Meet England’s Pele: Fishing bait expert, 52, was named after Brazilian icon by his football-mad British father (and even shared a kick-about with him when he was a toddler)
- Pele Johnson, 52, was named by his father after the famous World Cup winner
- The two Peles famously shared a kick-about for a photoshoot in the 1970s
- Mr Johnson said: ‘My whole life has been shaped by the fact I’m called Pele’
- Pele, the greatest footballer who ever lived, died aged 82 on December 29
Pele, the greatest footballer who ever lived, is dead – but Pele the Englishman lives on.
More than half a century ago baby Pele Johnson made headlines when his father named him after the three-time World Cup winner.
And he was in the news again as a toddler when the Brazilian met and joined him for a kick-about.
Now Mr Johnson is 52, owner of a successful fishing bait business and in mourning for his namesake.
Pele Johnson, 52, was named after the famous footballer and met Pele when he was aged two (with a picture of the meeting on his laptop)
Pele pictured meeting his namesake with his father in the 1970s
But he has no regrets about sharing his name.
Mr Johnson said: ‘I did shed a tear when I heard Pele had died. I know when we met it wasn’t as a family friend, it was a photo opportunity.
‘But my whole life has been shaped by the fact that I’m called Pele. Everywhere I’ve gone, it’s always been about my name first.
‘It’s never hindered me in my career or anything, it’s a wonderful thing.
‘My dad was English, and my mum Dutch – but there’s a part of me that’s always Brazilian.’
The English Pele was born in west London in September 1970.
His father Anthony Johnson wanted to name him after all the forwards and midfield of the Brazilian team in tribute to them winning the Jules Rimet trophy for the third time three months earlier.
It would have made him Pele Jairzinho Tostao Rivelino Clodoaldo Gerson Johnson.
Baby Pele Johnson (pictured with his Dutch mother Tineke) drew headlines for his famous name after his birth in 1970
But his mother, Dutch artist Tineke, blew the whistle on that plan as she felt the extra hours’ form-filling it would lead to in his lifetime was going too far.
Instead, the couple compromised on using two of the team’s names, meaning he was christened Pele Jairzinho Johnson.
That unusual choice, and the family dispute, were enough to get baby Pele in the papers.
Two years later a journalist friend of the Johnsons arranged for the star himself – in London for an exhibition match between his club Santos and Fulham – to pay a visit to the toddler Pele.
The two Peles played with a football at a hotel in Kensington while cameras flashed.
Proud father Anthony, a telephone engineer who died a decade ago aged 86, said at the time: ‘Little Pele didn’t quite rise to the big occasion, but his namesake was absolutely marvellous.
‘The sight of the world’s greatest footballer walking along the hotel corridor hand in hand with the boy is one we’ll always treasure.’
The football legend had been in Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo since late last month amid a battle with colon cancer before his death on December 29
The man widely known as the greatest footballer of all time died last month, following an extraordinary life
Mr Johnson, now a father of four, lives with his wife Katie, 43, in a detached house in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire.
He said: ‘I was too young really when I met Pele – but I can remember playing football with him, and being given the ball and not giving it back.
‘He gave us lots of signed stuff, and my family always said he was very humble and happy to talk and give us his time.
‘I was given the name because my parents and older siblings had been mad Brazil supporters during the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, just before I was born.
‘And even though I wasn’t given all the players’ names my dad planned on my birth certificate, when I was in trouble my mum, who’s now 94 and lives nearby, would always call me by all six.’
Mr Johnson believes his father was not only the first to christen an English boy Pele – there are now dozens – but also to plan to use multiple names from a single team, sparking an occasional trend by football club fanatics ever since.
And his distinctive name has only rarely been a problem. During games while he was at boarding school on a scholarship is one example.
‘Playing football was really hard,’ said Mr Johnson. ‘Being called Pele was a huge shadow over me on the pitch.
‘A team-mate would call out “Pele” and the visiting team would just stop.
‘At one game there was a massive hoo-ha when no one would start playing again because they didn’t believe I was called Pele.
‘Then they thought it was because of my amazing skills. In fact I was probably very average.’
His name did him no harm through several years in the Army Air Corps after school, then rising to a senior position in Barclays bank in Canary Wharf before a serious motorbike accident cut short his career.
He then established a successful fish bait business, Spotted Fin, which now operates internationally.
‘It’s probably wrong to say being called Pele has opened doors,’ said Mr Johnson.
‘But in any interview, or a meeting, it’s always an easy “in”. I spend ten minutes telling the story of my name.
‘There’s been a few occasions I’ve had to pull out my driving licence to prove I am Pele.
‘I’ve never been to Brazil though. I felt me being called Pele there, where he’s revered, wouldn’t be the right thing. Only now am I thinking I might visit to see his memorial.’
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