Thousands of mourners, including high school students and supreme court justices, began filing past the body of Pelé on Monday (January 2) on the century-old field where he made his hometown team one of Brazil’s best. The football great died on Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was the only player ever to win three World Cups, and he was 82.
Pelé’s coffin, draped in the flags of Brazil and the Santos FC football club, was placed on the midfield area of Vila Belmiro, the stadium outside São Paulo that was his home for most of his career. A Catholic Mass will be celebrated there Tuesday morning before his burial at a nearby cemetery. Brazil’s newly inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will come to Vila Belmiro shortly before Pelé’s coffin is removed from the stadium.
The storied 16,000-seat stadium was surrounded by mourners, and covered with Pelé-themed decorations. Fans coming out of the stadium said they’d waited three hours in line, standing under a blazing sun. Forty-five years after Pelé played his last game, he’s still a central part of Brazil’s national story.
Geovana Sarmento, 17, came with her father, who was wearing a Brazil shirt with Pelé’s name. “I am not a Santos fan, neither is my father. But this guy invented Brazil’s national team. He made Santos stronger, he made it big, how could you not respect him? He is one of the greatest people ever, we need to honor him,” she said.
Thousands of fans descend upon Santos to bid farewell to #Peleas Brazil mourns the ‘King of football’.
Pele’s funeral procession to stop briefly outside his 100-year-old mother’s home.@nehakhanna_07 have more
For more videos, visit: https://t.co/AXC5qRuO3J pic.twitter.com/6NgREVixn1— WION (@WIONNews) January 2, 2023
In the 1960s and 70s, Pelé was perhaps the world’s most famous athlete. He met presidents and queens, and in Nigeria a civil war was put on hold to watch him play. Many Brazilians credit him with putting the country on the world stage.
Caio Zalke, 35, an engineer, also wore a Brazil shirt as he waited in line. “Pelé is the most important Brazilian of all time. He made soccer important for Brazil and he made Brazil important for the world,” he said.
Rows of shirts with Pelé’s number 10 were placed behind one of the goals, waving in the city’s summer winds. A section of the stands was filling up with bouquets of flowers placed by mourners and sent by clubs and star players — Neymar and Ronaldo among them — from around the world as loudspeakers played a song named “Eu sou Pelé” (“I am Pelé” ) that was recorded by the Brazilian himself.
Claudio Carrança, 32, a salesman, said: “I never saw him play, but loving Pelé is a tradition that goes from father to son in Santos. I learned his history, saw his goals, and I see how Santos FC is important because he is important. I know some Santos fans have children supporting other teams. But that’s just because they never saw Pelé in action. If they had, they would feel the gratitude I feel now.”
Santos FC said that more than 1,100 journalists from 23 countries were at the funeral. Dignitaries and friends of Pelé in attendance spoke at the funeral. Among them was Pelé’s best friend Manoel Maria, who is also a former Santos player. “If I had all the wealth in the world I would never be able to repay what this man did for me and my family. He was as great a man as he was as a player; the best of all time. His legacy will outlive us all. And that can be seen in this long line with people of all ages here.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino told journalists that every country should name a stadium after Pelé. “I am here with a lot of emotion, sadness, but also with a smile because he gave us so many smiles,” Infantino said. “As FIFA, we will pay a tribute to the ‘King’ and we ask the whole world to observe a minute of silence.”
(with PTI inputs)