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Kicking The Sock

In October 1940, in the poor town of Tres Coracoes in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, soccer player Dondinho and his wife Celeste Nascimento gave birth to their first child. They christened him Edson Arantes de Nascimento. Two years later another son, Zoca, was born (he was briefly a pro soccer player before becoming a lawyer). His parents couldn't afford to buy Edson a soccer ball, so his father took an old sock and stuffed it with rags, and the child would run shoeless through the streets and kick the sock.

When Edson was six, his family moved to the larger town of Bauru, a railroad junction in southern Brazil. He often skipped school to practice soccer in the fields. To try to earn money for a soccer ball, Edson shined shoes and sold roasted peanuts outside movie theaters. With his friends, he formed a team called the Shoeless Ones. They played barefooted soccer — which later became known as "pelada," after Pele — on the streets or vacant lots. Pele developed many of his feints and unorthodox dribbling maneuvers playing these rough-and-tumble street games.

Pele left school for good after fourth grade, expelled when the head schoolmaster caught him playing soccer during the school day. He took a job as a cobbler's apprentice for $2 a day. His family called him Dico, but his friends bestowed the nickname Pele, which means nothing in Portuguese or any other language. At first he resisted the name because he thought it was an insult, but then he embraced it. In pickup games around Bauru Pele was often the youngest player.

At age 11, Pele was discovered by Waldemar de Brito, one of Brazil's top players. De Brito took him under his wing and trained him in secret. When Pele was 12, de Brito placed him on the local junior club, Baquinho. Pele danced home the day he got his own uniform, because finally he was a real soccer player like his father. "It may not seem such a big deal to some, but to me it was one of the thrills of my life," Pele later revealed to biographer Joe Marcus. He scored many goals for Baquinho, using both his feet and his head to drive balls into the net. Pele's scoring, dribbling and passing skills made him the talk of Brazilian junior soccer.

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Famous Sports StarsSoccerPele Biography - Kicking The Sock, National Prodigy, The Black Pearl, The King Of Soccer, Chronology - SELECTED WRITINGS BY PELE: