“IT FELT like me against the whole world.”
So remembered goalkeeper Edgardo Andrada on preparing to face a penalty on this day in 1969.
It was no ordinary penalty, and no ordinary man taking it, as Santos looked to take a 2-1 lead with 12 minutes left of their match away to Vasco da Gama in Brazil’s Maracana Stadium.
The kicker was none other than Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, and he needed one more for his 1,000th career goal.
“The noise was deafening,” remembered Andrada, an Argentinian idolised by many in the 80,000 Rio crowd, which had braved a tropical downpour in the hope of seeing history. “Even the Vasco supporters were against me,” he said.
The fervour surrounding O Milesimo (The Thousandth) had been building for weeks.
No-one had previously reached the four-figure mark, and coverage of Pele’s impending milestone gripped the globe.
Although he had been at the heart of the great Brazilian teams which won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962 (and would be again when they lifted the trophy in 1970), Pele admitted that he had never been so nervous as the landmark approached.
In Santos’s previous game, against the Esporte Club in Bahia three days earlier, the 29-year-old even admitted to “a sudden cold feeling that I was doomed to go for years and years without scoring another goal”, saying that he had “long wished the 1,000th goal over and done with”.
In Bahia, in north-eastern Brazil, the locals had little doubt that O Milesimo would happen in their state, preparing elaborate celebrations that included a thanksgiving mass, only for their expressions of gratitude to be sadly shelved.
I don’t know how long I stood over the ball with Andrada watching me intently. I was trying to clear the cobwebs from my head, trying to forget the importance of this one goal to me, to my game, to my team… I’d never felt such pressure.Pele
Pele did have a chance near the end of the game, but after dribbling through the defence and around the goalkeeper with trademark panache, his shot struck the crossbar and team-mate Jair Bala netted the rebound.
By the time that Santos pitched up at the Maracana, Pele had spent more than a month in the nervous 990s – something of a goal drought by his standards.
It had the makings of another frustrating evening for arguably the greatest player of all-time as, first, Andrada tipped a fine effort over the bar before Pele then hit the bar and was narrowly beaten to the rebound in challenging defender Rene, who accidentally diverted the ball into his own net.
But at 11.11pm on November 19, 1969, a pass from Santos midfielder Clodoaldo sent Pele through on goal as Brazil held its breath.
As he tried to slip between two defenders, Pele was tripped by the sliding tackle of Fernando, and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.
Although the consensus was that the penalty was “soft”, no-one apart from the Vasco da Gama players and coaches cared a jot as an excited hush came over the ground.
This turned to perplexed jeers when Rildo, the Santos left-back, displaying a quite magnificent lack of occasion, stepped forward to take the kick only to be quickly shooed away by captain Carlos Alberto with a few choice words.
Instead, the Santos players retreated to the halfway line, leaving Pele alone to compose himself in the penalty area.
“I don’t know how long I stood over the ball with Andrada watching me intently,” he remembered. “I was trying to clear the cobwebs from my head, trying to forget the importance of this one goal to me, to my game, to my team… I’d never felt such pressure. I was shaking. But it was down to me and… Gooooooool. What a feeling. The stadium exploded.”
Pele had put the ball low to Andrada’s left and, although the goalkeeper had got a hand to it, he could not keep it out, Pele rushing into the net to retrieve the ball before being mobbed by jubilant journalists and spectators.
Amid the mayhem, Pele, a great humanitarian as well as a great footballer, told reporters clamouring for his reaction: “For the love of God, people, now that everyone is listening, help the children, help the helpless (Brazil’s poverty-stricken street children). That’s my only wish at this very special time for me.”
As bedlam reigned, Pele’s shirt was torn off and replaced by one with “1,000” on it.
“The King” was shouldered around the field and kept kissing the historic ball as his eyes filled with tears.
Goalkeeper Andrada was also in tears.
“I was distraught,” he recalled. “I was desperate to save the penalty. I didn’t want to be that goalkeeper (the one who conceded the 1,000th goal).”
Such was the outpouring of emotion, it took 25 minutes for play to resume. When it did, with Pele substituted after his historic feat, Santos held out for a 2-1 win.
A few hours earlier, there had been another great moment in human history when Apollo 12 landed on the moon; there had been plenty of discussion in the press in the days beforehand as to what would happen first – the lunar landing or the 1,000th goal.
Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, the American astronauts, narrowly won a race they did not even know they had entered, becoming the third and fourth men to set foot on the moon’s surface after the historic mission in July that year of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Considering the many extraordinary goals that Pele scored in his career, too many to mention, was it a disappointment to him, an anticlimax, that his 1,000th goal came from a penalty?
“Some people complained,” he wrote. “They wanted something special like a brilliant bicycle kick, or a beautiful header like the one against Italy in the World Cup final in 1970, or to watch as I dribbled through the entire opposition, or did something they had never seen before. They said: ‘Why a penalty?’
“What they didn’t understand or appreciate is that it was harder to have taken that penalty than to have tried to do something unusual in open play… When I tried to take that penalty, my legs started to shake because I was so nervous.
“The goal in the World Cup final (in 1970) came to me naturally because it came as part of the game and I didn’t have to think about it.
“But my 1,000th goal was so different. The pressure was unbearable. Imagine what it was like… everybody stopped, there was a packed Maracana and they all stopped, they all wanted me to score. Yet later they said it was a penalty and they wanted more.
“My answer to them all is that Pele always does things differently. It was as if God wanted all the people to stop and look and take their time to see Pele score that goal.
“God had said: ‘Let’s stop the game and watch Pele’s 1,000th goal’.”
How Pele made his mark at just 17
AFTER his historic feat in the Maracana, Pele found the net another 281 times before hanging up his boots.
His career ran from 1956 to 1977, give or take the odd exhibition match in later years, and he scored 1,281 goals in 1,363 appearances.
Pele, now 78, was voted Footballer of the Millennium at the World Sports Awards of the Century, and the National Olympic Committee voted him Athlete of the Century, even though he never took part in the Olympics.
Pele played in four World Cups, announcing himself in style as a 17-year-old in the 1958 competition, scoring a hat-trick in the semi-final against France and twice in the final against hosts Sweden.
In total, Pele scored 77 goals in 92 matches for Brazil, and finished his career with New York Cosmos.