New Delhi: Football legend Pele wound up his six-day visit to the country as a big crowd turned up at the Capital's Ambedkar Stadium to have a glimpse of the Brazilian three-time World Cup winner who battled physical difficulties to give the fans an experience of a lifetime.
The 74-year-old Pele, who graced the boys' Under-17 summit clash of Subroto Cup tournament, sent the near full house stadium of 20,000 capacity into frenzy as he made a round trip of the ground on an open top Indian Air Force jeep on the final day of his India visit, which commenced in Kolkata on October 11.
Pele, who arrived here on October 14, gave away the winners' trophy to All India Football Federation team which beat Little Angels Paradise School, Thoubal, Manipur 4-1 in the final in a ceremony which was attended by Chief of the Air Staff Arup Raha. He will leave for Brazil in the wee hours tomorrow.
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Surprisingly, Pele was not asked by the organisers to address the enthusiastic crowd at the stadium who shouted 'Pele Pele' for most part of the evening. Sporting a light blue shirt and trouser with black shoes, Pele stood silent on the dais even as Air Marshall Raha addressed the crowd.
But the Delhi football fans did have an evening they will cherish throughout their lives as they saw the man who is known by many names, including the 'Black Pearl', 'King Pele' or 'King of Football', from close range in flesh and blood.
Just after arriving at the stadium and several people trying to come close and get autographs from him, Pele was asked to proceed to the ground so that the players of the two teams and match officials could introduce themselves.
Pele, who has had three surgeries this year, including the recent one in his hips, struggled to get down from the dais and onto the ground. He clutched his right hand on his walking stick while the left hand was held by a companion even as another Air Force officer lent him support.
It was a sight a football fan would not have wanted to witness as the legend grimaced and showed discomfort and his foot landed at every of the 10-odd steps from the dais to the ground.
The indomitable spirit of the Brazilian, who was part of the World Cup winning teams of 1958, 1962 and 1970, then came to the fore as he battled his way to the ground and once he entered into the playing arena, Pele suddenly wore a smile as if the feel of the grass suddenly gave him extra strength. He then waved to the crowd who responded wildly.
He was then mobbed by the 30-odd photojournalists and the crew of the official broadcasters as they jostled for space to get close to him. Pele then shook hands with the players and match officials before he boarded the open-top jeep to take a round of the stadium, which thus joined Eden Gardens and Salt Lake as the Indian venues on which the football legend has set foot.
The mesmerised crowd stood up in unison and responded to Pele waving towards them with many of them holding their mobiles to click photos of the memorable moment. A few even tried to click 'long distance' selfies by trying to bring the legend into the frame of cameras.
All through the open top jeep ride, Pele could be seen saying 'thank you' and bowing his head to the crowd and even gesturing as if he was saying 'my heart goes out to all of you' as he touched his heart with both hands and then extended them towards the cheering fans.
During the match, he clapped and gave thumbs up at the good moves by the rival teams in the entertaining and fast-paced game and when the goals were scored even as he kept himself busy by responding to nearby fans who waved at him.
Pele did not get down to the ground for the second time to give away the winners' trophy, and understandably so, due to his physical difficulties.
The winning team captain and coach walked up to the dais for Pele to hand over the trophy to them and bring down curtains on his second India visit after 1977 when his New York Cosmos team played an exhibition match against Mohun Bagan at the Eden Gardens.
Interestingly, no top official from the AIFF was present at the event graced by Pele today though General Secretary Kushal Das attended the dinner hosted to honour the football legend at the Gurgaon hotel last night.
Pele had yesterday described the FIFA corruption scandal as a "shame" but said that the game of football should not be linked with the wrongdoings of the administrators.
"Whatever happening in FIFA, it is a shame. But this is not due to football but due to some people involved in the FIFA. Of course, we are sorry about what happened now in FIFA. But, we cannot mix this (corruption scandal) with football. This is due to some people who administer football," he had said at a press conference at a Gurgaon hotel where he is being put up.
The Subroto Cup organisers had hosted a dinner in his honour last night.
In Kolkata, where he made a return after 38 years in an emotional three-day visit to that city, Pele attended a host of programmes, including a felicitation function of the Mohun Bagan players who played against him in that 1977 match.
The function was attended by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and Oscar and Grammy Award-winning music composer A R Rahman.
He also watched a match of the ongoing Indian Super League in Kolkata on October 13 between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters.