Pele played in front of 40,000 for Santos at Plymouth in 1973

Pele – and three other Brazilian World Cup winners – played in front of 40,000 at PLYMOUTH in 1973… he begged not to be kicked, they nearly fought in the tunnel and Santos refused to play over money!

  • Pele’s Santos played Plymouth Argyle in a last-minute friendly on March 14, 1973 
  • Squad was made up of 1970 Brazilian World Cup winners but Plymouth won 3-2
  • Almost 40,000 fans turned up to watch the historic game played at Home Park
  • Santos almost refused to play as they demanded more money due to crowd size
  • Ex-Plymouth defender John Hore, who marked Pele, said he was a ‘gentleman’
  • READ: OBITUARY – Pele was a cut jewel – sharp-edged, glittering and flawless 

It might have been a friendly with little consequence almost 50 years ago, but Pele’s trip to Plymouth Argyle will forever be cemented in history.

Pele’s Santos side had been touring England and made a last-minute stop off on the south coast of Devon in a fixture that featured World Cup winners, a payment row and the great man begging not to be kicked.

Almost 40,000 fans piled into Home Park on March 14, 1973 to watch the legend play alongside fellow Brazilian 1970 world champions Edu, Carlos Alberto and Clodoaldo for Santos.

As a nation mourns the loss of the Brazilian legend who died aged 82 on Thursday, Sportsmail looks back at the day Pele saluted the Argyle faithful and put on a show.

Pele welcomed almost 40,000 Plymouth fans who turned up to see their side beat the great man’s Santos

Home Park was packed out with fans hoping to get a glimpse of Pele along with three other Brazil World Cup winners – Edu, Carlos Alberto and Clodoaldo

Despite the wealth of talent on display for Santos, it was actually the hosts who triumphed with a 3-2 victory. 

But of course, Pele – arguably the greatest player to ever grace the game – scored Santos’ first goal from the penalty spot and made their second with an inch-perfect ball through for left-winger Edu.

Pele’s desire to win was more evident than ever when he sprinted back to the halfway line after emphatically dispatching his penalty in the ‘friendly’. 

The game itself almost did not take place due to a payment dispute between the two clubs.

Despite his side losing, Pele scored a penalty for Santos to make it 3-1, and he later created Brazilian side’s second goal too

Pele was touring in England where he played matches against Fulham and Plymouth

Santos came into the game having just played Fulham in front of around 11,000 fans – where they had a deal in place to take home half the gate money.

With the game arranged at a week’s notice, the clubs settled on a £2,500 figure for Santos but the Brazilian side wanted more after seeing the sheer number of fans bundling into Home Park.

How the teams lined up 

Plymouth: Jim Furnell, Dave Provan, Colin Sullivan, John Hore, Bobby Saxton, Neil Hague, Mike Dowling, Derek Rickard, Jimmy Hinch, Les Latcham, Alan Welsh. Subs: Milija Aleksic, Steve Davey.

Santos: Claudio, Carlos Alberto, Murias, Hermes, Leo, Marcal, Jair, Brecha, Alcindo, Pele, Edu. Subs: Clodoaldo, Pitico, Mario Marinho, Vincente.

Recalling the dispute back in 2013, former Plymouth secretary Graham Little said: ‘I was with our directors 15 minutes before kick-off when we were called down and they said, “We are not going to play unless you give us another £2,500”. Well, we had no choice — there would have been a riot if we cancelled.’

‘The match was fantastic and then we went to the Holiday Inn for a reception. Our chairman Robert Daniel and I took the Santos president aside. 

‘I had the money, £50 notes in cellophane packets and the chairman started telling the man from Santos: “This is crooked, we will report you. You will never play in this country again.” He shrugged his shoulders and said: “Plenty more countries.”

Argyle took the game to Santos and Mike Dowling gave them the lead with a sumptuous strike from about 30 yards out. Before Santos could even reply, Argyle were 3-0 up with first-half goals from Derek Rickard and Jimmy Hinch.

‘We were probably more physical than them and they didn’t like some of the tackles that were going in as they thought it was a friendly but to me it felt like a cup final,’ goalscorer Howling told When Saturday Comes.

Pele and Brazil won the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Here he is pictured swapping shirts with England’s Bobby Moore during a group stage game

‘It was a culture shock coming to Home Park. We went off at half-time and there was nearly a fight down the tunnel.’ 

Before Pele pulled a goal back and created another after the break, the footballing icon was swamped by children desperate for an autograph during the interval.

Former Plymouth defender John Hore has fond memories of the ‘feisty’ contest and recalled Pele begging not to be kicked before asking to swap shirts with him at full-time.

‘It was getting a bit feisty. In that period when the tackles were flying in, Pele came over to me,’ Hore explained in 2013.

The iconic photograph of Pele being hosted on the shoulders of his teammates after Brazil won the 1970 World Cup

A programme from March 14, 1973 on what was a historic day for Plymouth Argyle when Pele came to town

‘He had been kicked and chased his whole life and he just wanted a game of football. It was nothing too bad — and remember he could handle himself — but he made this gesture to me that I go easy and I went along with it.

‘His body shape was just fantastic. He was like Messi the way he glided with the ball, even at that stage in his career.

‘What a gentleman and player. At the end, Pele signed everything anyone wanted signed, not like some of the stars you see today. A class act.

‘I remember him running at me early on. I’m thinking, “Here comes Pele, close him down”, but through my legs it goes and he’s past me before I know it. Then he hits this 30-yard pass to the other wing. Wow.

‘At the end of the game he came up to me. We didn’t really understand each other, but he wanted to change shirts. I was glowing. I think it was because I didn’t kick him.

 The cast of 1973 got back together in 2013 to reflect on the fixture with Derek Rickard (left), referee Charlie Nicholls (centre) and John Hore (right)

‘People say I could sell it, but why would I? It’s worth more than money. I sometimes wonder what he did with my shirt. I’d sign it if he likes. What a wonderful day.’

Meanwhile, Rickard who scored Plymouth’s second goal recalled the magnitude of the occasion.

‘We only had about a week’s notice of the game. A couple of years earlier, I was playing local football while Pele was winning his third World Cup! I didn’t sleep so well the night before the game,’ he said back in 2013.

Just two years after Pele had graced the county of Devon, he joined New York Cosmos where he achieved huge levels of fame before retiring in 1977, having transcended the beautiful game.

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