Pelé’s coffin was transported from the hospital morgue under police escort early Monday and placed in the center of the pitch for 24 hours to allow fans to say goodbye. On Tuesday morning, a funeral procession will travel through the streets of Santos, 50 miles south of São Paulo, to the cemetery, where a private burial will be held.
At the stadium Monday, the energetic atmosphere of game days gave way to lowered voices and quiet reflection. Hours before the gates opened, thousands of fans were already waiting in a line that stretched around the stadium. There were entire families, old people, children and babies, most wearing the black and white uniform of Santos, the club where Pelé first made his name and catapulted to national renown and global recognition.
Others, like Fabio Borges, a fan of the rival São Paulo team, chose the traditional green-and-yellow shirt of the Brazilian national team to pay homage to the Pérola Negra, or Black Pearl.
Borges, 40, came to Santos with his wife and their teenage son. They drove 370 miles from their hometown, in the state of Paraná, to spend New Year’s Eve watching the fireworks display on the beach. When they learned Pelé had passed away Thursday at age 82, they decided to extend the trip for another day to be here for the funeral.
“Pelé belongs to everyone,” Borges explained. “Not even the Pope stopped a war; Pelé did,” he said, referring to a 48-hour cease-fire in Nigeria in 1969 when combatants put down their arms to watch him compete in an exhibition match in Lagos.
“He was always different. There won’t be anyone to surpass him.”
Once fans entered the stadium gates, they walked slowly across the grass to the tent that held the coffin. After hours waiting in line under an intense sun, attendees were given a few moments to take pictures and pay their respects to Pelé. Some knelt and raised their hands to the heavens; others carried banners or reproductions of the World Cup trophy.
Emilio de Lima, 58, a fanatical Santos supporter from São Paulo, arrived here on Sunday so he could be first in line for the funeral.
“Pelé doesn’t have a home; Pelé belongs to the world!” he said.
Aloisio Viana, 71, has been a Santos fan his whole life. He lives in a neighboring city, and spent his childhood watching Pelé play. “There will never be another like him,” he said confidently.
His son, Fabrício, agreed. “He will stay in history forever,” Fabrício said. “No matter what line we face, we need to say goodbye to the king.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino was also among those in attendance. He told the press that he will ask each international soccer federation to name at least one stadium after Pelé, “so that the children know how important he is.”
Prominent Brazilians came from across the country to pay their respects, including a Supreme Court justice, Gilmar Mendes, and the governor of São Paulo state, Tarcísio de Freitas. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was sworn in as president on Sunday, is expected at the stadium Tuesday, according to local media.
The three-time World Cup winner’s legacy of greatness is indisputable. Pelé’s quickness, artistry and improvisational style made him, in his time, the world’s most celebrated athlete.
But it was here, in Santos, that the king chose to be mourned. Almost two decades ago, Pelé decided that he would be buried in the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica cemetery, where the tombstones are stacked vertically, resembling a high-rise building. From the top, you can see the soccer stadium.
“It is a place that transmits spiritual peace and tranquility, where you don’t feel depressed; it doesn’t even look like a cemetery,” Pelé said years ago in an interview with the local newspaper A Tribuna.
Santos gave Pelé his first professional contract, at the age of 15. He played here from 1956 until 1974, when he retired from Brazilian soccer and signed a lifetime contract with Santos that included a merchandise licensing agreement.
One year later, he signed a three-year, $2.8 million contract with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. Average league attendance jumped nearly 80 percent after he came to the United States, Sports Illustrated later reported.
Pelé led the Cosmos to the league championship in 1977. In his final game — an exhibition against Santos at Giants Stadium — he competed for his American club in one half and his former Brazilian club in the other half.
For Emilio de Lima, his most enduring memory of Pelé’s comes from that final game, when he invited the fans at Giants Stadium to shout, “Love, love, love!”
“He spoke of love,” de Lima said. Who doesn’t love love?”
#Thousands #gather #Pelés #funeral #Santos #Brazil