A more incongruous pairing than Pele and a wet afternoon in south Yorkshire it would probably be hard to find, but Sheffield's place as the cradle of the sport the Brazilian graced brought him to Bramall Lane yesterday.
Pele expounded on many topics during his appearance. He praised Ronaldinho, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo as the most exciting players in modern football and expressed sadness that Zinedine Zidane – who had been ahead of them all, he believes – finished his career with a sending off in the World Cup final last year for his butt on Italy defender Marco Materazzi. "Unfortunately it wasn't a good ending for him and he didn't have the control. The way he acted was bad," Pele said. "Ronaldinho has been the best after Zidane. Now we have Kaka, who has had a very good two years."
But the real romance of his visit is reserved for today when Pele will open a permanent exhibition at Sheffield United's ground to mark a moment several lifetimes away from the multi-million pound game of today. On show will be the first laws of the game, unseen by the public for almost half a century. They were written in a garden shed on 24 October 1857 at the formation of Sheffield FC by pioneers of the sport Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest. The so-called "Sheffield Laws" allowed the ball to be headed for the first time, introduced wooden crossbars, free-kicks, corners and the idea of playing under floodlights.
As the laws spread to the four corners of the globe, Creswick and Prest's club – recognised as the oldest in the world – struggled to survive. They had been founded at a cricket club on Bramall Lane but drifted around Sheffield for decades before alighting, six years ago, on a field in Dronfield belonging to the Coach and Horses pub.
The Sheffield FC chairman, Richard Tims, can hardly believe that the 150th anniversary is being marked by the visit of Pele and a match tonight against Internazionale at Bramall Lane. The celebrations have also involved the Real Madrid president, Ramon Calderon, Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Bobby Robson and the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter. "I'm not saying that without Sheffield FC there wouldn't have been football, but we were there first," Tims said.
Currently playing in the UniBond First Division South, Tims said his club's emphasis remains on providing an alternative to the modern game. "Before the Football League came along around the time of professionalism, football was just a game, played for sporting endeavour. Now, football is an industry – Sheffield were never really part of that. If you like, this club is a conscience for the world of football and money."
For all that, there is also hope that their historic significance might make them a brand of their own. "We're trying to become everyone's second favourite football team, so whether you support Bolton Wanderers or Boca Juniors, you can still support the world's oldest football club," Tims said.Reuse content