On This Day in Football: Mighty Plymouth stun Pele’s Santos

On this day in 1973, Third Division side Plymouth Argyle beat Santos 3-2 in a friendly at Home Park.

Back then, Santos with players like Pele, Carlos Alberto and Edu in their ranks, embarked upon world tours to play friendlies with clubs as a means to make more money. The Brazilians were world champions, having won the World Cup in 1970 and Pele was the best player in the world. Fans would go to any lengths to get their hands on a ticket to witness this once in a lifetime spectacle.

Santos, fresh from their defeat against Fulham at Craven Cottage a few days earlier, were scheduled to play the mighty Plymouth who played in the third tier of English football. However, the friendly was almost called off after some disagreements between the two clubs over payments. Plymouth had agreed to pay Santos £2,500 but with Home Park filled to its brim with 40,000 people, Santos felt that they were missing out on a lot more.

“I was with our directors 15 minutes before kick-off when we were called down and they said, ‘We are not going to play unless you give us another £2,500,’” Graham Little, the Plymouth club secretary at the time, told the Daily Mail. “Well, we had no choice — there would have been a riot if we cancelled … [After the game] I had the money, £50 notes in cellophane packets and the chairman started telling the man from Santos: ‘This is crooked, we will report you. You will never play in this country again.’ He shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘Plenty more countries.’”

Plymouth’s Mike Dowling opened the scoring after just three minutes. Derek Rickard and Jimmy Hinch added a couple more to make it 3-0 to the Pilgrims at half-time. The second half saw Pele pull one back for Santos from the spot before Edu added another to make it 3-2. Plymouth somehow managed to keep this great Brazilian side at bay until the referee blew the final whistle.

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