I used to work in an exclusive part of Mayfair. The building was shared with numerous other businesses and we occupied the top floor. One Friday evening, my workmate and I were the last to leave our office. We locked up and, rather than taking the lift like usual, we decided to walk down the winding staircase. About halfway down, we encountered a little guy, greying on top, who appeared to be loitering awkwardly in the stairwell. Due to his low-key, unassuming demeanour, together with the time of day – there was nobody else in the building – I assumed he must be a cleaner.
We bade him good evening and, as we continued to walk away, he called something out to us. Neither of us caught what he said so I turned back to ask him to repeat himself. He said, with a smile: “Nice to see your friend has Brazil written on her back.” She was wearing a sports jacket with the word “Brazil” emblazoned on the back. A little thrown by the random comment, I smiled back politely and we continued on our way. After we turned the corner, my colleague grabbed my arm and hissed excitedly: “You know who that was, don’t you?” I admitted I didn’t have a clue and she replied: “It was Pelé!” I was completely dumbfounded.
The next Monday, we checked with the concierge of the building who confirmed that, sure enough, Pelé had visited the building that evening. It turned out that he had business dealings with a company on the floor where we had seen him lurking. Every time I remember that incident now, I cringe. To think that I mistook the greatest footballer of all time for a cleaner. Michele
‘I saw his famous bicycle-kick’
I saw Pelé do his famous bicycle-kick in a match. Seattle Sounders were hosting New York Cosmos in 1977 and the score was 1-1. Seattle fans thought they were going to get a draw but, with a few minutes left, Pelé scored his bicycle-kick goal and Cosmos won 2-1. As Seattle fans, we didn’t care because it was unreal to see that goal – like a dream. David Kunz
When I was a kid growing up in Salford, my grandad was an amateur referee. During the World Cup in 1966, he said: “You’ve got a surprise on Sunday. Be up and dressed for 8am.” On the weekends, coaches would take us to Blackpool or Southport for a day of toffee apples, candy floss or to watch Manchester United train on the beach – grandad used to know when and where they would be training.
The coach turned up this morning and we set off. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best and we were told we were heading to a hotel in Lymm, where the Brazil and Portugal squads were staying. The excitement was intense. We arrived and the players were greeting the coaches and signing autographs. It was fab.
We met Pelé, Eusébio and a few others. I was in total awe. I was introduced to Pelé, he shook my hand and asked if I was a footballer. I could hardly speak. He then demonstrated football skills but not in a big-headed way. He was smiley and so friendly. I got his autograph and said bye. As a black role model to white children, he was groundbreaking. Peter Cooper
‘I was at the Maracanã for his 1,000th goal’
I had the privilege of meeting him in São Paulo and also saw him play several times. I was in the Maracanã Stadium in Rio when he scored his 1,000th goal. My father took me to the game as I was only nine years old. Before Pelé came along, No 10 was just a number. After Pelé the No 10 shirt has become synonymous with the best player in any team. Abel Carparelli Jr.
‘I will never forget his gentle nature’
I had a kickaround with Pelé when I was nine years old. My home town in the US had a professional team during the 1970s and early 1980s. I was involved in a youth league for a few years and our team was invited to the stadium one afternoon for a talk from the man himself, which led to 10 minutes on the field getting tips from and generally trying to dribble past the legend.
Pelé was huge. Everybody knew his name whether they were a football fan or not. I suppose he was up there with Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan as far as worldwide recognition goes. Despite this, my memories are of a softly spoken man with a big smile. One thing he expressed that really stuck with me is that he actively tried to disabuse us kids of our awe at what we thought must have been supernaturally derived talents and instead insisted that it was just hard work and a love of the game that brought him to his heights. This attitude might seem cliched now but I was struck by his humility and frankness and will never forget his gentle nature. Ken Licht
‘I served the Brazil team breakfast before going to school’
I’m from Lymm in Cheshire and was six years old when the Brazil team stayed there for the World Cup in 1966. My Mother, Bessie, worked at Lymm Hotel and I used to help her serve breakfast to the team before going to school. I met Pelé and the team most mornings. We even had Jairzinho drive my mum’s car around the village, which was quite an experience. I still have Pelé’s blue training shirt from 1966. Laurence Bennett
‘My friends groan when I go on about it’
I had the great privilege of seeing Pelé pay at Villa Park when I was a student at Birmingham University in the early 1970s. Santos were on a European tour that included a match against Aston Villa. It was a strange day as, just as I was setting off from the university, there was an announcement over the Tannoy that Paul McCartney’s newly formed group Wings had turned up and wanted to perform for free in front of a live audience. I was in no doubt that the best option was to head off to Villa Park.
When the announcer went through the teams every Santos player had been changed apart from Pelé. I doubt there was anyone in the crowd who was bothered as they had only come to see the great man. His close ball control, passing and positioning were out of this world. It was one of the best experiences of my life; my friends groan when I go on about it. Colin Herrick
‘I can close my eyes and see every one of his goals’
I was born in Hong Kong in 1954 and lived there until I was 49. Santos visited a number of times in the 1970s. In 1972 Santos played Newcastle United, who were on an end-of-season tour. Newcastle warmed up for the match against Santos with a game against my local team in Hong Kong. I remember our team’s manager calling to tell me the news and I thought he was winding me up.
At the end of our match, I walked off the field towards the changing rooms and there was Pelé, Carlos Alberto and Edu knocking a ball around. I stopped for a moment and thought: “Those guys were watching us play.” It was the most surreal event of my life and one I shall never forget.
I saw Pelé about six times in Hong Kong. His best performance was in the game against Newcastle, who were a good First Division team at the time. They took a 2-1 lead, but Pelé scored a hat-trick of sublime genius in the second half. I can close my eyes and see every one of his goals. Simply put, he is the finest player of all time. There was nothing he could not do and no skill he did not have. Christopher Watson
‘He was a great player but rubbish at predictions’
I was born in Malta and grew up there. I was a schoolboy when Pelé visited the country in the early 1970s. Me and two friends decided to play truant because we heard Pelé was going to be at Gzira Stadium, the place where Gladiator was later filmed, for a Pepsi event. We managed to get right up next to him. He smiled at me, ruffled my curly hair and said: “You are going to grow up and be a great football player.” He was a great player but rubbish at predictions. Rest in peace great man. Claude Canilleri
‘That £1 note became my dad’s most cherished possession’
My late father Ken, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 71, was a passionate football fan. He supported Manchester United but always said the greatest footballer was Pelé. And one of his proudest moments was a chance meeting with the man in London – a story he would love to tell.
In the early 1970s he was having a meal in a restaurant and looked over to see Pelé at the next table. He was speechless. He plucked the courage to talk to him and ask for an autograph, but all he had was a £1 note. Pelé was kind enough to sign it for him and it became his most cherished possession. He was fortunate to get the other side signed in subsequent years by Denis law, Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton. When I hear the name Pelé I immediately think of my dad. He loved football and would have deeply mourned his loss. Andrew Morgan
‘He was an absolute one-off as a person’
I had seen Pelé playing at the 1966 World Cup and always wanted to meet him. By chance, I was in New York not long after he signed for the Cosmos. The Cosmos captain at the time was Barry Mahy, formerly of Scunthorpe United but more importantly from Guernsey, like myself. I found his number in the New York phone book and called him. When I told him I was from Guernsey, he invited me to stay at his home on Long Island. He offered to take me to Cosmos training to meet Pelé.
Pelé was in great demand as he had only just arrived in New York but he agreed to my interview and told me to come back the next day when we would speak again after training. As bad luck would have it, it was raining the following day and the players trained in the drizzle. Two TV crews from the major US networks interviewed Pelé in the rain before filming him doing trick shots. The whole thing took about an hour, by which time everyone else had gone home. I assumed my interview was now a dead duck but nervously approached Pelé as he came off the pitch dripping wet. I asked if he remembered my interview and, to my surprise, he nodded and ushered me into the dressing rooms, where he sat down in his wet kit, without showering or changing, and spoke to me for 40 minutes.
He was warm and friendly, and never showed any sign he wanted to get the interview over with. At the time I was an unknown freelance journalist so his generosity went way above the call of duty. In a long career in sports journalism, I never came across any major sports personality as selfless. I interviewed him three or four times later in my career and always found him to be equally generous with his time. He was an absolute one-off as a person as well as being the greatest player who ever lived. Paul Radford
‘It was magic for me and remains so to this day’
I grew up in Bolton and, during the World Cup in 1966, I went to see Brazil train. I remember the whole occasion as being very exciting, standing on touchline next to the goalposts. My memory of Pelé playing has somewhat faded. However, a very memorable event happened when the coach with the Brazil team was leaving, l threw up my autograph book at the bus window, Pelé caught it, signed it and threw it out as the coach drove off. It was magic for me and remains so to this day. Bernard Halford
‘People seemed respectfully in awe’
I met him while working in a department store in Manchester in July 1966. He and the Brazil squad were on a shopping day out. I had a summer job in the children’s shoe department and word had got around that celebrities were in the building. We’d had The Moody Blues in the day before! Sure enough, there was Pelé and the rest of his teammates in matching blazers. Rather than any scrum for autographs, people seemed respectfully in awe and, for a few seconds, the normally bustling floor fell silent. David Upton
‘He made me feel like a million dollars’
I met Pelé in 2012 while working for the University of Edinburgh, who gave Pelé an honorary degree at a ceremony in London. For some reason, it ended up being my job on the day to get Pelé off the stage after the ceremony to his car. A fairly safe gig, or so we thought. We completely failed to anticipate the levels of interest in him – so many people wanted a photo, an autograph, a handshake. It was actually a little scary – hundreds of people trying to get close to the great man, with only me and another colleague as any kind of barrier.
Pelé took it all in his stride. He had a smile and a kind word for everyone. Calm personified. Eventually, we fought through the crowds and got to the exit. At that point, my colleague said: “After all that, I bet you’d like a photo with Pelé, wouldn’t you Norval?” Trying to be professional, I muttered something like, “I’m sure Pelé would just like to get in his car now.” At that, Pelé gave me that famous smile and an absolutely massive high five, and said, “But Norval, I want to get a photo with you!”
And so we took one. It’s a treasured possession, not because it’s a good photo – it’s not, it’s massively out of focus – but because one of the most famous men ever took the time to make me feel like a million dollars, when there was absolutely no obligation for him to do so. It was purely out of the goodness of his heart and I’ll never forget it. Norval Scott
‘I refused to wash my hands for a week’
I saw Pelé play at the World Cup in 1966. Brazil trained at Bolton’s training ground and, one afternoon a friend and I bunked off school to watch them. By the time we got there training was nearly over and the players were going back to the changing rooms. Like any 10-year-old would, we waited by the coach hoping to get a glimpse of the players when they came out. I managed to position myself right by the coach door and was able to shake hands with Garrincha and Pelé as they boarded the coach to take them back to their hotel. I refused to wash my hands for a week afterwards. Andrew Butterworth
‘He left a memory that will stay with me forever’
At age of nine, I attended my first football match at Goodison Park: Brazil v Portugal in the 1966 World Cup, featuring both Pelé and Eusébio. Recognising the need to stop Pelé, the Portugal players took turns to kick lumps out of the great man (with the exception of Eusébio, who was also regarded as a great sportsman). At one point Pelé was helped off the pitch and he limped towards where my cousin and I were standing on orange boxes.
The trainer, a large bald-headed slightly scary character to this innocent young mind, rubbed liniment into Pelé’s leg while speaking a strange language. The two of us were so close that we could hear every word and see Pelé shaking his head and crying, knowing his tournament was all but over. The trainer strapped up his leg and helped him back on to the pitch, but Pelé couldn’t run and was eventually carried off. Brazil lost 3-1 and were eliminated.
That was as close as I ever got to the great man but he left a memory that will stay with me for ever. Every time I have smelled liniment from that day on, I have been reminded of the day the great man cried right in front of my young eyes. Frank
‘It was genuinely humbling. I shed a tear’
I designed Puma’s kits for the 2006 World Cup, including for winners Italy. We also designed a collection with Pelé, recreating the Puma items he wore during his career. We held a launch event in Berlin in 2005 and, unbeknown to me, Pelé made a surprise appearance.
I had been excited about my day off but was brought in, somewhat reluctantly, and discovered that I would be presenting the whole collection to the great man. I spent well over an hour in his company, showing him around the collections and he was genuinely interested in what we’d done, asking lots of questions – most of them via an interpreter. The whole experience was incredible. I’ve met a lot of footballers during my career, but was absolutely blown away by this. He gave me a big hug as if he were being reunited with an old friend. I’ll never forget his cold ear brushing against my face. How could he be this friendly?!
I asked him loads of important questions, which he answered happily. He confirmed that Doug Ellis didn’t invent the bicycle-kick, but neither did Pelé himself – he saw someone else do it. He answered my Viagra ad question too. He had a deal with Pfizer and had no say in the endorsements. “I’ve got seven kids – why would I need Viagra?” He also told us about being recognised all the time too – except when he wore a hat. Then people would point and say: “That guy looks like Pelé.”
Once my time with him was done, I moved to another part of the venue and watched the rest of the tour from a distance. I shed a tear too. To have been so privileged to meet an icon and discover that he was such a nice guy was genuinely humbling. Rob Warner
‘Pelé sparkled and scored against Plymouth Argyle’
Santos played a match against Plymouth Argyle in March 1973 during a European tour. I was a teacher in Cornwall at the time and planned to take a couple of pupils from the school. On the same day the headmaster had arranged a staff meeting in the afternoon.
I went to see him to ask permission to miss the staff meeting as I was going to see Santos and Pelé. The headmaster said to me: “It depends what you think is more important.” Of course, I went to the match along with 37,000 other people and saw Plymouth Argyle win 3-2. Pelé sparkled in the second half and scored a penalty. John
‘He was the best player but I didn’t know what he looked like’
I saw Pelé when he played against Scotland at Hampden in 1966 in a pre-World Cup friendly. I was 10 years old and was given a lift-over into the match. I can’t remember much about the game and my memories are probably what I’ve read about it since. I do remember that I followed the Brazil team bus before the match and put my autograph book into the window. When it was given back I hoped it said “Pelé” because I knew he was the best player in the world – but I didn’t know what he looked like. Archie Walker
‘We’d seen God – and Gordon Banks’
I met him in 2008 in Stoke during a Pelé XI v Gordon Banks XI match. I went to the game with my son and took along a copy of Football Monthly from 1966, which had a picture of Pelé from the 1958 World Cup on the cover.
My son and I lay on top of the dugout awaiting our moment. “Pelé! Who’s this handsome young man?” I shouted to him, dangling my magazine in front of him, as he was about to sit down.
He saw it and smiled wide. As he signed his name on the cover slowly and deliberately, the earth stopped spinning and I couldn’t breathe – it seemed to take an age. When he returned it to me, we turned and ran up the terrace. We’d seen God – and Gordon Banks! Andy Hann