It’s hard to imagine the greatest footballer on the planet diving around a muddy goalmouth in a park in Bolton.

But that’s exactly what happened on a wet Monday in July 1966 in front of a few spectators huddled together against the rain.

For in goal, and out of position, was none other than Edson Arantes do Nascimento himself.

Or, as he was better known to millions, Pele.

Brazil’s World Cup team arrive at Heathrow Airport, June 1966

Brazil’s World Cup team arrive at Heathrow Airport, June 1966

The Brazilian forward was taking part in a training session before his country’s World Cup group games against Bulgaria, Hungary and Portugal.

The matches were being played at Old Trafford and Goodison Park – and reigning world champions Brazil were going through their paces at Bolton’s Bromwich Road practice pitch.

They were supposed to be training at the club’s ground, Burnden Park. But there was a mix-up – and Brazil were locked out for an hour before having to catch the bus down the road!

But the spectators didn’t mind. As the water dripped off their umbrellas, they glimpsed skills that mesmerised them. They’d never seen football played like this before.

Pele strap-hanging on an airport bus, June 1966

Pele strap-hanging on an airport bus, June 1966

The soggy training session wasn’t Brazil’s only encounter with their adoring fans. They were besieged by autograph hunters at their Cheshire base – the Lymm Hotel.

But Pele and his team-mates always played along. They even borrowed bicycles from the hotel so they could cycle into Lymm village!

All distractions were put aside on Tuesday July 12 when Brazil started their defence of the cup with a 2-0 victory against Bulgaria at Goodison Park.

Pele scored in the 15th minute and Garrincha added a second in the 63rd. A day later, Portugal ominously demolished Hungary 3-1 at Old Trafford.

Photographers surround Pele at the Lymm Hotel, July 1966

Photographers surround Pele at the Lymm Hotel, July 1966

Then, on Friday July 15, the wheels started to come off for Brazil. They lost 1-3 to Hungary at Goodison, their only goal coming from Tostao.

A day later, Portugal cruised to a 3-0 victory over Bulgaria at Old Trafford, with the hugely talented Eusebio scoring his first goal of the tournament.

If there was going to be a pretender to Pele’s crown, then fellow forward Eusebio was it.

It was all or nothing for Brazil when they lined up to play Portugal at Goodison Park in front of 58,479 fans on Tuesday July 19.

Calm before the storm – Pele relaxes in the Lymm Hotel gardens, July 1966

Calm before the storm – Pele relaxes in the Lymm Hotel gardens, July 1966

They started brightly, but conceded two first half goals to Simoes in the 15th minute and Eusebio in the 27th.

Rildo pulled one back for Brazil in the 73rd minute, but Eusebio scored again five minutes from time to win the game 3-1 for Portugal.

The next day Hungary sealed Brazil’s fate by beating Bulgaria 3-1 at Old Trafford. The unthinkable had happened. The world champions – and Pele – were out.

Pele and his team wearily made their way back to their Lymm hotel and, two days later, caught the London train from Manchester Piccadilly station.

Homeward bound – Brasil stars leave Manchester Piccadilly station, July 1966

Homeward bound – Brasil stars leave Manchester Piccadilly station, July 1966

They’d made many friends during their short stay in the North West. Pele was still signing autographs through the carriage window as the train pulled away.

Back in the World Cup, Hungary went out 1-2 to the Soviet Union in the next round, but Portugal made it all the way to a semi-final against England.

They got no further as two Manchester United players stopped them in their tracks.

Tough-tackling midfielder Nobby Stiles kept Eusebio quiet while Bobby Charlton scored both goals in England’s 2-1 win.

Eusebio beats the Hungarian defence at Old Trafford, July 1966

Eusebio beats the Hungarian defence at Old Trafford, July 1966

But they couldn’t prevent Eusebio taking his tournament goal tally to eight with an 85th minute penalty. He scored his ninth in the 2-1 third-place victory over the Soviet Union.

Eusebio finished the tournament as top-scorer and was duly awarded the coveted golden boot. But it was no consolation.

As for Brazil and Pele, they’d have to wait another four years before reclaiming the World Cup in imperious style in Mexico.

Even now, their majestic 4-1 win over Italy in Mexico City’s Azteca stadium is regarded by many as the greatest final all time.

As Brazil celebrated their much-feted triumph, that muddy goalmouth in Bolton seemed a lifetime away.

Pele makes a fine save in the mud at Bolton’s training pitch, July 1966

1966 World Cup Tournament in England.
Star of the Brazil football team Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, more commonly known as Pele, takes a turn in goal during a training session at Bolton.
11th July 1966.