When the superstars of Scotland held their own against Pele

“Chan eil e gu diofar cait an teid thu bi Leodhasach ann.” Wherever you go in the world you are likely to meet a man from Lewis, a phrase probably dating back to the high point of islanders in the Merchant Navy.
Pele gesticulates to Ronnie MacKinnon about about the treatment being handed out to him during a Scotland v Brazil friendly in 1966.Pele gesticulates to Ronnie MacKinnon about about the treatment being handed out to him during a Scotland v Brazil friendly in 1966.
Pele gesticulates to Ronnie MacKinnon about about the treatment being handed out to him during a Scotland v Brazil friendly in 1966.

It has not been reported whether this thought sprang to the mind of the first global super star of football when he squared up to Point resident Ronnie MacKinnon on the 25th of June 1966 at Hampden Park.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento was being closely marked, far too close for his liking, by a wee red-haired midfielder who grew up on the mean streets of the Raploch area of Stirling when he appealed to the centre half about the treatment he was receiving.

The quiet man in the centre of a strong Scottish defence merely smiled as Pele, gesticulating wildly, complained about the tackles of Billy Bremner. The small wiry Scot was already the captain of a very physical Leeds United side about to enter the most successful period in the club’s history. Facing up to the best in the world did not concern him. He did what came naturally to him and got stuck in.

The photo has become one of the iconic images of Scottish football from a time when the top clubs were often competing in the final rounds of European competitions and several Scots were regulars in the World X1.

Already a double winner of the World Cup, in 1958 and 1962, Pele and his superstar team-mates were warming up for the 1966 World Cup in England when they set up camp in the Marine Hotel in Troon.

Astonishingly, nearly 75,000 people turned up at Hampden for a friendly against Pele and the other Brazilian royalty, a match which ended 1-1.

It is hard to believe that a team packed with Scottish superstars had failed to qualify for the 1966 World Cup, but the national team were often underachievers. Friendly matches were their lot.

Since the death of Pele, MacKinnon has again found himself being asked questions by journalists about the Brazilian superstar.

He told the Gazette: “It was a rare privilege to share a pitch with the great Pele. But we were of a generation that showed no fear. Indeed, it was one of our own, the incredible Jim Baxter, who was the stand-out player on the park.”

The game was only minutes old when Baxter guided a trademark, defence-splitting pass to Stevie Chalmers, who would go down in history the following year as the man who secured victory for Celtic in the European Cup final. 1-0 Scotland.

On the day of the match, the Scotland manager, John Prentice, pulled a master stroke of man management, giving Baxter the No 10 shirt, the same number as Pele, instead of his usual No 6. Recognition of his own man’s genius.

MacKinnon remembers the night before the game: “I said to Jim, we’re up against Pele, the best player in the world tomorrow. He looked up from the horse racing pages of the newspaper and said: ‘Who’s Pele?’ It was typical of Jim, and sure enough he went out the following day and created the headlines.”

But MacKinnon also noticed the star quality of the opposing No 10. He was fast, he was skilful, he was elegant, but he was also tough.

MacKinnon recalled: “What many forget is that Pele was a supreme athlete and knew how to look after himself. Billy Bremner gave him a lot of attention during our match, but the wee man from Raploch left the field with a black eye.”

This week, life in Brazil ground to a halt as their most famous citizen was laid to rest. And in Point, an elegant centre half paid his own respects: “The best player I ever played against. Simply the best.”

It is only fitting that the last word about the 1966 game is left to Pele.

When asked about the other No 10 that day, his answer was short: “Baxter? I wish he was a Brazilian.”

And Ronnie MacKinnon played on the same pitch as both them.