Brian Viner: Sign of the times when Pele preached love and Ali gave a performance to remember

In my modest sportswriting career I have accumulated a few autographed bits and pieces, mainly to give to my children. It is one of the privileges of the job, though I confess I felt a bit of a heel, having asked Alan Shearer at the end of our interview to autograph a football for my son Joe, then to give him some gentle ribbing in the piece I subsequently wrote, for saying scarcely anything worth reporting. Still, I got over it.

Between them, my sons have the football signed by Shearer, a rugby ball signed by Martin Johnson, cricket balls signed by Shane Warne and Monty Panesar, and bats signed by Sir Garfield Sobers, Brian Lara and Freddie Flintoff. Their autograph books are full, too. Sugar Ray Leonard called them both "my li'l champ", which they enjoyed. My daughter has done less well out of my sporting connections, although on the trip to Los Angeles to interview Leonard I did wind up sharing a limousine with the former S Club 7 star Rachel Stevens. Eleanor, who would have been underwhelmed with Sugar Ray's autograph, was chuffed to bits with Rachel's.

I enjoy bringing autographs home for my kids because it reminds me of my late father doing the same for me. He used to go to sporting dinners at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, and got me John Conteh, Terry Biddlecombe and Peter O'Sullevan, who kept company in my autograph book with the man who'd played Widow Twanky in an amateur production of Aladdin I'd greatly enjoyed. The same kind of eclecticism prevails in my own children's autograph books. Joe has Wayne Rooney on the opposite page from Minnie Mouse.

Anyway, all this is by way of an introduction to what I really wanted to write about this week, which is my own childlike delight to be given a book autographed by one of the two or three most famous sportsmen on earth, a man whose name I managed to work into the title of my own memoir about growing up in the 1970s as a sports nut. Apart from the fact that his name appears on the cover of both my book and his, Pele and I don't have much in common. But we do share a publisher, Simon & Schuster, and when they published his autobiography in May last year I was invited to its launch at the Brazilian embassy in London. Regrettably, I couldn't go, but my editor, the estimable Andrew Gordon, got the great man to inscribe a copy for me. It says "Brian, good luck, Pele" and is one of my most treasured possessions.

On Monday it will be 30 years since Pele, three weeks before his 37th birthday, played his final game as a professional footballer. He played a half each for Santos and New York Cosmos, the only two clubs for which he'd ever signed contracts, in front of 75,000 people at Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Needless to say he scored, although only for Cosmos, who won 2-1. It was the 1,283rd and last goal of a 1,367-game career, a scoring record that nobody else has come remotely close to matching.

Afterwards, tears coursing down his cheeks, Pele made a speech from the middle of the pitch, which ended with the words "Love! Love! Love!" In his book he records that a Brazilian singer called Caetano Veloso later wrote a song inspired by that moment. Apparently, the chorus goes "Pele said 'Love! Love! Love!'", which I'm sure sounds better in Portuguese. Whatever, he adds that, "of all the songs written about me I think that one touches me the most". How extraordinary for a sportsman, any sportsman, to be able to trawl through "all" the songs written about him to find the most poignant.

Anyway, that evening there was a party at the Plaza in Manhattan, attended by Carlos Alberto, Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer and Muhammad Ali, among other sporting glitterati. Henry Kissinger wormed his way in as well. Never mind the Michael Douglas-Catherine Zeta Jones wedding reception years later at the venue, there's only one party at the Plaza to which I wish I'd inveigled tickets.

It was the social highlight of a remarkable few days in the sporting calendar. On the Thursday – 30 years ago today – Ali fought and narrowly beat Earnie Shavers at Madison Square Garden, an occasion my colleague James Lawton has described to me more than once as the most memorable in all his years as a sports writer. On the Saturday, Pele's final match took place. And on the Sunday, James Hunt won the United States Grand Prix for the second year in succession at Watkins Glen in New York State, holding off a charging Mario Andretti. It was the final race of the Formula One season, and confirmed fourth-placed Niki Lauda as world champion, the culmination of his astounding comeback following the horrific injuries he'd suffered at the Nürburgring the year before. At all three of these remarkable events was James Lawton, with his notebook. I must get him to autograph it for me.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Who I Like This Week...

Mark Ramprakash, who averaged over 100 in first-class cricket this year, becoming the first player in history to average more than 100 in consecutive English seasons. He continues to confound the ageing process by scaling new heights, and even an old foe of his, Justin Langer, told me recently that in his opinion England would have had a less torrid Ashes campaign last winter had someone been imaginative enough to send for "Ramps" once Marcus Trescothick had left the tour. Others say that he has had enough chances for England; I disagree. The guiding principle of international sport should be this: never look a form horse in the mouth.

And Who I Don't

The FIA president, Max Mosley, an urbane man of great charm, who has blotted his copybook twice in recent weeks. He shouldn't have tried to squeeze some personal kudos out of a lamentable situation by saying that, had it been down to him alone, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso would have been booted out of the drivers' championship this year. Nor does he get any points for calling Sir Jackie Stewart, as he did this week, a "figure of fun" and "a certified halfwit".

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?