No one captures the pathos of Brazil’s 1950 World Cup defeat to Uruguay, 2-1, in the final match, better than Pele in his autobiography. The King touchingly recounts his father’s tears and need for seclusion immediately following Brazil's shock defeat. Pele goes on to describe his superstitious guilt that had he and his father been at the Maracana stadium, things would have been different, and Brazil would have scored the goals they needed to equalize and ultimately emerge victorious. Here, Pele magically puts his finger on the thought of a child…that it was my fault, that if I had been there, at the moment that mattered most, when I wasn’t able to be there, the whole game would have been different.
Nine years old at the time, Pele followed the game by radio with a group of 15 of his father’s friends who had gathered at his house in anticipation of a Brazil victory:
“Brazil scored first, through Friaca, and everyone went crazy. The house filled with shouting and everyone was jumping up and down. Firecrackers exploded all over Bauru. Shortly afterwards Uruguay equalized, but we remained confident. Then, with about ten minutes to go, Uruguay scored again. I can remember going into the house as the game ended and seeing my father and all his friends absolutely silent. I went to him and asked him what happened. “Brazil lost,” he replied, like a zombie. “Brazil lost.”
The young Pele tries to console his father but his mother advised him to leave him “in peace.” Meanwhile, the large button radios through which the family listened to the game have been turned off and replaced instead by a deathly silence:
“Just thinking about that afternoon, and remembering the sadness that was everywhere, even today gives me goose-flesh. I told Dondinho (my father) not to be sad. But my mum took me away and said "Leave your father alone. Leave him in peace." There was silence everywhere. The noise of cheers, and firecrackers and radios turned up to full volume had disappeared into a void of silence. World Cups are so important for Brazil and no one thought we would lose. And especially not in such humiliating circumstances to Uruguay, who together with Argentina are our arch-rivals. People couldn't bear the disappointment. Bauru felt like a ghost town.
It was also the first time I saw my father cry. Many of my father's friends couldn't stop themselves either. It was shocking to me, since I had been brought up thinking that men didn't show their emotions like that. One day, "I'll win you the World Cup," I promised my dad, to try to make him feel better. A few days later, when he had recovered, he told me that some people at the Maracana had actually died from shock.
Later on that day of the final I went to my father's room, where there was a picture of Jesus on the wall, and I started wailing. "Why has this happened? Why has it happened to us? We had the better team—how come we lost? Why, Jesus, why are we being punished? I continued crying, overcome, as I continued my conversation with the picture of Christ. “You know, if I were there I would not have let Brazil lose the Cup. If I’d been there Brazil would have won, or if my Dad had been playing, Brazil would have got that goal we needed...
There was no answer. I was a boy who loved football and the defeat affected me deeply.” (47-48)
It took days for Dondinho, Pele’s father, to recover. Meanwhile, Pele promised his father that he would win the World Cup to compensate for his sadness and suffering at Brazil's shock loss to Uruguay. Little did the young Pele know then that he win not only one World Cup for Brazil and his father, but three.
Source: Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele), Duarte, Orlando and Bellos, Alex. Pele: The Autobiography. Trans. Daniel Hahn. London: Simon & Schuster, 2006.