Yes there really IS a Pele Museum in Lugansk.
Lugansk is in Ukraine. Twenty miles from the Russian border, it is the easternmost major city in the country and has about 500,000 inhabitants.
There is a Pele museum in Santos, where Pele played for the local team, which is about 7,000 miles away from Lugansk. I hope to visit the Santos museum later this year.
I came across this one by accident on my travels and at first did not believe it existed.
Its website announces on its ‘About us’ page: ‘Welcome to the first private Museum in horror of Pele in the world.’ (Horror, since changed since I pointed it out).
But this is no Madame Tussauds! This is the first of three pieces on the museum’s treasures. More Pele next week.
And then something on Soviet soccer a week later
‘Pele’s my pal’
The museum is a couple of miles out of the city centre, just off Sovetskaya. I presume the Pele statue outside the museum in Sorokina Street is wrapped in plastic to keep out the elements.
The owner is Nikolai Khudobin.
He said: “Pele is my friend. I have been three times to Brazil and met him each time.”
Unfortunately that was about my limit of quotes I could reliably obtain due to my limited Russian.
Nikolai deals in antiques and appears to be from the area. He is in his late 50s or early 60s and says he once played for the local side Zorya Lugansk, who are in the Ukrainian Premier League.
He played only three times though. Pointing at his knee, I assumed an injury curtailed his career.
But not his love of football and, given his age, he clearly grew up adoring Pele, even in the old Soviet system. He first heard of the great man’s exploits on the radio in 1965.
The museum opened in 2012. This visit was in November last year. Entry was 30 drivna, about £2.40, and if the guestbook is an accurate guide of the number of visitors, there were only two that month.
Nikolai opens the museum for visitors if they come to his antiques dealership next door. Though there were only two signatures in the visitors’ book for November, I am told the museum hosts regular visits from school parties.
This piece concentrates on Pele’s four World Cups and features some memorabilia from the museum.
1958 World Cup – Sweden
As everyone knows, this is the World Cup Wales should have won, even if we only got through by being selected via a lottery to face Israel in a play-off, which we won 4-0 on aggregate.
From the Welsh perspective Mario Risoli’s book ‘When Pele Broke our Hearts’ is an excellent addition to the nation’s tales of catastrophe. A simple story, sensibly told and still only £10 on Amazon.
In his debut match Pele provided Vava’s voom by setting him up for a goal.
He then got the winner against Wales in the quarter-final, making him the tournament’s youngest ever goalscorer at 17 years and 239 days. Bloody bugger.
We would have won if John Charles hadn’t been kicked to bits by Hungary in the first round play-off.
Pele scored a hat-trick against the French in the semi-final and two goals in the 5-2 victory over Sweden.
1962 World Cup – Chile
Pele was injured early on in the tournament, in a match against Czechoslovakia and had to sit out his side’s games from that point on.
However, the Brazilians were still pretty useful without the 21-year-old and Garrincha led the side to victory in the final over Czechoslovakia, the South Americans winning 3-1.
1966 World Cup – England
Bulgaria and Portugal kicked Pele to pieces and he was overshadowed by Eusebio in this tournament – the Portuguese striker scored nine goals to take the Golden Shoe.
Pele scored against Bulgaria in the first game, missed the second due to his injuries and came back to face Portugal who targeted him so viciously that, according to Wikipedia, the Brazilian vowed not to play in the next World Cup.
Brazil failed to make it out of the group stage. In Wales, we all know who won this one, our lovely neighbours – and they’ve never stopped talking about it.
Nikolai has some cracking tat from the tournament in his cabinet. Again, the programme, if original, is worth a fair amount – about £150.
1970 World Cup – Mexico
Pele did play in this one though. The tournament was considered, and still is considered, to be the best ever.
Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks’ save, the Esso petrol station coin collection, the Carlos Alberto goal in the 4-1 win over Italy in the final, David Coleman’s languorous commentary.
It was the first tournament I recall. Little pullout in the Wizard, my favourite read as a seven-year-old.
Pele was named player of the tournament and, according to Wikipedia, that year was investigated by Brazil’s military dictatorship for suspected leftist leanings!
A second piece, with pictures, will appear on this site next week.
The museum’s website is here.