1958 was the first and (so far) only World Cup where all 4 British Associations (Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales) qualified for the finals. WHEN PELE BROKE OUR HEARTS is the story of Wales participation at their only World Cup. It is a story of heroes who dared to reach for the sun.
Wales was one of the smallest countries in Europe to try and qualify for the World Cup finals. They seemed to have fallen short when an unexpected decision from FIFA gave them a second chance to make the final field of 16. They seized this opportunity and made the final field. All along the way their administrators did everything in their power to sabotage their efforts. Welsh football administrators dictated they could only take a squad of 18 when FIFA rules allowed a nation up to 22 players. When injuries took the team apart, the squad paid for this ridiculous decision. Capable players were not chosen because of religious bigotry or the singing of Broadway show tunes on the team coach. Meanwhile 16 administrators/selectors made the trip, all traveling together, while the players were scattered on different flights.
Cliff Jones, Jack Kelsey, Ivor (the Golden Boy) Allchurch, and the gentile giant John Charles were the core of the team, and among the best players in Europe. But the biggest hero of all was team manager Jimmy Murphy. Murphy, the assistant to Matt Busby at Manchester United was doing double duty when in February 1958 (4 months before the final) the United charter flight crashed taking off from Munich killing more than 20 (including 9 players) and hospitalizing Matt Busby for months. That meant Murphy had to run United through a dramatic FA Cup run while preparing Wales for the World Cup.
There are moments of heartbreak and laughter in this story. I picked up a number of phrases I never heard before like "Niggling" However the way the story is told may have little appeal to the average reader. Those with an in depth knowledge of the World Cup or of Welsh heritage will find this a quick and easy read will. Anyone else may be lost by the references to famous players or with the structure of British Football in the 50's.
And what of Pele? In 1958 he was just 17, virtually unknown outside of Brazil. The crucial match against against Wales served as his calling card to the world that something special was about to happen.
One final note. MARIO RISOLI interviewed nearly the entire Welsh team for the book, finding players throughout Wales and England, going as far as Australia to find team members. These first hand accounts raise the value of WHEN PELE BROKE OUT HEARTS from a mere re-cap of newspaper articles to a personal memoir. It was interesting to read how different team mates saw the same incidents through different sets of eyes.
There aren't many true heroes left in modern football. In 1958 19 men (the players and their brave manager) were true heroes taking a little country near the top of world football. Long may their memories live.