With the recent passing of Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), like many of the boys l grew up with, in the neighbourhood immediately remembered the day, the king of the beautiful football came to Paddington.
For most of the 1970’s when young boys were kicking a ball around in the school yard and playing fields of London, we were all doing a “Pele” involving either his many assortments of flicks and dummies or samba dancing on the ball. So when we heard he was in town to visit the local Boys Clubs, we did not hesitate to race over to the venues. This was of course all done by word of mouth, rather than via social media as one would today, and amazingly it managed to get all the boys out in the locality and further afield.
His first stop was of course the Stowe Boys Club, on the Harrow Rd, W2 just off Westbourne Green and not too far from Royal Oak tube station. Here he performed some small miracles. With a double breasted suit and tie on, he was still able to do his assortment of flicks and samba dancing on the ball! While we were still struggling in our shorts….. It came with ease to him certainly while he kept us all fully enthralled. He then made his way to the North Paddington Boys Club on Lanark Rd,W9 where people like Sal Khan still remember how he spoke to them with a strong Brazilian accent still.
The Paddington Boys clubs had also themselves produced a few football stars as well, like John Barnes, who went on to play for Liverpool & England. During the late 1970s he would have been tuning his fine first touch at Stowe Boys Club before joining his first club in Watford. Iconically he could not play football at his school, Marylebone Grammar School. As it played rugby not football, and he joined Stowe Boys Club to not only marshall his skills but fondness for football.
We were of course accustomed to our footballing heroes being seen around and about Paddington, after all the Football Association (FA) was for many years based in Lancaster Gate before moving to Soho and then eventually Wembley. A location we frequently went to for autographs of our stars. I once got one of George Best there! Little did we realize it was more often than not our footballing heroes who were going up to the disciplinary Committees of the FA. But that did not take away from the prize of their autographs on old programmes or football tops.
But Pele was in a completely different league, having won three World Cup winners medals, he was truly a legend. A global superstar who even in the late seventies and early eighties after the peak of his career in the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico City could still pull a huge audience. Critically he played a key role in the creation of a national identity in the country of immigrants, indigenous people and descendants of slaves, which Brazil happily exported to us all.
May he rest in peace now after giving so many of us such joy in our youth. It was a day many of us have not forgotten for sure as every boy in Paddington was there and beyond #RIPPele
The piece as it appeared in the Westminster Extra below in the week beginning the 6th of January 2023