Football legend Pele finally laid to rest in Santos City
BRAZIL - Mourners lined the streets in the coastal city of Santos, Brazil, on Tuesday as Pele’s body was transported in a black coffin from the Vila Belmiro stadium to the late football legend’s final resting place at the Necropole Ecumenical Memorial Cemetery.
A band greeted the casket as it entered the cemetery, playing a Catholic hymn and the team song for the local Santos football team, where Pele played for much of his career. Fans also serenaded the casket with samba music, as a tribute to the fallen sports star.
Pele was laid to rest in a 200sq metre mausoleum, near where his father, aunt, brother, and daughter are interred. His burial place will be decorated like a football stadium, with images of his career highlights.
The burial marked the end of a 24-hour public memorial service for Pele, who died last week at the age of 82 after battling colon cancer for a year.
More than 230,000 people, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, had come to Santos to pay their respects to the three-time World Cup winner, who was placed in an open casket on the midfield line of Santos’s Vila Belmiro stadium.
Santos was not only where Pele grew up but also where he became famous, making the city a global capital of football. He remains the only player ever to win three World Cups.
“Pele represents a lot for us Brazilian people,” Thiago Mostazo, a football fan, told Al Jazeera outside the stadium. “It’s a sad moment, but it’s also a moment to honour his life and his career as the greatest football player ever.”
Mourners ranged from high school students to Supreme Court justices, some of whom spent hours lining up to pay their respects to Pele in the century-old stadium where he made his hometown team one of Brazil’s best.
Geovana Sarmento, 17, waited for three hours to view Pele’s body as it lay in repose at the stadium. 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 told the Associated Press news agency.
The public filed past Pele’s body from Monday and overnight into Tuesday. The coffin was draped in the flags of Brazil and the Santos Football Club.
“Long live the king,” a giant banner read inside the stadium. Dubbed the “king of soccer“, Pele played for Santos from 1956 to 1974, scoring more than 1,000 goals.
Lifelong Santos fan Katia Cruz, 58, who lives a block from the stadium, said she had stood in line for four hours to get into the Vila Belmiro at 1:30am (04:30 GMT), attending the wake alone because her husband was “inconsolable”.
She recalled Pele as a “very good, down-to-earth person” who would always autograph the memorabilia people brought to his house.
“He was humble, a humility today’s players don’t have,” she told AFP.
Others expressed disappointment that some of Brazil’s most famous footballers were not in attendance.
“Where’s Ronaldo Nazario? Where’s Kaka, where’s Neymar?” Claudionor Alves, a 67-year-old who works at a bakery next to the stadium, asked the Associated Press. “Do they think they will be remembered like Pele will? These guys didn’t want to stop their vacations, that’s the problem.”
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 named “Eu sou Pele” (“I am Pele”) that was recorded by the Brazilian himself.
The crowd was mostly local, although some came from far corners of the country. Many mourners were too young ever to have seen Pele play.
Newly sworn-in President Lula arrived by helicopter on Tuesday morning and stood next to Pele’s casket in the centre of the field. He took part in a Catholic mass as fans continued to walk past the coffin, and expressed his condolences to Pele’s widow, Marcia Aoki.
“Few Brazilians carried the name of our country as far as he did,” Lula said last week after Pele’s death.
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 for putting the country on the world stage for the first time.
Celebrities and authorities also paid their respects. FIFA President Gianni Infantino was one of the first to attend the memorial on Monday and said he would ask football associations around the world to name a stadium after Pele.