From Nairobi to the NASL: the unsung pioneer who marked Pele out of the game

Roger Verdi moved from England to share a pitch with Pele and Best in the NASL’s heyday of the 1970s – but he still wonders what might have been

He might’ve been a standard-bearer for a demographic criminally underrepresented in British football. An unlikely star of Sikh heritage in an era when British Asians were virtually absent from the game. Roger Verdi, a son of ethnic Punjabis, who changed his name to help navigate the murky waters of less enlightened times. A boy coming of age in the 1960s who shrugged off early jibes and doubts to land youth deals at two of the country’s top clubs and, apparently, nearly a third. From one angle, the world appeared to be at his feet.

It’s a fantastical image – mostly because the dream didn’t quite work out the way Rajinder Singh Virdee had intended. But also because minds continues to puzzle over when the first significant footballer from Britain’s sizable ethnic south Asian community will emerge.

Pele said: ‘Are we married?’ I said: ‘Yeah, but we’re getting a divorce at full-time’

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