Game, Interrupted!

The refree was nervously prancing, whistle in the mouth and waiting. The crowd’s anxious murmur was swelling. The TV commentator was finding new words to keep his narration going. Everyone was kept waiting. The big kick-off was not starting.

It was the Quarter final of 1970 Football World Cup. Brazil was facing off with Peru. The Brazilian team was on their hattrick quest after their championship wins in 1958 and 1962. They were on a roll. And beyond everything else, the world’s greatest footballer was on their side.

Just that, at the moment of kick-off, he sat down to tie his shoelaces!

He was the winner of two World Cups by then. Brazil’s national treasure – Pele was the legend who stopped a civil war by just showing up. Surely, he isn’t the one to forget tying his shoe laces?

All through the 60’s, Puma & Adidas fiercely battled to sign the best athletes to wear their sneakers. Both brands insanely discredited each other and were known to stop at nothing to get their deals. To avoid a dirty mess in the fight to sign on Pele, they agreed on the ‘Pele-Pact’: an informal, mutual understanding that both the brands would NOT approach the star.

But, Puma by then had already sent their representative, Hans Hennigsen to sign in the rest of the Brazilian team. With strict instructions to avoid Pele. Hans knew all members of the Braizilian team and got them all signed on to Puma but kept his distance from Pele and did not approach him. This makes Pele very upset and angry. Hans, under severe pressure, then takes a bold decision to work out a deal for Pele without Puma’s approval.

Now, Puma had to honour the deal worth $120,000 (now roughly $750,000). But they did not dare to announce and alert Adidas. So they hacked a creative way to let the world know that the superstar has donned their sneakers.

As Pele took his time to tie his shoelaces, cameras zoomed on him and his sneakers as the whole world waited & watched,

Puma fans erupted in joy. Adidas saw red. Pele went on to win the 1970 World Cup.

Here is the slightly grainy footage of that moment:

Story Notes

Prior to this incident, just before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Adidas ‘paid star U.S. sprinter Bob Hayes to defect from Puma — and to keep the switch secret until he was in the starting blocks so that Puma couldn’t raise the ante. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Adidas greased levers to have Puma’s gear impounded by customs officials.”

This from this article in the Wall Street Journal So Adidas might have lost Pele at that time, but they had their moments.

Anything for sales. Anything for getting the brand to be endorsed by a big name. It was a stunning story maybe at the 1970 World Cup. No one is surprised any more at the IPL.

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