Pele, the world king of soccer who died Thursday after a protracted illness and several death rumours, once forced a ceasefire during the Nigeria civil war between 1967 and 1970.
The legend whose full name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento visited Nigeria in January 1969 during the conflict, along with his Brazilian club Santos, to play friendlies with the Super Eagles, then known as the Green Eagles.
Such was the gravitas and commanding presence of the great footballer that the warring sides decided to suspend hostilities for 48 hours so that they could watch the friendly matches, the first played in Lagos and the second in Benin.
According to Sports Brief, Santos had pulled out of the Copa Libertadores – the South American version of the Champions League as they began a world tour.
The Brazilian team arrived 26 January, right in the middle of the war ready to play a match against the Green Eagles in Lagos.
Nigeria played a 2-2 draw with Santos, and as expected Pele scored both goals. The Brazilian club side also traveled to then Bendel State Benin and played another exhibition against the Nigerian team. According to Santos’ official website, the then state Military Governor Samuel Ogbemudia declared a public holiday and opened up the bridge that connected Benin with Biafra.
According to reports then, about 25,000 fans trooped into the stadium to watch the historic match where Pele led his team to a 2-1 win over Nigeria. Just after the team left Nigeria, hostilities resumed again.
On April 26, 1978, Pele returned to Nigeria to honour a friendly with another Brazilian team Fluminese where he only played for 45 minutes against Racca Rovers at the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna.
He was decorated with the traditional attire of Babban riga and Zannah cap by the then Governor of Plateau state, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman.
Among Pele’s numerous honours was the knighthood he got from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
When he visited Washington to help popularise the game in North America, it was the U.S. president who stuck out his hand first.
Widely regarded as one of soccer’s greatest players, Pelé spent nearly two decades enchanting fans and dazzling opponents as the game’s most prolific scorer with Brazilian club Santos and the Brazil national team.
His grace, athleticism and mesmerizing moves transfixed players and fans. He orchestrated a fast, fluid style that revolutionized the sport — a samba-like flair that personified his country’s elegance on the field.
He carried Brazil to soccer’s heights and became a global ambassador for his sport in a journey that began on the streets of Sao Paulo state, where he would kick a sock stuffed with newspapers or rags. In the conversation about soccer’s greatest players, only the late Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are mentioned alongside Pelé.
Different sources, counting different sets of games, list Pelé’s goal totals anywhere between 650 (league matches) and 1,281 (all senior matches, some against low-level competition.)
The player who would be dubbed “The King” was introduced to the world at 17 at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the youngest player ever at the tournament. He was carried off the field on teammates’ shoulders after scoring two goals in Brazil’s 5-2 victory over the host country in the final.
Injury limited him to just two games when Brazil retained the world title in 1962, but Pelé was the emblem of his country’s World Cup triumph of 1970 in Mexico. He scored in the final and set up Carlos Alberto with a nonchalant pass for the last goal in a 4-1 victory over Italy.
The image of Pelé in a bright, yellow Brazil jersey, with the No. 10 stamped on the back, remains alive with soccer fans everywhere.
As does his trademark goal celebration — a leap with a right fist thrust high above his head.
With reports by AP.