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When Pele's Brazil prepared for the World Cup... at Bolton Wanderers

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WORLD Cup fever accounted for more than a few absences in schools around Bolton in July 1966, as the great Pele and his Brazil team-mates prepared for the defence of their title with the help of Bolton Wanderers.
Champions in 1958 and 1962, the mighty Brazilians were looking to lift the trophy for a third time, kicking-off their campaign with a match against Bulgaria at Everton’s Goodison Park.
The team’s arrival was eagerly-anticipated, with dozens of young football fans ducking out of their afternoon lessons to get a glimpse of household names like Djalma Santos, Tostao, Gerson, Jairzinho and Bellini, or possibly the injured Garrincha.

But before the Samba men got down to business, a mix-up between organisers and Brazil’s team officials made front page news.
Air travel has improved considerably since 1966 and nerves were frayed after a long wait as players were processed through customs at the airport.
Brazil stayed at a hotel in Lymm, Cheshire, before taking a coach into Bolton. But when they pulled up at Burnden Park expecting to start training, Wanderers officials told them to keep on going.
Bolton wanted Brazil to train at Bromwich Street and had not prepared the stadium’s pitch for their arrival. Brazil’s players briefly kicked up a fuss as they thought they were being escorted back on the team bus for another hour-long journey.
A hurried meeting was called at Bromwich Street’s pavilion, at which the visitors agreed at the switch of venue on the condition they could also make use of Burnden’s medical room and that their hosts serve Coca Cola, rather than tea.

“The goalposts are not up yet at Burnden Park,” explained Wanderers chairman Ted Gerrard. “And if the Brazilians had wanted to train there we would have had to mark out the pitch and mow it. And we would have had to get the baths operating.
“Here at Bromwich Street we have excellent training facilities – there are none better in the country. The Brazilians have realised this now and agree that they quite like it.”

Among the spectators were Nat Lofthouse and Roy Hartle, who both commented on the physical condition of the Brazil players and their surprise at padding on the outside of goalkeeper Manga’s shorts.
After watching their rhythmic formation exercised Hartle remarked: “We do the same sort of thing they do in training but they do it to a very attractive beat. It must take some of the drudgery out of training – we will have to get a musical coach!”
Brazil trained on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday at Bromwich Street – giving plenty of chance for the locals to drop by and watch them work.
Wanderers also got in on the act, with a handful of the players agreeing to participate in friendly practice matches to keep the visitors sharp.
John Barlass, who was then a pupil at Church Road Primary School, recalled racing to the fields with his friends as a 10-year-old.

“After the training session, all us youngsters gathered outside the changing room to watch the players emerge,” he recalled. “As Pele came out, he was mobbed by young Boltonians, patting him on the head, back, chest, arms and, in my case, shoulders. He had no ‘minders’ and reacted well to the attention, forcing his way to the team bus with a broad smile on his face. That encounter shaped the view of Pele that I have held to this day - that he is the ultimate gentleman and role model.
“My clearest memory of the players is watching them board their coach to return to their hotel - it was an awesome experience to see all those legends at such close quarters. I was awestruck when Djalma Santos trotted right past me!

“All us youngsters crowded round the coach to pass our autograph books through the windows. At my young age, I wasn’t tall enough to reach the window and I have been eternally grateful to the bigger boy who passed my book through. My heart was in my mouth when I saw the midfielder, Lima, signing my book.”
Brazil's experience in England was a largely miserable one - and maybe a cautionary tale for Gareth Southgate's England as they head to Russia.
They beat Bulgaria but lost Pele to injury. And with accusations of poor preparation and an unbalanced squad, the champions exited at the group stage after defeats against Hungary and Portugal.
Their loss was England's gain. Farnworth's Alan Ball would go on to get his hands on the Jules Rimet Trophy that year.
Four years later it was a different tale altogether as Pele and Brazil returned in fine style to win the tournament in Mexico.


Tony Kelly
Tony Kelly
Is Big Ruth still knocking about? Two sisters who used to sit next to me at Burnden Park told a story of how she was bullying smaller kids in the queue for Brazilian autographs at Bromwich St

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