Pele returns to rousing welcome

Pele returns to rousing welcome
Frenzied scenes were witnessed at the airport this morning when the 'king of football' Pele landed in the 'City of Joy' after 38 years as the 74-year-old Brazilian turned emotional and stood on the floor of his SUV to wave at the crowd, who kept chanting his name.

As a matter of fact, only a handful of fans and scores of mediamen had turned up at the airport to witness the legend's arrival but as soon as the news trickled in about 100-odd visitors, who were there to receive their relatives, gathered soon to catch a glimpse of the 'Black Pearl' whose Emirates EK 0570 flight via Dubai landed at 8.07am.

It took about 30 minutes more for the 'God of football' to complete the immigration formalities and come out of gate no 4B completing his long journey spanning more than 24 hours.

Clad in a black suit and matching watch, the three-time World Cup winner, however, looked fresh as he was escorted out by state minister Firhad Hakim and the organisers.

'Thank you Kolkata', Pele said with a broad grin as he kept on waving at the crowd standing on the floor of his car and the fans reciprocated by chanting 'Pele, Pele'.

Such was the crowd's response that Pele's high security convoy struggled to make its way through to the five-star hotel in Alipore where he will be staying for three days in his return to the city, 38 years after he had enthralled football fans with his team New York Cosmos in a 2-2 draw against local powerhouse Mohun Bagan in an exhibition match way back in 1977.

Indian football icon Chuni Goswami received Pele at the hotel with another former player Dipendu Biswas as he was given a traditional welcome by the students of NSHM Knowledge Campus, one of the organisers of his visit.

"In a lighter vein, I asked him, 'can you play football?' to which Pele humbly replied: 'Not at all, I'm not very fit'," Goswami, a former Olympian, told reporters.

"I also asked him how do you rate Messi? 'He's very close to Maradona and Pele'," he added.

Pele's connect with Mohun Bagan was evident as the crowd had scores of the green and maroon fans who kept waving the team's flag, while there was also a group of kids from Dum Dum who were seen with the Brazil national flag.

"He's like 'God' to us and it's a dream come true for us to have a glimpse of him," a fan Vishal Prasad, 13, told PTI waving the Brazil flag.

Among the crowd was also a former East Bengal footballer Bhuvan Mitra, 80, who had witnessed the Mohun Bagan-Cosmos match at Eden Gardens in 1977.

"I came to know about Pele so we waited to see him. It was like a double bonanza for me," Mitra, a retired banker said.

There was also an Army personnel who had landed from Bagdogra and was lucky enough to get an autograph from Pele at the airport.

"I greeted him in Portuguese and he called me and obliged me with two autographs," he said showing his memorabilia book which has photographs and autographs of scores of celebrities.

Pele will take complete rest today to beat the jetlag as he has a hectic schedule beginning tomorrow which will begin with an interaction with media, followed by students of NSHM Knowledge Campus.

In the evening, Pele will walk down the memory lane at Eden Gardens where his team New York Cosmos played out the draw in the exhibition match.

Pele will reunite with the Mohun Bagan's class of 1977 who will be felicitated at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in the 'Legend's Nite' where he will also interact with former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly.

Two-time Academy award winning music composer A R Rahman and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee are slated to join Pele while tennis star Rafael Nadal is also scheduled to join the show through video conference.

With the biggest festival of the state, Durga Puja, set to begin with Mahalaya tomorrow, the Brazilian is also likely to inaugurate a pandal later in the evening.

On the last day of his tour, the 74-year-old will be the guest of honour of ISL defending champions Atletico de Kolkata's first home outing against Kerala Blasters at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan in Saltlake.

The Brazilian will also be part of an auction dinner, the proceeds for which would go to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund.

After Kolkata, Pele would head to the national capital Delhi where he will witness the Subroto Cup final on October 16.

Pele's epic visit 38 years ago had kickstarted city's tryst with a clutch of other football icons over the years including Argentine iconic duo of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
Former Netherlands skipper Ruud Gullit, Lothar Matthaus, Oliver Kahn, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Gerd Muller, Romario and Branco have also mesmerised the city with their presence.

Though they mostly came much after their retirement, Uruguayan soccer star Diego Forlan made a trip to participate in a football talent hunt show, just weeks after becoming the Golden Ball winner in the 2010 World Cup.

Brazilian star Zico had come as the coach of Japan's national side for a pre-World Cup game, while Cameroon's Roger Milla -- adjudged the best African player of the last century -- played an exhibition match months after his sparkling performance at the 1990 World Cup.

The city also hosted the country's first-ever FIFA friendly match when football sensation Messi-led Argentina beat Venezuela at the Saltlake stadium in 2011.

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