Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, better known as Pele, was arguably the most famous footballer of all time and he visited England many times. He played on British soil on just 9 occasions – twice for Brazil in the 1966 World Cup, once for Brazil in Scotland and 6 times for Santos between 1962 and 1973.
He never played against England for Brazil here as the one occasion they played at Wembley in 1963 he didn’t play despite being listed in the programme. In the early 1960s the directors of the successful, but small club thought foreign tours was a way to generate income they could not make in Brazil. So Santos became football’s answer to the Harlem Globetrotters with Pele being the huge attraction.
Pele, who had just won two World Cups with Brazil, played his first ever match in England at Hillsborough on Monday 22nd October 1962. It was the day before Pele’s 22nd birthday. The 7-15pm kick off attracted an attendance of 49,058. Santos won 4-2 with all of the goals coming in the first half. Santos lead 2-0 before the Owls levelled at 2-2. Coutinho scored a hat trick with Pele scoring a penalty. Bill Griffin and David Layne scoring for the Owls. That fixture was the only one played by Santos in England until 1969 when they played Stoke City.
Moving on to 1972, Santos and Pele are back in England, playing at Villa Park on Monday 21st February 1972. Pele lit up Villa Park by all accounts and the crowd certainly needed someone to light up Villa Park. Due to generator problems, only three of the four floodlights functioned for much of the game. Villa won 2-1. Two days later and almost a decade on since his first visit and with a 3rd World Cup to his name a 31 year old Pele is back at Hillsborough. Santos prevailed 2-0 in a game which kicked off at 2.30pm on a Wednesday afternoon, due to power cuts from the miners’ strike at the time. Still, 36,996 turned out, with many of the crowd skipping school to catch a glimpse of Pele. In contrast, Wednesday’s home game with Watford just four days earlier attracted a crowd of just 13,934. On the pitch Tommy Craig spent the last 10 minutes of the match shadowing Pele in order to obtain his shirt which he did.
In 1973 Pele would come back to play in England for the last time when Santos played matches at both Fulham (his only match ever in London) and Plymouth Argyle. Pele returned to Sheffield over 35 years after his last visit to attend a ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest football club, and it’s new links with Brazilian club Sao Paulo FC.
I saw Pele in real life for the only time when he was in attendance during the 150th anniversary match between Sheffield FC and Inter Milan on November 8, 2007 which was played at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane. I never met him but he ran around the pitch and came over to salute the fans who gave him a standing ovation. It was nice to say that I had at least seen him.
Here are a list of the matches Pele played in (or was present as a squad member) in the UK
22/10/62 Sheffield Wednesday v Santos 2-4 (att 49.058)
08/05/63 England v Brazil 1-1 (In attendance but didn’t play)
25/06/66 Scotland v Brazil 1-1 (Hampden Park att 74,933)
12/07/66 Brazil v Bulgaria (Goodison Park) 2-0 (att 47,308)
15/07/66 Brazil v Hungary 1-3 (Goodison Park- in attendance didn’t play)
19/07/66 Brazil v Portugal 1-3 (Goodison Park) (att 58,479)
22/09/69 Stoke City v Santos 2-3 (att 23,756)
05/02/72 Aston Villa v Santos 2-1 (att 54,437)
23/02/72 Sheffield Wednesday v Santos 0-2 (att 36,996)
12/03/73 Fulham v Santos 2-1 (att 21,464)
14/03/73 Plymouth Argyle v Santos 3-2 (att 37639)
Do you have more information about this that we could add? Are any of the facts wrong? Please get in touch if so.