LISBON Lion Tommy Gemmell recalled the day he missed the opportunity to play against world superstar Pele – because the Celtic star had already arranged a summer holiday!
The Brazilian great, the only player in history to win three World Cups, passed away yesterday at the age of 82 in a Sao Paulo hospital following a brave battle against cancer.
The Hoops’ legendary goalscoring full-back could have shared a pitch with Pele in Glasgow in 1966, but opted not to scrap his plans for a break with his pals.
Gemmell, who died in March 2017 aged 73, told his long-time friend and Celtic book author Alex Gordon the astonishing tale in his autobiography, ‘All The Best’, which was published by CQN in 2014.
In the preface to the book, the Hoops great, who scored in two European Cup Finals, recalled: “Bestie to Beckenbauer. Di Stefano to Dalglish. Cruyff to Caesar. Eusebio to O’Neill. Law to Larsson. Mazzola to Moravcik. Big Jock Stein to Old Big ‘Ead Cloughie.
“Wee Jinky to the towering Facchetti. The magnificent Moore to the strolling Baxter. The gifted Masopust to the wonderful Rivera. The impeccable Banks to the timeless Simpson. The outstanding Charlton to the industrious Jansen.
“The mighty Muller to the excellent Van Himst. The deadly Seeler to the masterful Coluna. The legendary Yashin to the colourful Maier.
“I’ve played against them, I’ve played with them and I’ve watched them from the stand. Believe it or not, I have also faced Stanley Matthews on a football field.
“Okay, he was about sixty years old at the time and performing in a Charity Game in Grangemouth, but I was still impressed by the English legend.
GETTING SHIRTY…Pele holds the famous green-and-white hooped Celtic jersey.
“One big name that got away, I’m sad to say, was Pele and I only have myself to blame for that one.
“The great Brazilian was at Hampden in June 1966 as the-then world champions prepared for the defence of their trophy in England later that year. I was named in the Scotland international squad, but there was one snag – I had already booked my holidays in the Spanish resort of Lloret de Mar.
“The prospect of performing against the world’s greatest player was appealing, but so, too, was the opportunity of putting my feet up on a sun-kissed beach and doing nothing more strenuous than lifting an exotic cocktail or two to my lips for a fortnight.
“I went on holiday. I was twenty-two years old at the time. Oh, the folly of youth.”
Gemmell, who had made his international debut in a 4-3 loss to England two months earlier, also remembered watching a replay of the game which ended 1-1 with fellow Lisbon marksman Stevie Chalmers firing the Scots into the lead in the first minute after racing onto a pass from Jim Baxter and thumping an unstoppable drive into the roof of the Brazilian net.
TWO v ONE…John Clark and Billy Bremner keep an eye on Pele in Scotland’s 1-1 draw with Brazil in June 1966.
That impressed Big TG, but he was even more taken by a performance from another of the Hoops’ European Cup-winning heroes – John Clark.
He added: “John, known to the players as Luggy, was switched to a withdrawn slot in the Celtic team when Jock Stein arrived in March 1965.
“We had been playing a rigid 2-3-5 formation prior to Jock taking over. He introduced a more fluid 4-2-4 system. Luggy was one of the guys who was told his position would be changing. And for the better, I’m happy to add.
“He was a workmanlike wing-half – and I’m sure he won’t mind me making that observation – but he was outstanding as a sweeper.
“He made his Scotland debut in the summer of 1966 when he was up against Brazil legend Pele.
“Stevie Chalmers scored in the first minute in a 1-1 draw with the-then world champions at Hampden, but the main thing was that the great Pele hardly got a kick of the ball.
“Luggy saw to that.”
HAMPDEN CONFRONTATION…Pele has something to say to John Clark.
Pele, who is Brazil’s joint all-time top scorer with 77 goals in 92 matches, became an iconic figure after winning the World Cup in 1958 as a 17-year-old, netting twice in the final to defeat hosts Sweden 5-2.
A message from Pele’s official Twitter account read: “Inspiration and love marked the journey of King Pelé, who peacefully passed away today. Love, love and love, forever.”
Pele’s daughter, Kely Nascimento, who has provided updates on her father’s health from hospital, wrote on Instagram: “Everything we are is thanks to you. We love you infinitely. Rest in peace.”
Three days of mourning for Pele have been declared by the Brazilian government.
Pele, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, to a poor family in Sao Paulo, won the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups with Brazil.
SHAKE ON IT…Stevie Chalmers is about to swap shirts with Pele at the end of the 1-1 draw at Hampden.
In total, he scored 12 goals in 14 World Cup appearances and also provided 10 assists – the most by any player in the history of the competition and a reminder that he was much more than a goalscorer.
The player known universally as ‘The Black Pearl’ holds his club side Santos’ goalscoring record during a spectacular 18-year career.
Pele claimed 1,281 goals in 1,363 games for club and country and ended his playing days at New York Cosmos before retiring from playing in 1977.
* EXCLUSIVE: Don’t miss more astonishing revelations from Tommy Gemmell’s autobiography, ‘All The Best’, early in 2023 – only in your champion CQN.