Jules met football king Pelé in Amsterdam: “That was during my lunch break”

The death of the Brazilian football king Pelé has caused a stir in many football fans. But it also evokes memories, also with Jules Polanen. The former Amsterdammer met the South American great in 1981 in the Marriott Hotel, during his lunch break. “I had the jitters, but Pele reassured me.”

In 1981 Jules, who is of Surinamese descent, worked at a bank on the Herengracht. When he learned that Pelé would be at the Marriott that day to promote a video game, he asked his supervisor if he could take a little longer break. This permission not only gave Jules the opportunity to meet his hero, it also gave him a pearl of a photo with his great hero.

Jules probably didn’t have time to finish a sandwich, because he hurried home first to get something else. At home he collected some old newspaper clippings from the time Pelé was in Suriname. “I was with Transvaal at the time and we played against the Brazilian club Santos. I was a reserve keeper there and then saw Pelé for the first time,” says Jules from the American Atlanta, where he has lived since 1996. “I wanted to show him that match that we played against each other.”

“Oh Rei!”

At the entrance of the Marriott it soon became clear that it was a private meeting. “All I could do was wait to speak to Pele myself outside.” After an hour the wait was rewarded and Jules took the plunge. “I said to him, ‘O Rei!’ That is a nickname of his and means king. He immediately turned around.”

Jules then walked up to the football legend. “Of course I had the jitters, but Pele reassured me and put an arm around me.” Jules, who was then in his twenties, had a conversation with the football legend about that one match in 1968 in Suriname. “He remembered it and really liked to see it again.”

With the newspaper articles in his hands and Pelé at his side, the twenty-something of the time could walk straight into the Marriott. “The security then let me in as if I belonged. I was also assigned a seat in the hotel.”

In the hotel, Pelé was questioned by the journalists present about the new computer game. At the end of the press moment, the organization asked if anyone had a final question. Jules then raised his hand. “I asked him what it was like for him to make his debut for the Brazilian selection at the age of 17. He then said that he was quite nervous, but soon felt at home at the club.”

Jules’ half-hour lunch break ended up being about two hours. With a new experience in his pocket, the young Amsterdammer returned to his office on the Herengracht. “My manager immediately asked me if I had succeeded. He was very enthusiastic afterwards. No, he was not jealous. Fortunately, he was not a football fan.”

Pele and Pollo

The photo of the legendary moment for Jules was taken by a photographer. He later requested the image from the maker. This image was framed and hung no fewer than three times. “It now hangs in my living room and in the canteen of SV Real Sranang, where I played football for years.” The photo has been hanging there for decades now with the caption ‘Pelé and Pollo’. “Yes, that’s my nickname,” laughs Jules.

Real Sranang was founded in 1960 by Surinamese migrants and also had a favorite bar near Amsterdam Central. Although that pub no longer exists, for years all visitors could see Jules meeting the Brazilian.

The football legend passed away last week on December 29. Since that day, Jules has used his photo with Pelé as his profile picture on social media. That has not gone unnoticed. “I was then called by friends, acquaintances and strangers about that photo. And now even by a journalist.”