1976: When Pele Blacklisted Kenya After Fight With Matiba

The football globe, is still coming to terms with the death of one of the greatest footballers of all time, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele.

Pele died on December 29 after a lengthy battle with cancer, triggering a time of national mourning in Brazil. 

It is nearly unheard of for a football great of Pele’s caliber to visit a country and not be able to perform what he came to do. 

Kenya was one of the nations visited by the renowned Pele. Pele engaged pupils at the Starehe Boys Centre in 1976 as part of a Pepsi-sponsored project.

“It was in 1973 that I signed a contract with the Pepsi Cola Company, to work on a worldwide project of football workshops for children called the International Youth Football Programme, on which I would collaborate with Julio Mazzei.”

Pele stated that he planned to participate for a year only, but it turned out to be one of the finest things he had ever done.

“After the first year, I renewed for another five. The initiative was a success. It is free to coaches, schools, and athletes.” 

However, the Starehe Boys visit was really an attempt to salvage face after his disastrous Kenya tour. 

Kenneth Matiba, the then-president of the now-defunct Kenya Football Federation (KFF), refused to allow Pele to play an exhibition match in Nairobi. 

The organizers attempted to seek asylum in Mombasa, but were turned down when branch director Mubarak Said refused to accept their request.

Matiba was at loggerheads with the organisers, claiming he was not consulted about the tour. “Those planning to put Pele in shame should know that nothing happens in the world of football when rules are not adhered to,” he said as quoted by Team Kenya.

The organisers tried to seek refuge in Mombasa, but faced a similar setback when the branch head Mubarak Said refused to grant their request. Pele would then end his Kenya tour prematurely.

Years later in his autobiography Pele: The Autobiography, the three-time World Cup winner gave Kenya a wide berth but mentioned his visits to Uganda and Nigeria.