The pursuit of Pele II

When Pele signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975, some may have thought that, like other European and South America soccer stars playing or living in the United States, he had escaped to a place where no one would know him and he would no longer have to worry about being chased by crowds of fans. Fat chance. Pele signed with the Cosmos on June 9, and on June 20 in Boston, he faced the most unruly crowd that he encountered in his three seasons with the Cosmos. The occasion was an NASL game between the Cosmos and the Boston Minutemen at Nickerson Field in Boston. This is the stadium that had once been Braves Field, the home of the Boston Braves baseball team, and which, after part of it had been torn down, had become Boston University's football stadium (as well as serving as the Minutemen's home field). Pele wasn't the only attraction on the field that Friday evening. The star of the Boston team was Eusebio, the Portuguese superstar who just a few years before had ranked as the number-two player in the world, trailing only Pele.

In preparing for this occasion, the management of the Boston team oversold 12,500-seat Nickerson Field by about 8,000 tickets rather than moving the game to a larger stadium. As a result, they ended up with about 5,000 spectators lined up along the sidelines, within a few steps of the players. It was a recipe for disaster.

The trouble happened early in the second half, after Pele seemed to have tied the game at 1-1 by pouncing on the rebound of a shot by teammate Mark Liveric and putting it into the Boston net. Within a few seconds, the crowd ringing the field had charged onto it, eager to celebrate this exciting event. Within a few more seconds, the referee had disallowed the goal because of a foul by the Cosmos, and the mob's mood changed from elated to incensed.

The crowd may not have really have meant Pele any harm, but that didn't matter much after Pele's uniform had been ripped, one of his shoes had been taken, he had been carried off the field on a stretcher while rubbing an ankle and Cosmos general manager Clive Toye had pulled the rest of his team off the field. The Cosmos eventually returned without Pele and finished the game (Boston's 2-1 victory was later voided by the league), but the next day, Toye was still furious about it all.

Toye's pronouncement on the matter reflected the fact that he knew that he was holding all the cards (or at least the only card that mattered). He said that Pele would not play for the Cosmos on the road again until other teams made satisfactory improvements in their security arrangements. Toye knew what a box-office bonanza a visit from Pele was for other teams, what a comparative bust a visit from the Cosmos without Pele would be, and that those other teams would fall all over themselves to make whatever security improvements he wanted.

So, Pele returned to the Cosmos lineup and all was well once again. And if Pele or anyone else had been harboring any illusions that he was going to be anonymous in America, they no longer had them.