When I was nine years old, my favorite football club in the world, the one that I dreamed of one day playing for, was the New York Cosmos. The reason was obvious. The Cosmos had Pelé, and everybody knew he was the best player in the world. If the Cosmos wouldn’t sign me, I wanted to play for Santos, Pelé’s club in Brazil.

He had just retired, though, but even if I may have known that, it didn’t bother me because my father worked at an appliance store that sold this new invention called a video recorder.

On one of those mysterious black boxes called video recording cassettes, he had recorded a show that told me the story of Pelé, all the way from Edson Arantes do Nascimento’s childhood in poor Brazil to his heroics in the World Cup, to his 1000th goal, to his seven-million dollar contract with the Cosmos, and to his last game in New York, against Santos.

In my head, while shooting a ball against the wall of our apartment building, I was Pelé, but as we all know, just as important as the images in your head is the image you portray to the world.

I think this became my Pelé shirt.


Just as my first real pair of hockey pants made me feel like a real player, I also remember getting my first real football club membership card. It was sort of cool to carry around, and show to people. It told me that I was a part of something bigger than myself, and made me feel connected to those cool bigger kids, even the biggest of kids in Gnistan, my club: the men’s team.

While the card was cool, - I still have it - it was only the means to an end. And the end in this case was 20 percent off Gnistan’s blue and yellow football socks.

The day after I had got my card, Mom or Dad left me some money on the kitchen counter so I could go to the sports store a few hundred yards from our house, and get a pair of those socks.

For some reason, I decided to head out in one of those summer thunderstorms. Well, I know what the reason was. I really wanted to get those socks. And besides, the store wasn’t that far. Also, I was nine years old. I didn’t care about rain, or thunderstorm, or the fact that the rain drops were the size of my head.

I may have run to the store, and if the store was still there, I could show you exactly where I found the pair that I bought. The man behind the cash register asked me for my Gnistan membership card. I reached for it in my pocket, but there was nothing there.

“Oh, I seem to have forgot it at home,” I said.

“Well, then I can’t give you the 20 percent off, I’m sorry,” the man said.

“It’s fine, I’ll just run back home, can you hold this pair for me?”

Just as I said that, we heard the thunder roar outside, and the man felt a little sorry for me.

“You know what, it’s fine, I’ll give you the socks for the Gnistan price,” he said.

“No, no, I live just around the corner, I’ll be right back,” I said, and I. Was. Gone.

I ran home as fast as I could. I ran on the wrong side of the street, the not-my-side of the street, then crossed the street at the taxi stop, and kept on running, all the way to the front door, then up the stairs, first seven, then eight, and then eight more, pulled my key from under my somewhat wet T-shirt, opened our door, ran to my desk and grabbed the card. I held it in my hand, turned around and ran out.

I slammed the door shut behind me and skipped down the stairs, always jumping from the fourth step onto the landing, turn, run the first steps, jump from the fourth, out the front door, and ran back to the store.

“Here. Here’s my card,” I told the sports store man as soon as I got in and showed him the card as if it were a badge. Which it was.

He put his hand on the socks.

“And I have your socks right here,” he said.

I paid for the socks, ran back home, and put them on. And then I put on the striped T-shirt that I thought looked like a real football shirt, like the one Pelé wore when he played for Santos, or the colorful version of the Cosmos jersey. Mine had wide stripes in yellow, blue, and orange.

It was already too small for me, but that didn’t matter because on the back of the shirt there was the number 10 that my mother had cut out of leather and sewn onto it. Number ten, just like Pelé.

Last week, I bought Daughter the red Spain shirt she wanted, and the blue Spain shorts she wanted. Yesterday, my Dad brought her real football socks and a ball. Her favorite player is Laura, her kindergarten teacher who used to play on the Finnish national team.

The number on the back of Daughter’s shirt is 9.

Players.

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