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regular-article-logo Sunday, 26 May 2024

Brazil bids farewell to Pele with 24-hour wake

Mourners lined up to see Pele’s body in an open casket in the centre of the field at the Vila Belmiro Stadium, home of the Santos Football Club

Reuters, AP/PTI Santos Published 03.01.23, 05:27 AM
Pele.

Pele. File picture

The Brazilian coastal city of Santos, which sporting giant Pele turned into a byword for football brilliance during a glittering club career, started bidding goodbye to its hero on Monday with a 24- hour wake.

Mourners lined up to see Pele’s body in an open casket in the centre of the field at the Vila Belmiro Stadium, home of the Santos Football Club.

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Pele died on Thursday at 82 after battling colon cancer. “Pele leaves millions of Santos fans across our country. He was the creator of Brazilian football,” said Antonio da Paz, a fan outside the stadium for the memorial.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino was among the first to arrive for the service and said he would ask every country to name a stadium after Pele, the only man to win the World Cup three times as a player.

“Pele is eternal,” Infantino told reporters. “Fifa will certainly honour the ‘king’ as he deserves. We have asked all football associations in the world to pay a minute of silence before every game and will also ask them, 211 countries, to name a stadium after Pele. Future generations must know and remember who Pele was.”

Edson Arantes do Nascimento — Pele’s given name — was born in 1940 in the small country town of Tres Coracoes, but moved to Santos in 1956 and lived there for most of his life.

In the early hours of Monday, his body arrived under fireworks in the city of about 430,000 people from Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital.

Former Brazil midfielder Ze Roberto and Pele’s son Edinho helped placing his coffin in the field, TV footage showed. Floral wreaths were sent by the likes of Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Real Madrid.

On Tuesday, a procession carrying Pele’s coffin will pass through the streets of Santos, ending at the Ecumenical Memorial Necropolis cemetery, where he will be buried in a private ceremony.

Santos’ press office said some 5,000 journalists from all over the world had been accredited to cover the wake of Pele, who scored more than 1,000 goals for Santos.

Several government officials are expected to attend the memorial, including newly sworn-in Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Vice President Geraldo Alckmin, a longtime Santos supporter.

Sao Paulo state military police said in a statement they had prepared a special operation called the “King Pele Operation” to ensure public order. “I’ll be here all day, 24 hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 a.m.,” fan Roberto Santos said. “Pele deserves it”.

Pele’s coffin was placed on the field where he scored some of the best goals of his career. Mourners walked past his casket in the 16,000-seat stadium outside Sao Paulo. People started gathering outside the stadium on Sunday itself, taking pictures next to a statue of Pele. Street vendors were selling Santos and Brazil jerseys with his name. Inside the stadium, the structure for the wake was ready amid messages such as “Long live the King” and “The only man to stop a war.”

Brazilian Supreme Court justice Gilmar Mendes is also there in Santos. “It is a very sad moment, but we are now seeing the real meaning of this legendary player to our country,” Mendes told journalists.

“My office has shirts signed by Pele, a picture of him as a goalkeeper, also signed by him.” Mendes also said Pele was a humble man despite his global fame, and that he deserves every tribute.

Pele had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. The medical centre where he had been hospitalised said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of cancer.

Santos was founded by the Portuguese in January 1546. It hosts Latin America’s biggest port, which feeds the Sao Paulo area and exports the country’s agricultural commodities to the planet.

Only after a 15-year-old sensation started scoring goals for the city’s team did Santos the city become a household name. The Brazilian great played there from 1956 to 1974.

“There’s a Santos before Pele and another after him,” said Serginho, Brazil’s striker in the 1982 World Cup and a local hero with more than 100 goals for the club. “He put both the city and club on the map. Before him, people came to work at the port and go to the beach.”

Serginho had four spells at Santos FC as a player, all during the 1980s. Since retirement, he has worked at the club in different capacities, some of them alongside Pele.

“Santos is not in a metropolis like Sao Paulo, we have to work with less money. And Pele made this club gigantic since he started playing,” Serginho said. “Santos had their peak with him.”

Pele gave Santos two Copa Libertadores titles and two Intercontinental Cup titles against Benfica and AC Milan, as they beat some of the best rivals around the world. The Brazilian great won 26 titles at the club.

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