A cricket book, autographed by Pele

A meeting with Pele, but no soccer book to sign. But the great man’s signature on ‘An Indian Cricket Omnibus’ is still something to cherish.

Living legend: The Brazilian retired in 1970, yet is in every World Cup. The promising players are compared to him, the best become the “new Pele”.   -  Getty Images

I am quite sure I possess the only cricket book signed by Pele. This happened in Dubai. I had just moved there, and Pele was visiting. My books hadn’t arrived but I had with me An Indian Cricket Omnibus, edited by Ramachandra Guha and T. G. Vaidyanathan. “All the best,” wrote Pele on the title page, after we spent a day talking and watching football.

A couple of years later we met again. This time I had his autobiography, My Life and the Beautiful Game. Pele signed on the title page by right. It was one of my first soccer books, a paperback bought in 1978.

All-time favourite

Pele retired in 1970, yet is in every World Cup. The promising players are compared to him, the best become the ‘new Pele’. Movies and documentaries on him are released or re-run.

Also re-released are some of the finest books.

There is no “greatest football book of all time,” but two books come close. Uruguayan novelist Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.

Here is Galeano on Pele: “Once he held up a war: Nigeria and Biafra declared a truce to see him play. To see him play was worth a truce and a lot more. When Pele ran hard, he cut right through his opponents. When he stopped, his opponents got lost in the labyrinths his legs embroidered. When he jumped, he climbed into the air as if it were a staircase. When he executed a free kick, his opponents in the wall wanted to turn around to face the net, so as not to miss the goal… those of us who were lucky enough to see him play received moments so worthy of immortality that they make us believe immortality exists.”

Introducing Brilliant Orange, the author says: “If this is a book about Dutch football, at some stage you’ll probably wonder why it contains pages and pages about art and architects, cows and canals, anarchists, church painters, rabbis and airports but barely a word, for example, about PSV and Feyenoord. A fair point. And the reason, I suppose, is that this is not so much a book about Dutch football as a book about the idea of Dutch football, which is something slightly different…”

Football literature

Many writers, from Llosa to Umberto Eco have written on football. Salman Rushdie is a Tottenham supporter, Julian Barnes cheers for Leicester City while J. K. Rowling supports West Ham United. Tim Parks’s A Season with Verona and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch are already classics.

In A Game of Two Halves (ed: Stephen Kelly), we meet soccer buffs like the philosopher A. J. Ayer, Albert Camus, Ryszard Kapuscinki (who wrote the superb Soccer War), Harold Pinter, George Orwell, J. B. Priestly, John Arlott, Frank Keating, Simon Barnes, Hugh McIlvanney, Brian Glanville, Geoffrey Green and others who lit up the game with their prose, and indeed poetry.

Those who can, do; those who can’t, read about it.