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The Day Pele Played at Dalymount Park

The Day Pele Played at Dalymount Park – The Day Pele Played at Dalymount Park – Shane Adlum retells the day one of footballs greats came to Dublin

On December 29th 2022 the footballing world mourned the loss of a legend. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, passed away after a long battle with cancer. He is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.
Pele made 700 club appearances for Santos and New York Cosmos scoring an incredible 655 goals. He won 92 caps for Brazil, scored 77 international goals and won the World Cup three times. But for some Irish people he will be best remembered for his only appearance on an Irish pitch as his Santos side battled their way to a narrow victory over a Bohemians/ Drumcondra XI at Dalymount Park.

Santos had been travelling around Europe playing friendly matches to raise funds. Pele was obviously the big draw and with the legendary figure coming towards the twilight of his career they wanted to make sure they could milk their prime asset for every penny they could. With a small gap in their hectic schedule, there was an opportunity to bring Santos to Dublin. But it wouldn’t come cheap.

An initial fee of £5,000 was quickly raised to £7,200 plus expenses which included a costly stay at the Gresham Hotel. This was not enough to deter Bohs or Drumcondra who knew a nice profit could still be made. Tickets cost £2 each and a crowd of around 30,000 made it into Dalymount, although if you ask anyone who was there, they will tell you that it felt like twice that many people were crammed into the stadium that night.

The FAI made a last-minute attempt to hijack the game which would have seen the Brazilian side play against a League of Ireland XI but ultimately their bid wasn’t high enough. And so, the match was set. Dalymount Park, February 26th 1972, Bohemians/ Drumcondra XI vs Santos. Pele was guaranteed to play the full 90minutes but fans may have been disappointed by the absence of another Brazilian legend Carlos Alberto who missed the game with an injury.

I think it’s fair to say that the match didn’t live up to the expectation with one journalist labelling the game as “The Phibsboro Flop”. Despite the five goals, the game certainly won’t be remembered for the excitement or quality of the football.

The South American side had been expecting an easy game and things seemed to be going to plan when Edu gave them an early lead. That was until Northern Ireland international Tommy Hamill grabbed the equaliser. Hamill was then fouled in the box and Republic of Ireland international Johnny Fullam dispatched the penalty to give the Irish side a surprise lead at half time. It took two late goals from second half substitute Alcindo to give Santos a narrow victory to spare their blushes. Before the final whistle had even blown, Pele headed straight for the tunnel. Some people said that that was the quickest he had moved all game but you could hardly blame him for wanting to avoid the inevitable pitch invasion.

Fans looking for autographs were left disappointed as they waited outside the stadium at the official entrance while the Brazilian superstar was shepherded out through the Connaught Street side. One autograph hunter who was not left disappointed was Taoiseach Jack Lynch who headed into the dressing rooms after the game to get his match programme signed and he took great pleasure in telling Pele “I watched you on television in the World Cup in Sweden when I was in Paris on diplomatic business in 1958.”

While it wasn’t the greatest game, Pele did have some nice things to say about the match, “I enjoyed it. It was a good game. I hope the crowd were pleased”.

Captain for the Irish side that day was Johnny Fullam and he was the man tasked with marking the legendary number 10. “I really thought that this was one of his off days,” Fullam said, adding “All of the signs of the great master were there alright. But things just did not go right for him.” It’s hardly surprising that Pele wasn’t at his best considering the hectic schedule undertaken by Santos. That was their third game that week and with Pele contractually obliged to play 90 minutes in every match, it seems reasonable that he might have a few off days.

Its almost 51 years since the game and Bohemians have recently unveiled a mural of Pele to commemorate the day a true footballing icon graced their pitch. It was designed by Niall OL and painted by Kone and can be viewed via Dalymount lane.
It won’t be remembered as the greatest game of all time, but it will always be remembered. For those lucky enough to get a ticket, they can always say “I was there the day Pele played at Dalymount Park.”

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