Peleless in Dundee
Peleless in Dundee?
On reflection, it was quite a turvy-topsy experience bumping into Pele in Dundee, that warm July evening, back in 1989. For back then, pre-Caniggia Dundee, and Dens Park in particular, did not enjoy its current reputation as a fashionable haven for exotic, South American footballers - let alone the legendary Pele. In fact, Hale-Bopp appeared more regularly in Scotland's 'Forbidden City' during the 80s, than flamboyant South American footballists. But the FIFA Youth World Cup had hit town that night, so strange things were afoot.
So it was that the excited, autograph book-wielding stewards skilfully shepherded us extras in this Cecil B. DeMille-like crowd scene, until an orderly single file queue of hyperventilating autograph hunters had been formed. The thing about queuing, however, is that it gives the queuer time to think - probably too much time to think. After all, what on earth was I going to say to Pele?!
Therein lay the rub. For whilst I possess lots of theoretical knowledge concerning the banal art of celebrity-speak (knowledge gleaned from decades of closely following chat shows and daytime TV, etc), it dawned on me that I still had no practical experience of celebrity-speak. And since this meeting would only last the length of a few pen scribbles, polite small talk (i.e. general health, the weather, et al), even if I could conjure up some absorbing small talk, was completely out of the question.
Panic-stricken, the usual suspects from Mexico 1970 quickly assembled themselves in my febrile mind for consideration:
"Loved your dummy on the goalkeeper against Uruguay.
Pity your follow-up shot hadn't been a wee bit more accurate?
Also liked the shot from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia.
Aye, pity that one missed, too."
Hmm. Perhaps a dignified and respectful 'silence' would be the best course of action? Just smile and say 'Hello' and 'Thank you'. For not saying much (or anything) can sometimes suggest an alluring mystique. Though with me it's more Harpo than Garbo.
As I edged my way towards the front of the diminishing queue, my unease at still not having thought up anything remotely interesting to say became more and more distressing. I looked on nervously as former queuers idled past the rest of us, teasing us queuers with their 'Best wishes, Pele' totems.
Hmm, 'Best wishes, Pele.' That's a wee bit clichéd, isn't it? Not that I blame the bloke, mind, what with having to complete a long, boring shift on an autograph production line. Still, it would be fun to have a memento a little out of the ordinary.
And then, Eureka! The idea of what I should ideally say to Pele gatecrashed into my mind and, in the process, displaced all the other possibilities that I had previously been considering. Perhaps I could tentatively ask him if it would be okay to sign 'my' [sic] autograph, 'Best wishes, Edson Arantes De Nascimento (Pele)'? Indeed, maybe asking for such an autograph would amusingly interrupt the automaton-like monotony for Edson? Aye, maybe he'd like that fine? But then again, maybe not?
But if I politely asked Edson if he would sign such an autograph, might Pele not clout me round the lugs for being a cheeky monkey? And another fear was that the situation might then deteriorate into something similar to the Rumplestiltskin story. Then again, the fact that I knew his 'real' name, courtesy of having read his autobiography, might be the magical catalyst to strike up a memorable wee blether with him - assuming that the man's many talents also extended to parlezing fluent Dundonianese. But maybe he doesn't like parenthesising the celebrity side of his identity? Which road should I take?
So now this choice appeared to be symbolic of the conflict between the overconscripted army of conformity, and the unruly brigade of conscientious objectors who had refused to conform, and had opted instead to pay the traditionally high price for their non-conformity by rebelling against uniformity. And here was me trapped in the "no-man's land" between these two opposing wings. Surely there was a 3rd way compromised-cum-synthesised solution out of this quandary?
Whatever was I going to do? There wasn't much time to think now, as I was almost at the front of the queue. This was now a time for deciding - not thinking.
Suddenly! I was at the front of the queue. There standing before me was a smiling Pele. Pele, for God's sake! Right here in Dundee, like! Struck semi-dumb, I searched frantically for a suitable word. I mumbled 'H-hello', and smiled back like the total eejit that I sometimes become. "You have something I can sign?", he politely enquired. (Warned you I was now deep in eejit territory.) "Oh - yes - sorry - about - that." I handed over my programme and pen. All this self-doubt had paralysed my powers of rational thought and, in turn, capacity for structured conversation. "Thank you", I stuttered, and rejoined the other non-queuers who were now happily sauntering their way out of the stadium.
So, alas, I squirmed out of asking for the more exotic autograph, and thus deserve to be relentlessly slagged off without pity. My mind was willing, but the spirit was weak. And, yes, I do regret not asking Pele for a more unusual autograph. But then how would you have behaved in my position?
Finally, if there is a moral to this tale, it is that when Pele returns to Dundee, I'll know next time which improper course of etiquette to follow...