Dundrum man remembers 'gentleman' teammate Pelé

Not many people can say they graced a football pitch alongside Brazilian great Pelé, but Mike Dillon can.

The former Tottenham Hotspur, Swindon Town and latterly New York Cosmos defender played alongside the late icon at the American side in the 1970s.

Like many across the world, he has been mourning the loss of the striker many consider to be the best the game has seen.

Pelé died in hospital on 29 December after an illness.

Now living in Dundrum in Northern Ireland, Mike's career path crossed with Pelé's when both were playing for New York Cosmos. Their friendship all due to a missed journey.

"The truth of it is I missed a train out of Paddington to Cardiff and the manager (of Cardiff) at the time was a man called Jimmy Andrews," Mike told UTV.

Mike Dillon playing alongside Pelé. Credit: UTV

"I called him and said, Jimmy, I've been offered a contract in New York. I'm going to go to New York."

At the time, injury meant that Mike's footballing career in England was in jeopardy. Cardiff City was a potential option but he was swayed by the American side's offer.

Mike Dillon playing for Tottenham Hotspur. Credit: PA

A cruciate ligament injury meaning he had to readjust his plans and eventually led to him joining the east coast club.

One of Pelé's most famous goals was a scissor-kick for the New York Cosmos in 1975. Mike told UTV that he remembers it vividly.

Pelé's scissor-kick goal for New York Cosmos. Credit: PA

"He had said to me afterwards... that he had tried it quite a few times and that is the best he had ever hit it. It was just perfect timing."

Of course, much has been made of Pelé's skills, agility and memorable goals. However it is Pelé as a man that Mike Dillon says he will also remember him.

Sitting in his home in Dundrum, he recalls a time in Japan when Pelé chose not to return to the team hotel, all for a good reason.

"I remember one incident in Japan where we played in an exhibition game. I don't remember how many Japanese children were wanting his autograph.

"Anyway he came onto the bus and said to us, look, you go back to the hotel. I'm going to stay and sign these autographs and I think he came back two or three hours later and he had signed every Japanese kid's autograph. That is how he was, he was just a gentleman."

As every continent comes to terms with the loss of a footballing legend, one man who had the honour of calling him a friend will remember him on closer shores.

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