Pele memories: From Santos at Sheffield Wednesday to Rotherham United legend Ronnie Moore scoring against him in America

There is something about the truly great people in so many walks of life that just being in their company is a thrill and a privilege. When it comes to football, few if any were greater than Edson Arantes do Nascimento – better known as Pele.

These days it is fairly easy to watch Lionel Messi play on television but when Pele was regarded the world over as the greatest footballer to have walked the earth, that was a rare treat.

The Brazilian legend played at four World Cups but was brutally kicked out of two, including 1966 in England. Only the last of them, his crowning glory in 1970, was on colour television.

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Despite the attempts of clubs like Real Madrid, Manchester United and Juventus, he never played for a European club.

But Pele's role as a touring commodity for Santos, then a footballing ambassador in retirement, allowed some the even greater honour of seeing him in the flesh.

The striker's death, aged 82, from cancer this week will have prompted a flood of memories from all who did.

Twice Pele played friendlies at Sheffield Wednesday, in 1962 and 1972, and he came back to the city in 2007 to help celebrate Sheffield FC's 150th anniversary, dropping in at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane too.

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But former Rotherham United player and manager Ronnie Moore can top all of them, not only playing against Pele but even scoring against his team – even if the memories have become even more fantastical over time.

"I've told people forever that I scored the winning goal," admits the 69-year-old, now a BBC Radio Sheffield summariser. "But I checked when The Yorkshire Post asked to do this interview and it actually wasn't the winning goal, it was the first goal. It just shows how you get a fairytale going in your own head."

Even so, the story is still pretty good.

In 1977, Moore was a 24-year-old centre-forward for Third Division Tranmere Rovers who could never have imagined what was about to happen when he asked his manager, former Manchester United defender Bill Foulkes, to fix him up with some summer football.

"Bill Foulkes was big mates with Johnny King, our manager at Tranmere," recalls Moore. "In them days instead of having a break, if you wanted to keep ticking over in the summer and your manager had contacts they could get your abroad.

Pele playing for Santos on his second visit to Sheffield Wednesday on February 23rd 1972, up against the Owls' Tommy Craig (Picture: Sheffield Newspapers)Pele playing for Santos on his second visit to Sheffield Wednesday on February 23rd 1972, up against the Owls' Tommy Craig (Picture: Sheffield Newspapers)
Pele playing for Santos on his second visit to Sheffield Wednesday on February 23rd 1972, up against the Owls' Tommy Craig (Picture: Sheffield Newspapers)
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"Jonny King said to me, 'Do you fancy Chicago Sting?' and I said, 'I'll go anywhere, I just want to keep playing if I can.'

"So he sent me and a lad called Bobby Tynan, who was a decent player until he ended up doing his ligaments, over with our families."

The 1977 North American Soccer League season began in April, and it was May before the pair arrived.

"I never even gave it a thought who I'd be playing against but I was told by Bill Foulkes my first game would be at home to New York Cosmos and they'd got Pele playing," says Moore.

Pele signing an autograph for Tony Pritchett after the 1972 matchPele signing an autograph for Tony Pritchett after the 1972 match
Pele signing an autograph for Tony Pritchett after the 1972 match
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"My stomach just turned over, it was a joy. I was thinking, 'Are you having a laugh?'

"I was so nervous about being on the same pitch. We had a few decent players in (Jim) McCalliog, (Bill) Jennings and (Willie) Morgan but they had Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia and you were thinking, 'We're going to get a good roasting here.'"

That game ended in a 2-1 defeat at Chicago's Soldier Field in front of 21,108. Just 2,105 had been at the same stadium four days earlier to watch the Sting play Washington Diplomats.

In the return, just 11 days later at New York's Giants Stadium, the Sting got their revenge, winning 2-1. Moore opened the scoring with a bullet of a header at a corner before former West Ham United forward Jennings added a second. Former Italy striker Chinaglia scored for the Cosmos.

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"Pele was just unbelievable," says Moore. "I was 24 and he was 36 but even then his movement was amazing. He wasn't Pele Pele but he was still winning free-kicks on the edge of the area, backing into people, dropping deep and picking balls up, just an all-round player.

"It was an absolute honor for me.

Brazillian legend Pele pictured at Brammall Lane, Sheffield, November 7th, 2007 (Picture: Simon Hulme)Brazillian legend Pele pictured at Brammall Lane, Sheffield, November 7th, 2007 (Picture: Simon Hulme)
Brazillian legend Pele pictured at Brammall Lane, Sheffield, November 7th, 2007 (Picture: Simon Hulme)

"I had a chat with him after the game about football in general and he spoke to me about the goal and how I took it well, which was brilliant. I always remember him saying to me, 'As a striker, don't be afraid of missing.'

"That's always stuck with me and that's probably why people used to call me a greedy so-and-so when I was playing.

"It was unreal how many people asked him for his shirt. It was too late by the time I asked him. I can't remember who got it – I think it might have been Willie Morgan – but what a tremendous thing that would have been to come back from playing against Pele with his shirt.

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"I even tried to nick it out of the dressing room but they wouldn't have it!"

So popular would Moore be at Rotherham that he is still known in the town as "The King", a nickname Pele had worldwide. But the youngster was never in any doubt he was sharing the plastic pitch with bona fide footballing royalty.

"Part of you just thinks, 'How can he still do that?'" says Moore. "It made you think about what he must have been like when he was younger. it was just awesome what he could still do at that age and how fit he was.

"He looked like a modern-day footballer in 1977. You used to get a few podgy players and now they all get their abs going and do this and that.

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"He was a 2022 striker in his body. He was 5ft 8in but he used to hang like a bird. His heading ability for the size he was and his body strength was incredible. I was in awe of him when the game started."

If Pele's legend was pretty much written when Moore played against him, it was still forming when he first graced Hillsborough the day before his 22nd birthday.

Even by that age, though, he had scored in the 1958 World Cup quarter-final, semi-final (a hat-trick) and final (twice) before tearing a thigh muscle in Chile in the 1962 group stage.

His hat-trick for Santos in September's away leg of the Intercontinental Cup final against Eusebio’s Benfica had confirmed his place as the best player on the planet.

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His mesmeric skills were then transported to Hillsborough in an October friendly Santos won 4-2 and while his team-mate Coutinho hit a hat-trick, it was Pele’s footballing gifts from the gods which had Yorkshire folk talking – and the press.

Back then, English football writers were widely suspicious of South American domestic football, but Pele converted them in a game which saw Billy Griffin and Bronco Lane net for the hosts.

The Guardian’s Eric Todd certainly thought so, with his report headlined “Pele’s brilliance beggars belief’ while the Daily Mirror’s John Bromley added: “Here was proof, if proof was needed, that Pele is the world’s greatest inside-forward and Santos are the world’s finest club team.”

Pele’s impact is best remembered for a penalty which saw him not just fool Owls and England goalkeeper Ron Springett, but also around 20,000 fans packed into the Kop, when after a lengthy run-up, he stopped and coolly sent him the wrong way.

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He made his second coming with Santos at Hillsborough on Wednesday, February 23, 1972, with energy restrictions caused by the miners’ strike ensuring the game was switched from a 7.30pm kick-off to 2.30pm.

It was not just the floodlights which failed to illuminate matters, with Santos failing to hit the heights of 1962, but still winning 2-0 against the Owls, who finished in mid-table in the old Second Division in 1971-72.

The strange midweek kick-off time didn’t stop 36,996 people turning out to watch, mainly to see Pele – Wednesday’s home game with Watford just four days earlier attracted just 13,934.

Many of the crowd were young kids who had ‘bunked’ off school, with a memory for many being Tommy Craig shadowing Pele in the last 10 minutes in order to get his shirt at the final whistle.

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Moore might not have had the midfielder's cunning five years later but it did not stop him enjoying the highlight of a 45-year career in football. For anyone who had the privilege, the memory of meeting Pele or just watching him play will live with them forever, even if it gets fuzzy along the way.

"For a snotty-nosed lad from Huyton in Liverpool to get that close to him, to shake his hand before the game started, you couldn't write the script," says Moore. "It was something that will stick in my mind forever.

"When you think of all the top players who never graced a pitch with him and this snotty-nosed Scouser from Tranmere not only managed to play against him but score as well – not the winner, but a goal!"