SOCCER CONNECTION: John Paul II

Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday, scheduled his coronation in 1978 so as not to conflict with a televised soccer game.

Born Karol Wojtyla, he was known as "Lolek the Goalie," in his hometown of Wadowice, Poland, where he played for the local soccer team.

As a boy, according to childhood friend Jerzy Kluger, Wojtyla played in pickup soccer games that pitted Jewish boys against Catholic boys, and Wojtyla would volunteer to play with the Jewish boys to create even numbers.

"There usually was not enough Jews, so somebody had to play on the Jewish team and he was always sort of ready, you know," Kluger said in a 2003 interview.

Pope John Paul II was also an honorary member several soccer clubs, including Barcelona and Schalke 04, and frequently hosted soccer teams at the Vatican.

In "The Simplest Game" by Paul Gardner, Coach Bora Milutinovic described the Mexican national team's audience with John Paul II in 1984 before a friendly against Italy:

"He gave us a blessing. He held up one hand. Five fingers. The next day the Italians scored five goals against us. We were just happy he didn't bless us with both hands."

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