The Brazilian great’s humility and beaming smile won him adulation across the globe, first as a player and then a United Nations ambassador. Here, we take a look at some of his trips to Britain, with Brazil, club side Santos and after his retirement.
First trip to Wembley – as a spectator
A near-capacity crowd at Wembley in May 1963 booed the announcement that Pele would not be featuring in the international friendly against England, which ended 1-1. Pele was still feeling the effects of injuries sustained in a crash in Hamburg prior to arriving in London. Two days earlier Pele, already considered the best player in the world, was pictured full of smiles as the Brazil squad arrived from West Germany at London Airport.
Brazil head north of border
Brazil’s preparations for the 1966 World Cup in England saw them spend time at a training camp in Scotland in June. Pele and his team-mates trained at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park stadium. Brazil, who drew 1-1 with Scotland at Hampden Park as part of their warm-up schedule, also spent time training at Troon Juniors FC at Portland Park.
World Cup ends in tears
Pele’s experience of the finals in England was one of the low points of his glittering playing career. Injury restricted him to a peripheral role in the tournament as political in-fighting and questionable team selection undermined the defending champions’ bid to win the World Cup for a third successive time. Pele scored his country’s first goal in the tournament as they beat Bulgaria 2-0 at Goodison Park in their first match. But successive 3-1 defeats to Hungary and Portugal saw the Brazilians crash out at the group stage and prompted an inquest back home. An image of the injured and disconsolate Pele trudging off the Goodison Park pitch during Brazil’s defeat to Portugal, which confirmed their exit, summed up their tournament.
A fond farewell
Three-year-old Virginia Ferrari from Lymm, Cheshire insisted on being held up to say goodbye to Pele when he left Manchester Piccadilly station with the rest of the Brazil squad after their early exit from the World Cup in July 1966. Pele and the rest of Brazil’s squad stayed at the Lymm Hotel in Warrington, where autograph hunters turned up in their droves.
Santos woo crowds in south England
Pele and his famous club side played friendly games against Fulham and Plymouth in March 1973 during a tour of Europe, one of many money-spinning tours Santos embarked on as they looked to cash in on their most famous player’s popularity. His powers were on the wane and the matches were overshadowed by disagreements over appearance fees for the Brazilians, but Pele’s popularity remained undiminished.
Honoured by the Queen
Pele, then Brazil’s minister for sport, was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1997. He went straight from the Palace to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge home to meet fans.
World’s greatest player visits world’s oldest club
Pele was guest of honour at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium in November 2007 for Sheffield FC’s friendly match against Inter Milan. The fixture was part of Sheffield FC’s 150th anniversary celebrations, confirming their status as the world’s oldest football club. Pele also opened an exhibition which included the first public showing in 40 years of the original handwritten rules of football.
Pele reunites with goalkeeping great
Pele joined Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium for a charity game in April 2008 to mark the unveiling of a statue of former Leicester, Stoke and England goalkeeper Gordon Banks. A Pele XI took on a Gordon Banks XI, with Archbishop Tutu acting as assistant manager to the Pele XI to celebrate Banks’ charity work in Africa. The match no doubt conjured up memories of Banks’ famous save from a Pele header at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. In March 2004, Pele named Banks as one of the top 125 living footballers in a list compiled to mark world football’s governing body FIFA’s centenary.
Getting in the Olympic spirit
Pele made a surprise appearance at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, part of the Brazilian delegation as Rio de Janeiro took on the mantle as the next host city of the Games.