Regal images of football’s king

Pele, football's first icon (Part 1)

Pele signs autographs for some young fans during the 1966 FIFA World Cup
Pele wears a sombrero a few seconds after winning his third FIFA World Cup, on 21 June 1970 at the Azteca Stadium
Pele lifts the Jules Rimet trophy in the Champs Elysees in April 1971
Pele plays in goal during a training session in 1963
A young fan tries to get an autograph while Pele trains in the rain in July 1966
Pele recovers in a pool after a match in 1970
Pele gets his blood pressure tested in 1965
Pele and his Brazilian team-mates ride a bus upon their arrival at the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England
Pele plays the guitar and sings with his Brazilian team-mates in 1966
Pele relaxes in his hotel garden in 1966
Break in music for Pelé in his hotel room in London in 1963

  • Pele celebrates his 80th birthday today
  • His achievements in the game have never been matched
  • O Rei’s fame made him a global superstar

There are very few names that are truly known the world over. These include some historical figures, a small number of film or music icons, as well as an exclusive group of sportspeople – of which Pele is unquestionably one. Regardless of their generation, country of origin or knowledge of football, people everywhere know of the famous Brazilian striker.

The reason for that is, first and foremost, his incredible on-field achievements. Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, he went on to score more than 1,000 goals in a career that also saw him become the only player in history to have won the FIFA World Cup™ three times. Video footage of his wondrous goals, dribbles and other skills have been seen around the world, such as his famous dummy and miss against Uruguay at the 1970 World Cup.

Pele’s fame also owes much to his charisma and the aura that surrounded him on and off the pitch. Giuseppe Meazza, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas may have been among the game’s early icons, but Pele was its first superstar. In places as far apart as Lima, Bangalore and Lusaka, marble plaques can be found at the entrance to stadiums proudly proclaiming that “Pele played here”. In 1961, the then Brazil President Janio Quadros even passed a law making the player a “National Treasure”.

Two decades later, John Huston cast him in his 1981 blockbuster Escape to Victory alongside Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone. Then in 2000, the French sports daily L’Équipe named him ‘Champion of the Century’ with the following summation: “We should consult Pele as we would an oracle so that he can solve all of life’s little problems, foresee the future and, while he’s at it, rid the world of all its miseries and ills.”

Small wonder then that, in his heyday, his fame was on par with that of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. In a society that had nothing like the cult of celebrity we see today, Pele was still followed everywhere he went. As with the Beatles, fans would chase him for an autograph and he was permanently surrounded by photographers, who captured and immortalised every phase of his life. These photos, whether in black and white or colour, give us a glimpse of life behind the scenes of one of football’s greatest legends and the chance to experience what he represented.

Pele, football's first icon (Part 2)

Pele sits at the dinner table with his family in 1958
Pele signs special edition stamps after scoring the 1,000th goal of his career, on 15 September 1970
Pele and Garrincha drink tea together in 1965
Pele with Robert Kennedy in 1960
Pele cooks a dinner in 1960
Relaxation time for Pele in 1959
Pele visits the barber shop in 1961
Pele attends the 1977 Cannes Film Festival with the movie star Anthony Quinn
Pele with his daughter Kelly Christina in 1969

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