then and he became much more of one when he retired.

    Everyone’s greatest day was meeting Pelé

    He is, I feel, the most admired and respected man ever in football. He would turn up everywhere, and the special qualities he would bring to any occasion meant that everyone had a smile on their face matching his wonderful one. They had met Pelé, their life was complete.  I will not do so now, and that is sadness for sure, but at least I got to see him play live at Dalymount Park, the crumbling home of Bohemians, as his Santos team played a team made up from Bohemians and Drumcondra. Santos won 3-2 in a match played in a great atmosphere.  You could see the players were thrilled to be on the same pitch as the man who made football.

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    He made everyone happy

    Celebrities from all walks of life say their greatest delight was in meeting him as he became football’s greatest ambassador, traversing the globe backwards and forwards, greeting, enhancing and sharing that special charisma he embodied. Muhammed Ali shared a similar sporting timeframe and the 2 of them were for sure the major sporting superstars of my life. We don’t have now, nor have we since, such greatness that transcended their game to become so recognised, respected, admired and loved by those that cared little for sport. I guarantee you that if you showed a photo of say, Lionel Messi or Roger Federer, there would be a lot of people unable to put a name to them. Not so with Pelé, everyone knew who he was, and I reckon most soccer supporters today who grew up a long time after his playing career know all about him.  He was football, and you know little if you don’t know about Pelé.

    And hey, his real name always stuck in my mind and it got me a guaranteed point at any pub quiz that asked it, which happened a few times. Sometimes we only won by that one point. Thank you very much., Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

     Some people really are irreplaceable

    He never stopped appearing at football events, even turning up at the Arsenal in the 80’s to create an enchanting and never to be forgotten day for all of Highbury. It would stay forever a highlight of your life and yet, for him, as everyone says, he was just as happy to see them.

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    John Devine's biggest achievement in football, holding Pele's leg

    One thing is certain, the world is poorer for his passing. So few ever manage to rise above their profession as he did to encompass the whole planet in his arms. Muhammed Ali was another and it is hard to think of anyone else. I have lived through special times, that their times were my times, and I saw them when I was very young and their sporting achievements made my life exciting and connected me to the entire globe.

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    Maybe Jack could have been the second greatest number 10

    And so Pelé’s smile is gone. I owe him a massive amount for lighting up my life and all of my little area of Dublin - Whitechurch and Ballyboden. We grew up wanting to be Pelé, every time we kicked a ball we imagined we could mimic his movement, his grace, and if we slammed in a goal then we could, for an instant, be the entrancing Brazilian who defined football.

    Tchau, tchau Pelé e muito obrigado.

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