Pele’s coffin arrives at cemetery in city he made famous

Millions of fans in Brazil and around the world mourned the football legend
Pele’s coffin arrives at cemetery in city he made famous

Mauricio Savarese, Associated Press

Pele’s coffin has arrived at his final resting place as millions of fans in Brazil and around the world mourned the football legend.

Newly inaugurated President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva paid his respects at Vila Belmiro, the stadium where Pele played for most of his career.

Pele was being buried in the city where he grew up, became famous, and which he helped make into a global capital of his sport.

Mass was held at the Vila Belmiro stadium before the coffin was driven through the streets of Santos.

Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gives condolences to Marcia Aoki, widow of the late Brazilian football player Pele, during a wake at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil
Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gives condolences to Marcia Aoki, widow of the late Brazilian football player Pele, during a wake at Vila Belmiro stadium in Santos, Brazil (Andre Penner/AP)

A notable absentee was Jair Bolsonaro, whose term as president ended on December 31.

A day before, he departed the capital Brasilia on a flight to Florida, shirking the ceremonial duty of passing the presidential sash to Mr Lula.

Mr Bolsonaro is staying in a condominium complex outside Orlando and has been filmed speaking to neighbours.

Geovana Sarmento, 17, waited in the three-hour line to view Pele’s body as it lay in repose.

She came with her father, who was wearing a Brazil shirt with Pele’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 needed to honour him,” she said.

Caio Zalke, 35, an engineer, wore a Brazil shirt as he waited in line.

The coffin of late Brazilian football great Pele is draped in the Brazilian and Santos FC soccer club flags as his remains are transported from Vila Belmiro stadium, where he laid in state, to the cemetery during his funeral procession in Santos, Brazil
The coffin of Pele is draped in the Brazilian and Santos FC flags as his remains are transported from Vila Belmiro stadium, where he laid in state, to the cemetery during his funeral procession in Santos, Brazil (Matias Delacroix/AP)

“Pele is the most important Brazilian of all time. He made the sport important for Brazil and he made Brazil important for the world,” he said.

In the 1960s and 70s, Pele 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 for the first time.

Rows of shirts with Pele’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 called Eu Sou Pele (I Am Pele) that was recorded by the Brazilian himself.

The crowd was mostly local, although some came from far away.

Many mourners were too young ever to have seen Pele play.

People pray outside the home of the mother of Brazilian footballer Pele during his funeral procession from Vila Belmiro stadium, where he laid in state, to the cemetery in Santos, Brazil
People pray outside the home of the mother of Brazilian footballer Pele during his funeral procession from Vila Belmiro stadium to the cemetery in Santos (Matias Delacroix/AP)

The mood was light, as people filtered out of the stadium to local bars, wearing Santos FC and Brazil shirts.

Claudio Carranca, 32, a salesman, said: “I never saw him play, but loving Pele 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 Pele in action. If they had, they would feel this gratitude I feel now.”

Among those at the stadium was Pele’s best friend Manoel Maria, 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,” Maria said.

“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 Pele.

“I am here with a lot of emotion, sadness, but also with a smile because he gave us so many smiles,” Mr Infantino said.

The coffin of late Brazilian footballer Pele is draped in the Brazilian and Santos FC flags as his remains are transported on a fire engine from Vila Belmiro stadium to the cemetery during his funeral procession in Santos, Brazil
The coffin of late Brazilian footballer Pele is draped in the Brazilian and Santos FC flags as his remains are transported on a fire engine from Vila Belmiro stadium to the cemetery during his funeral procession in Santos, Brazil (Andre Penner/AP)

“As Fifa, we will pay a tribute to the ‘King’ and we ask the whole world to observe a minute of silence.”

Another fan and friend in line was Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes.

“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. DVDs, photos, a big collection of him.”

Pele had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021.

The medical centre where he had been in hospital said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of the cancer.

Pele led Brazil to World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and remains one of the team’s all-time leading scorers with 77 goals.

Neymar tied Pele’s record during this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

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