David Parkin on what he shares with Pelé

DID I ever tell you what I had in common with Pelé?

Silky footballing skills, a powerful shot and an idol to fans across the world.

No, none of them.

But I do have one thing I share with the late, great Brazilian football genius who died last week at the age of 82.

We’ve both played in a team managed by the same man.

I think it is fair to say that me and the man christened Edson Arantes do Nascimento – but simply known as Pelé – have a slightly different football pedigree.

He is acknowledged as the greatest player in World Cup history having won three of them.

I was one of the last to be picked for the team in the school games lessons.

But my star soared after that sporting nadir and, like a phoenix from the flames, my zenith came as a member of Hey Nonny Nonny, a five-a-side football team which were runners up in the Thursday night league at Willows Sports Centre, Derby, 1994/5.

OK, please yourselves.

But my Pelé claim to fame is true.

The great Brazilian was one of a galaxy of soccer stars to sign up to play in the fledgling North American Soccer League.

Arriving in 1975, Pelé was on a contract worth $1.4m a year, a staggering amount of money for anyone in any sport in that era, never mind in the USA where football had little profile.

A number of contracts – only one of which mentioned soccer – were set up for Pelé to ensure that he paid the lowest amount of tax possible, including one as a “recording artist” with Atlantic Records, whose executives, the brothers, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, co-founded the Cosmos.

His arrival turned the Cosmos from a motley crew of foreigners, semi-professionals and students into a huge commercial presence.

The club’s groundsman, on hearing that the Brazilian’s début for New York was to be broadcast on CBS and relayed to 22 countries across the world, spray-painted the pitch green to disguise how little grass was on it.

The Cosmos finished third that season but that wasn’t good enough for the owners, who brought in a new manager for the 1976 season – Englishman Ken Furphy.

He was one of the first Brits to head across the Atlantic and help to establish football in North America, and Furphy signed Italian international Giorgio Chinaglia to play up front with Pelé.

After a relatively undistinguished playing career for Darlington, Workington and Watford, Ken Furphy made his name as a manager at Watford, Blackburn and Sheffield United.

Joining Watford in 1964 he guided them to the old Second Division, now the Championship, for the first time in their history and led the club to an FA Cup semi-final in 1970, beating Liverpool and Stoke of the First Division along the way before eventually losing to Chelsea.

Furphy’s approach was refreshingly different, he was the first football manager to allow his pre-match team talk to be broadcast on television, prompting BBC presenter David Coleman to describe him as “one of the best young managers in the game today” when he introduced Furphy’s Watford team talk live on Grandstand before their FA Cup fourth-round tie with Manchester United in 1969.

He later moved on to Blackburn and Sheffield United before the golden opportunity arrived to manage the New York Cosmos in the fledgling North American Soccer League.

“He went from Stockton-on-Tees to the top of the Rockefeller Plaza, coaching Pele,” reflected Ken’s son Keith when he died aged 83 in 2015.

His spell in the Big Apple saw the Cosmos finish second in the NASL’s regular season and were knocked out in the play-off quarter-finals by Tampa Bay Rowdies.

However, they had created enough of a wave to move to Yankee Stadium and recruit the likes of World Cup-winning captains Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer.

But a quarter-final defeat was still not what the owners had in mind after signing Pelé that year and Furphy left the club.

Someone once joked he’d got the bullet because he’d told Pelé to track back more often.

He moved on to roles at the Miami Toros, Detroit Express and Washington Diplomats before retiring to Devon where he became a regular match summariser for BBC Radio Devon, mainly on Torquay matches.

And that is where the stars aligned and Ken got the chance to add me to the roster of great players he had managed, alongside Pele.

When a team from the BBC in Plymouth decided to play a friendly football match against their counterparts in Cardiff it was all arranged to take place at the home of Welsh sport at Sofia Gardens, next to Cardiff Castle.

The only problem was the BBC South West team, managed by Ken Furphy, were a player short.

A former colleague I’d worked with on a newspaper back in Derby, who now worked at the Beeb, knowing I then lived in Cardiff, phoned me up and asked me to fill in.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve never been a good footballer, not even an OK one.

I asked him how desperate they were.

He said: “I’ve called everyone I know in South Wales and they can’t play and I even asked a bloke in North Wales but it will take him too long to drive down to Cardiff so you are our last hope.”

Manager Furphy assigned positions to the team and last in line was me, distant memories of school games lessons came flooding back.

A poor, right-footed player was given the role of left full back.

By half-time we were 3-0 down but all I was bothered about was that all three goals had come down our right hand side and so I couldn’t be blamed for them.

We went into the changing rooms where Ken Furphy attempted to lift spirits and commented positively to every player.

“Where’s our left-back?” he shouted.

I put my hand up, expecting a rocket for lack of skill or effort or a combination of the two.

“You’re having a good little game son, keep it up,” said Furphy.

I turned to the bloke sitting on the bench next to me.

“He probably said that to Pelé,” I beamed.

Have a great weekend.

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