How Pele's Australian visit created mayhem: 'Near disaster'

The pandemonium that erupted when Pele visited Australia in 1972 was both a mark of his fame and his humility.

Football icon Pele holds up the World Cup trophy while on tour in Australia in 2015.
Pele last visited Australia on a press tour in 2015. The football legend has passed away in Brazil, aged 82. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Australia has played host to some of world sport's biggest names, from Tiger Woods to Roger Federer to Maradona to a just retired Muhammad Ali. But arguably one sportsman stood above them all when it came to sheer adulation and an ability to create public pandemonium - Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

Pele, whose death at 82 has the football fraternity in deep mourning, made several visits to Australia during a time when soccer was fighting for recognition and respect. Not that you would have known it judging by the crowds who followed Pele's every move.

'CLASSLESS': Argentina hero under fire over ugly act at victory parade

'WORST EVER': Cristiano Ronaldo's sister in brutal Lionel Messi snub

The Brazilian's appearance for club side Santos against Australia at the old Sydney Sports Ground in 1972 featured scenes more in keeping with a visit from The Beatles. More than 30,000 crammed into the ground and it seemed like at least half of them jumped the fence to mob Pele as he tried to escape down the tunnel at fulltime, fans ripping at his shirt or just wanting to touch him.

Pele returned to Australia in 1988 to help promote the Bicentennial Gold Cup, but his celebrity had not dimmed one iota despite more than a decade in retirement. Socceroos legend John Warren worked alongside Pele during the promotional tour and would become a close friend.

Writing in his biography Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters, Warren said of Pele: "It didn't take long for me to realise that he was, in fact, a public relation person's nightmare.

"The problem isn't that Pele is too demanding or melodramatic; it is rather that everyone desires his autograph and wants to share a few words with him. He is constantly besieged by fans. Crowds went berserk when he came to Australia and there was a near disaster in the Rundle Mall in Adelaide when he was practically mobbed.

"I don't know what those people who say Australia's not interested in football thought when they saw people stampeding to get his autograph. When Pele gives an autograph he does not just sign his name. He will write a heartfelt message personal to each different fan. He's just that type of person and wants to give time to everyone."

Warren, who died in 2004, had no doubts where Pele sat in the pantheon of all-time sporting greats. He wrote: "I believe Pele was the greatest sportsman of the twentieth century because he is generally acknowledged as the greatest player in the world's one truly global sport."

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.