Pele in Kolkata after 38 years, receives thunderous welcome

Kolkata, Oct 11 (IANS) Brazilian football legend Pele set foot again in the city on Sunday morning after an interval of 38 years amidst cheering from vociferous fans.

Such was the craze surrounding the football great at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport that organisers and security personnel had a trying time in escorting him to his car.

Besides a large media contingent, a couple of hundred football lovers had started pouring in right from the morning for a glimpse of the ‘Black Pearl’ and there was a mad scramble to go near him and click photos on mobile cameras. Others who were at the airport waiting to check in or receive guests and family members also were pleasantly surprised.

The 74-year-old’s Emirates flight from Dubai landed here at 8.07 a.m. West Bengal Municipal Affairs Minster Firhad Hakim received Pele, who was driven out of the airport terminal through Gate 4B in a battery operated car.

As Pele, looking tired from a 24-hour journey, emerged from the terminal, he was greeted with loud cheers. Responding to the warm welcome, Pele could only mutter: “Thank you, Kolkata.”

Clad in a black blazer and a grey T-shirt, Pele, before boarding the car, stood near the car door and waved to his fans, who chanted “Pele, Pele” and waved Brazilian flags.

Later, Pele, the only player to win three World Cups, arrived at a five-star south Kolkata hotel, where he would rest for the day.

Indian football icon Chuni Goswami was at the hotel to greet him with flowers. Goswami and the legend had a brief chat after which Pele went inside the hotel.

Asked what he asked Pele, Goswami said:” I asked him what do you have to say about (Lionel) Messi, and he said ‘He is very close to Pele and Maradona’.”

“I also asked him, can you play football? To which he replied, ‘No, I am not that fit’,” Goswami said light-heartedly.

Pele’s tour will kick-start on Monday with him revisiting the historic Eden Gardens ground, where the city’s football fans had seen their favourite Samba magician 38 years back in a friendly match. The former Santos FC striker, playing for American side New York Cosmos, featured in the exhibition match against local powerhouse Mohun Bagan in 1977.

In a double bonanza for sports buffs, Pele and the city’s very own, former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly will come together during a chat show at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on Monday. Among others to be present at the event will be Academy Award-winning music composer A.R. Rahman and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal will also join the show through a video conference.

Members of the Mohun Bagan team who played in the 1977 match would be present and get a chance to interact with the former Brazilian superstar.

Prior to the chat show, Pele will hold a press conference at a five-star hotel and then head off to the NSHM Knowledge campus for an interactive session with the students. On Tuesday, Pele will be the guest of honour at the Indian Super League (ISL) defending champions Atletico de Kolkata’s home game against Kerala Blasters.

He would also meet the ATK players the same day. The Brazilian would round off a hectic day by taking part in an auction dinner. The proceeds would go the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.

The buzz surrounding his visit is palpable with banners and posters of the legend splashed across the city while some of the leading confectioners and hotels have plans to prepare delicacies in his honour.

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