Upon hearing that my first childhood hero, Pele, had died, I was filled with memories of my youth! I found myself thinking about stories I had told about soccer and my love of the sport, and now that there is something called the Internet, I found myself checking back on some of these memories only to find out they didn’t exactly occur as I had remembered… Oops.
As a kid growing up in Toronto who was, how can I say this politely, not so fit, I somehow had a love of the sport of soccer. I know it was 100% because of Pele, but I don’t remember how or why. I know that I begged my parents to sign me up for soccer, and in hindsight… who signs fat kids up for a sport which requires them to run… a LOT. Nonetheless, my parent put me in recreational soccer and I lasted for 3 long seasons. I played forward, but there was SO much running and I didn’t know how to play soccer, let along forward, so that was a bust. My coach put me in goal, but to ensure I didn’t break my glasses, he made me take them off. So our team had a goalie who was afraid of the ball AND who couldn’t see it. I’m pretty sure after a few (maybe 6) goals, I found my perfect spot… the bench. It was the right choice. I looked forward to the orange segments at halftime and I could watch my team and cheer them on and be safe from running and getting hit in the face. I also remember being kicked in the shin by someone with metal cleats and half the skin on my shin was torn off, and me thinking how barbaric this sport was. The iron is that as an adult I played 25 years of organized ball hockey blocking shots, taking cross checks, getting teeth chipped, stitches, and tons of other things strained, torn and separated.
I remember late one soccer game, my coach subbed me in on defence and somehow the ball wound up on my side. I took the ball up the pitch waiting for someone to challenge me, and before I knew it, I was almost at the goal line and completely lost with what to do next. I heard my coach yell, SHOOOOOOOTTTTTTT”, so that I did, as I was tumbling out of bounds, and somehow my shot across the front of the goal had enough spin on it to find the back of the net. My first goal! My last goal too, as I immediately realized that I had finally contributed to my team and was content this wasn’t my sport.
But soccer… I played street hockey a ton, and I loved pitching, yet I played organized soccer, and I remember going to see the Toronto Blizzard professional soccer team in the North American Soccer League (NASL) play in Exhibition Stadium. I could have swore that I watched Pele play against the Blizzard while he was a member of the New York Cosmos. Turns out, that didn’t actually happen. Pele played for the Cosmos in 1975, 76 and 77. The Blizzard played at Exhibition Stadium from 1979 to 1984. Oops. I was right that the Blizzard lost to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and that was the beginning of my dislike of that franchise (the Rowdies, of course, not the Blizzard). I wished that I had the opportunity to see Pele play in person, and while I believe that I did, I think I’m going to continue to tell myself that I did, because I remember seeing him play somewhere, even if it was while daydreaming, on the soccer pitch, wondering why I thought I could actually play soccer.
My 1 goal put me 1282 behind my hero, Pele.