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".

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory