Tributes from across the world continue to pour in for one of the greatest footballers to ever play the game. Brazil’s Pele died on Thursday aged 82.
The world’s only three-time World Cup winner was an icon that inspired many young footballers, including one from Uganda, who met Pele on his visit to East Africa more than forty years ago.
Pele is a global superstar who travelled widely during and after his football career. One of his stops was in Uganda in 1976. Fred Kiyingi Musisi was a budding footballer then.
“It was a dream meeting Pele in person because I had seen him on TV. I remember in 1970, I was listening with my dad on BBC commentary between Italy and Brazil. But here I was with the man himself at Nakivubo stadium. The maker of football at that time,” says Musisi.
Pele was in Uganda at the request of the country’s Football Association president. Kiyingi took part in a football clinic conducted by Pele.
Kiyingi’s older brother played in front of the Brazilian football legend in a friendly match between two local Uganda football clubs. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Those encounters have forever remained one of their family’s greatest memories.
“It has been the talk..even now…today. We said we were lucky to have met such a person while we were still young..young footballers. Football is our passion,” says a former footballer, Fredrick Kiyingi Musisi.
Pele gave the young players words of encouragement, telling them to play their way and enjoy the game more. Many of them would later go on to play for Uganda.
Two years after Pele’s visit to Uganda, the national team went on to play at the African Cup of Nations finals. There’s been a significant success since.
The man now in charge of Uganda’s soccer team has his own tale of meeting the football legend. Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic was a club coach in South Africa when Pele visited.
“When you meet such big people, those are generators of unbelievable energy. You have a sense that you are coming to some saint,” says Sredojevic.
World football has produced some great players. Micho and Kiyingi agree that there is none better than the legendary Pele.
“Whatever Mandela is for Africa, from one aspect of freedom that is what Pele means for football on the global stage,” Sredojevic added.
“Whether you are a Brazilian, Argentine, European or Ugandan…Pele will remain number one,” Fredrick Kiyingi Musisi explains.
The whole world will remember Pele. But those that had a chance to meet him in person will feel his legacy more than most.