PETALING JAYA: He was only 10 when Siddhartha Somu saw Pele in action on TV as the football legend produced a magical performance to take Brazil to the World Cup title in 1970.
He fell in love, and that love has been an enduring one.
“Watching Pele became the highlight of my happy childhood. It helped me become the positive and cheerful person I am today,” said Siddhartha, 62.
He is now a superfan known to his friends as SidBrazil, and Siddhartha has attended almost every international game Brazil played over the past few decades.
When Pele died at the age of 82 on Dec 29 after a battle with colon cancer, Siddhartha was distraught.
“I cried when I heard the news of Pele’s passing, even though I had already mentally prepared myself for the worst after I heard of his illness much earlier,” he said.
On Jan 10, Siddhartha and his childhood friend, Palanisamy Chiniah, placed an obituary in The Star with the heading “O Rei” (The King), describing Pele as the “immortal king of football”.
Among others, the obituary spelt out Pele’s achievements, such as his 1,283 goals and all his titles.
“Although the poetry in motion that used to fill us with joy is gone forever, your memories will be etched in our minds eternally,” the obituary stated, which was signed off by “Siddhartha Brazil” and “Palanisamy Brazil”.
Despite never getting to meet his hero personally, Siddhartha has some cherished memories.
“The closest I ever got to meeting Pele was in 2012 when I was given access to Pele’s old locker in the locker room of his old club Santos at the Vila Belmiro stadium.
“I hugged the locker tightly for a few minutes. It was almost like I was meeting an old close friend again after many decades.”
Siddhartha also shared another happy occasion.
“In 2010, I visited the place where Pele won his first World Cup in 1958 – the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden, before it was demolished in 2013.
“The happiness I felt when I stepped into that stadium was indescribable. I still think about it to this day,” he said.
Siddhartha said his admiration for Pele came from the joy he felt whenever he watched the player in action.
“His ability to do the impossible in tense situations stoked a fire within me to support Brazil, that lives on to this day.”
Pele’s impoverished background also struck a chord in Siddhartha, who came from a poor family too.
The freelance consultant has dedicated an entire room in his house to Brazilian football memorabilia.
In an interview, Siddhartha said: “To me, Pele is the godfather of modern football. He changed my understanding of the game, like what Albert Einstein did for modern science. I want the younger generation to understand what my hero did.
“His ability to perform insane feats in bad field conditions really revolutionised modern football. Most skills that modern players learn now all come from how Pele played.”
Knowing that Pele’s name would be forever inscribed in the halls of football history provided some comfort to fans like himself and Palanisamy, he said.
For now, Siddhartha wants to pay his final respects directly at the grave of his late hero by travelling to Brazil, which according to him has become his second home.
He plans to place a bouquet of flowers at Pele’s grave once he makes his fifth trip there sometime this year.
“I will always regret never having met Pele personally but I will at least be able to seek comfort knowing that I can pay my final respects to my hero,” he said.