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Handcuffs, pitch invasions and fame: life as Pele’s bodyguard in the 70 s

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Pedro Garay only stood 5ft 6in but he protected the worlds greatest player during his whirlwind career with the New York Cosmos

It was 1975, and in his wildest imagination, Pedro Garay never dreamed he would wind up in the middle of this wild, almost surreal scenario. There he was, draped over the greatest football player to ever walk the Earth, protecting him from a horde of pitch invaders.

The Cuban refugee was guarding American soccers most valuable pearl at the time, the incomparable Pel. Pels shirt, shorts and sneakers had been ripped off by the over-zealous fans who had come to Bostons Nickerson Field stadium to watch the New York Cosmos superstar in his first season in North American Soccer League game. The fans were around the field like ants, Garay said.

Only moments prior, Pel had had a goal disallowed. The fans raced onto the field and went after Pel, who had fallen to the ground, Garay told me a few years later. I find him and I draped over him. At that particular hour, it was a matter of ducking and trying not to get hurt.

Pel suffered injuries to his right knee and ankle. Evidence, if any was required, that Garay was there for a good reason: he was Pels bodyguard during his time with the Cosmos, from 1975 -7 7.

In the beginning, he was primarily a bodyguard, but as time passed, he also became Pels private secretary, Professor Julio Mazzei, Pels confidant, said at the time. He is with Pel most of the time. He has become a great friend.

Garay, however, always downplayed his role. I think the word is a little bit misused. Pel doesnt need any bodyguard. Im not armed, he said. I like security, but Im not inclined to make a stadium a police state.

Garay had an interesting track to the Cosmos. Born in Cuba, he left during the course of its 1959 revolution for the USA. He worked for a while as a credit and collectings director for New York hotels, according to newspaper reports. There also were reports that Garay was part of the United States Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. Garay was moonlighting as a security man for Warner Communications( the Cosmos owners) when he was asked to be Pels bodyguard. Rumor was that he had been involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion, but I never got any sort of proof told Jim Trecker, who was the Cosmos public relations director at the time. I always wondered whether it was a self-mythology.

Garays introduction to the job was unforgettable at the Brazilians public signing with the team at the swank 21 Club in New York City in June 1975. He needed to keep us a little bit away from this horde of photographers who were coming in, the former Cosmos president Clive Toye told. So some tables were shoved together in front of the stage. It was a very low stage and it was covered by some is a great pleasure table cloths … the photographers were all, good God, bozoes, some of them. Pedro stepped forward to try to calm things down. He stepped on the table cloth, which happened to be between the two tables. He happened to step, unfortunately, right where there was no table, only table cloth covering the space and went boom, right down on the floor.

A few days later, Pel induced his much-anticipated Cosmos debut in an exhibition match against the Dallas Tornado at rickety Downing Stadium on Randalls Island. On 20 June, came the Boston encounter. The hosts, the Minutemen, wanted to squeezing as much fund as much as possible out of a confrontation between Pel and their superstar, the great Eusebio, considered by many observers to be the second-best player in the world.

There was one slight problem. The Minutemen had got the ticketing wrong: an estimated 20,000 people crammed into a venue that could hold but 12,500. You could not have gotten another feather into the stadium, it was so packed full of people, told Toye. They were all across the touchlines. If someone wanted to take a throw-in, they had ask to someone to move because they couldnt step over the line.

The mob was well behaved until the Pel incident in the 79 th minute. The Cosmos pulled their team off the field because of safety fears. If there was any kind silver lining to the Nickerson incident though, it was that it helped set the standard for security around Pel. There were no replays of the Boston fracas. The Boston incident was the worst security problem weve had, Garay said. It was just an over-reaction of people wanting to see and touch Pel. Most of the teams in the league really collaborate. They really understand where youre coming from.

Still, Toye was adamant about security. Unless I am personally ensure he is going to be safe, Pel will not play in Rochester or any other place in America, he told at the time. He is too precious a person to be treated like he was here[ Boston ]. I am going to make sure of his safety, even if I have to get the United States Marines.

Marine were not needed for the next game in Rochester, New York. A strong police presence prevented any security frightens during the game, as Pel tallied his first official league aim in a 3-0 triumph over the Lancers. Getting out of Holleder Stadium, however, was another matter. Instead of going home, fans stood outside the Cosmos locker room, hoping for a look at the hotshot and an autograph. Garay was forced to use another strategy.

There were so many people hanging around trying to get at Pel to touch him or get an autograph, that to him to the bus, Pedro,[ Warner Communications head of security] Lou Luca and myself made a three-man wedge like blocking for a running back, with Pel in the center, told Sports Vue Interactive executive editor Charlie Cuttone, who worked for the Cosmos at the time. I was 16, but a pretty big kid.

At 5ft 6in and 150 lbs, Garay barely looked like the stereotypical bodyguard, something that helped him blend in with the crowd. And protecting the three-time World Cup winner was serious business.[ Garay was a] typical security man: paranoid !, Trecker said, recollecting his first road match at the San Antonio Thunder with Pel and Garay.

As “were in” attaining pre-game plans about how to get Pel safely off the field and into the car, he added. The fans were going to be enthusiastic to say the least, and a pitch invasion was certain. In the middle of these discussions with Gordon[ Bradley, the coach-and-four] and Professor Mazzei, Pedro admonished: Remember, do not wear shoes with laces. They can tie them together and then you are caught. To this day, Im not sure this is right that came from, but it was loafers for that evening!

Not astonishingly, Garay formed a great bond with Pel. I recollect when[ Mazzei] used to say, Those guys look like they were married because they would argue sometimes, said former Long Island University mens coach Arnie Ramirez, who worked at the Pel Soccer Camps for many years. He always was very positive and even though he worked so hard and he traveled with him all over, I never saw Pedro down or in a bad mood.

The former Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing , now a Tv commentator, recollected one playful incident that nearly expense the team the services of defender Werner Roth in 1977. No one could ever forget Pedro Garay. He was the best, Messing told. We were playing in Vancouver and left the hotel on the bus to go to the stadium. We fooled around with Pedro all the time and he always carried handcuffs inside his jacket as part of his protection detail guarding Pel. We were in the locker room getting ready for the game and Pedro set the handcuffs on Werner Roth to show us how they worked. When he went to take them off – he realized that he had left the keys back in his hotel room!

Pedro dashed to grab a taxi back to the hotel. It took forever and “were in” panicked because now we had all been introduced, were lined up at midfield for the national anthems with Werner having his arms handcuffed behind his back. Just before the anthem objective Pedro arrived flying out of the passageway and ran to midfield waving the key, just in time to release Werner before kickoff. We all loved Pedro.

Garay, who died some years ago, once gave some insight into the Brazilian.

Oh, it is easy to wake Pel. He is not really slow, he is just a philosopher, Garay was quoted as saying in Peter Bodo and David Hirsheys book, Peles New World. You insure him in a game and he is totally different, intense, swift, cutting like a knife at all opportunities. In his private life, he does not like to pushed or rushed into anything. What is there to haste for he tells, everything will be OK anyway.

I merely ensure him when we must go out of town. In New York he is with his family all the time. He likes to live a quiet, secluded, intimate life. Family life is sacred for him. I think it would be impossible for him to enjoy his life without the peace he find with his family.

Garays responsibilities did not only include the Pels safety, but also attaining sure he got on the team bus after games. He was forced to play bad policeman to Pels good policeman. Pel, who has the patience of a saint, would talk to and sign autograph for fans all day.

That was the kind of thing that Pedro had to do again and again and again. Here and there, here and there and here and there, Toye told. It wasnt so much protecting Pel from hostility, it was protecting Pel from enormous appreciation, enormous love. People just wanted to be near and touch him and get his autograph. And if you left Pel alone without someone pushing and shoving and pulling[ to get on the bus ], he likely would still be standing outside Randalls Island right now and the same people around him.

Toye and the Cosmos could thank Pedro Garay that that never happened and for constructing sure the worlds greatest player retired in 1977 in one piece.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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