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Obrigado Pele! Sofia Ribeiro Willcox remembers the difference Pele made off the field

Obrigado Pele!

Sofia Ribeiro Willcox remembers the difference Pele made off the field

by Sofia Ribeiro Willcox, Cultural Exchanger and Explorer
first published: January, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

Pele is eternal

Contrary to popular belief, Brazilian babies are not born with football attached to them. I can tell you from experience that it takes some time to appreciate. Possibly because of coming from a traditionally gendered childhood. However, I am from a family of passionate and intense fans. At my house, most Sundays are sacred days with derby matches, where the patriarchs would isolate themselves in a room with a television to watch it. Not to mention the Championship and World Cup seasons. Besides that, a little-known fact abroad is Brazil being the land where vuvuzelas were created. Like a noughties kid, I witnessed Brazil as a host (2014) and its last victory (2002), but I only heard about Your Majesty afterwards.

Football came to São Paulo in 1894, brought by Charles Miller. Up until the 1920s, in Brazil the sport was elitist, racist, and excluded; therefore, poor whites, blacks, mixed and illiterate could not play it. Between the 1930s and 1940s, the sport became more democratic and popular. A key moment for this change was when Vasco da Gama hired people from these marginalised social groups. At that time, the sports club was eliminated, and it is believed the reason was its team roster. Pelé chose the team because of its resistance to racism and social exclusion. Lastly, his nickname Pelé comes from his childhood. He was given after the way he pronounced his favourite player, the goalkeeper, Bilé from Vasco da Gama de São Lourenço

Edson died; Pelé is eternal

Pelé transcends beyond the ‘G.O.A.T’. He plays an iconic role in Brazilian history and popular culture, as well as in the corners of the world he crossed. It is undeniable Pelé was applauded in each stadium he stepped onto. He has always been an inspiration not only on the field. Songwriters, such as Wilson Batista, Luiz Wanderley and Jorge de Castro, who crowned him king in 1961. As well as in literature, through references in varied poems and texts.

He gained national recognition during his youth, shortly before transcending generations and geographical boundaries. Pelé was one of the first Afro-Brazilians to appear on Brazilian television. This representation and power inspired people who identify with him, especially in Brazil which is the country with the most Black people outside the African continent. Additionally, he inspired many footballers from Africa.

In 1969, Nigeria received Santos for a match. For context, two years before, it was the start of the three-year conflict between the country and a secessionist state, Biafra, a civil war that shocked the world in the time by its effects on the people. There is a popular myth about this visit; the conflict mentioned had a truce during the match between Santos and Super Eagles. Pelé scored two goals and received a standing ovation from the home fans. Beirut received the King in 1975, shortly before the Lebanese Civil War that lasted fifteen years. His visit was part of an international football tour, which included a friendly match against Nejmeh SC. Both episodes represent the power of football to unite divided nations.

From 1995 to 1998, Pelé was nominated as sports minister. It was during this time period that he sponsored a significant law for football players. Pelé Law granted independence to footballers from football clubs. Previously, they couldn't leave the clubs without permission. Neither even when they did not have contracts and salaries. Currently, the law is outdated, as labour relations and entity administration have changed. In addition, it is constantly criticized because of the power of entrepreneurs over players.

Parallel to his famed football career in 1969, he started his musical career as a singer and songwriter. Besides that, and the briefly mentioned political career, he acted in eighteen varied genres of films. Simultaneously, he became an ambassador for Brazil. Moreover, he got involved in several charities and social causes.

Before the acronym and urban slang were created, he fit the description of G.O.A.T. for the many reasons mentioned and unmentioned. Above all, he paved the way for many generations after him. The King is often remembered and admired. During his eight decades of life and even posthumously, he won awards and honours throughout Brazil.

I realized that when I moved abroad, one of the most common associations with Brazil was football, another legacy of Pelé. After moving away, I started to recognise the importance of this sport and glimpse its beauty. Football was invented in England; however, it is my way to reconnect with home. 

Sofia Ribeiro Willcox
Cultural Exchanger and Explorer

Sofia has a BA with Hons in Creative and Professional Writing and Film and Television Studies from the University of Wolverhampton (2020-2023). Born in Brazil, Sofia is an enthusiast of pop culture (cinephile and melophile), social sciences (snowflake generation), and poetry (lusophone).

about Sofia Ribeiro Willcox »»

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