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World Cup Stories: Brazil v England 1970

World Cup Stories: Brazil v England 1970

In a match considered to be worthy of the final, Brazil and England met in the group stage of Mexico 1970. Osiris Nerone recalls the memorable encounter in Guadalajara from a Brazilian perspective, and explains the enduring significance of that afternoon.

June 2018


Throughout my childhood I lived near a football stadium. Life in the neighbourhood revolved around that stadium – the anticipation of matchday, people coming to the stadium every Sunday, the players training, organised fan groups – it all evolved quite naturally into a passion for me.

The 1970 World Cup in Mexico is forever etched in my memory. There was a lot of excitement around it in Brazil, as it was the first World Cup to be shown live on television. Many families bought their first TV set in order to watch that tournament.

During the group stages, on the second matchday of group 3, one game was eagerly anticipated by all – the encounter between the defending champions, the England team of Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton et al., and the Brazil side of Pelé and other stars, which had won the two editions prior to England’s victory in 1966 (1958 in Sweden and 1962 in Chile).

It was a noon kick-off on 7 June 1970, a sweltering day in Guadalajara. The match was well balanced, with plenty of chances for both teams, and it went down in history thanks to what has long been considered the greatest World Cup save, by England goalkeeper Gordon Banks. Jairzinho crossed the ball to Pelé, who leapt and headed down to Banks’s right. I was eight years old at the time and remember clearly how everyone stood up to celebrate the goal that would have been – if not for Banks’s miraculous save.

“From the moment I headed it, I was sure it had gone in. After I headed the ball, I had already begun to jump to celebrate the goal. Then I looked back and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t gone in. I have scored more than a thousand goals in my life and the thing people always talk to me about is the one I didn’t score.”
— Pelé

In the second half, Banks could do nothing to keep out Jairzinho’s winning strike, as Brazil beat England 1-0, going on to become three-time world champions in that same tournament.Many years later, Pelé scored his 1,000th goal and dedicated it to the children of Brazil, expressing his desire to work on their behalf. This brought about a partnership between Pelé and Complexo Pequeno Príncipe, an NGO that maintains a children’s hospital in Curitiba, state capital of Paraná in the South of Brazil.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, O Rei Pelé, lends his name and prestige to the research institute attached to the hospital in what now comprises the largest children’s health care complex in Brazil.

Pelé’s first initiative as a patron was a charity programme called “Goals for Life” (Gols pela Vida), with the objective of raising funds for research into complex children’s diseases. As part of Goals for Life, Pelé headed a campaign called Projeto Medalhas in which the Brazilian National Mint produced 1,283 medals – one for each goal scored by Pelé throughout his celebrated football career – in gold, silver and bronze, available for purchase. All funds are directed to the Pelé Pequeno Príncipe research institute.

This is where the paths of Pelé and Gordon Banks would cross again: the England legend took part in the Goals for Life campaign, commenting: “If I had known how important that goal would be today I wouldn’t have saved it… and it’s still in the back of my mind today, I still don’t know how or why that happened – sorry, Pelé.”

Ultimately, the attitudes of figures such as Pelé and Banks make the global sport of football what it is, uniting people around the world and inspiring dedication and generosity.

Obrigado Pelé, obrigado Gordon Banks!

“Up went Pelé with a swift, searching downward header. It looked all the world a goal, but somehow Banks, with a remarkable leap and sleight of hand, tipped the ball round the post to make one of the world-class saves of his life.”
— Geoffrey Green, The Times, 8 June 1970

— This article was originally written in Portuguese and translated by EiF

Words: Osiris Nerone ǀ Imagery: Offside / Complexo Pequeno Príncipe

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