Thousands of fans lined up to see the coffin of hero Pele

Edson Arantes do Nascimento was not born and died here.

But for 19 seasons, Pele put this place on the map – so much so that the Brazilian government made it an official national treasure, so it couldn’t be played anywhere else.

A king’s return to his beloved Santos was greeted with flags, flares and fans chanting his name before sunrise on a scorching hot day in the city.

Football icon Pelé, the only player to win three World Cups, He died on December 29 at the age of 82.. A Catholic mass will be celebrated in Santos this morning before he is buried in a nearby cemetery.

Moved onto the field that made Pelé a superstar, his home pitch in Vila Belmiro featured banners proclaiming “Viva O Rei” (long live the king) and shirts with the iconic number 10 hanging over each seat in a single stand.

Placing him in the center circle one last time was a little less smooth than fans might be accustomed to seeing in life, as coffin bearers had to pull perfectly placed chairs out of the way to make room to raise the open coffin onto a pedestal.

The closest ones said goodbye and his son Edinho gathered together and prayed.

When the dignitaries began to arrive, they were led by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

“We’re going to ask questions,” he said, talking to reporters outside. every country in the world will name one of their football stadiums after Pelébecause a hundred years from now, when kids ask who Pelé is, they have to remember him all over the world, somewhere you score, in a stadium where you feel the emotion, on a football field with boys. and girls can play.

“And we have to make sure that happens.”

The first fans who passed by his coffin stood in line for hours throughout the night, desperate not to miss their chance when the doors opened at 10 am to reflect on his incredible life.

Saulo from rural Sao Paulo lost his phone, but he wasn’t going to let that get him down.

He told Sky News it was worth it: “When I saw him lying there, I wished he hadn’t been there, but that’s the reality we’re facing today.

“There is no doubt that that man is King Pelé. He will live in our hearts and memories forever.”

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Dressed in the iconic colors of Brazil or the black and white of Santos, thousands of people from all over the world had the same idea of ​​making a pilgrimage.

A man who lived in New York but grew up in St Lucia told us: “Pele, who grew up playing football while I was playing football, was one of the first black people to be considered one of the greatest, and everyone on the island wanted to do that. Be Pelé.”

We stopped an Englishman who was on vacation and he said, “It’s a terrible day for Brazil. I grew up in football. I love football and I had to come here and share this sense of pride with everyone.”

After the sun went down, so many people who idolized him came to set foot, and we took the same route where everyone from Brazilian football royalty to state political parties and local philanthropists saw huge garlands of flowers sent.

Next to the Brazilian guard of honor, we saw loved ones still mourn beside his coffin. And we saw the big man, wrapped in a Brazilian flag, with an expression of silence, far away from his pervasive mischievous grin.

As night fell, the queue was still snaking its way through the neighboring streets, and the festive mood didn’t seem to stop. People came with their dogs, family members, and friends of all ages.

Brazil’s new President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will arrive this morning before being paraded through the streets of Santos, 24 hours after Pelé’s coffin arrived.

His coffin will be taken to his 100-year-old mother’s house.

Pelé’s final resting place will be the “vertical graveyard”, a high block just 200 meters from the stadium, close enough to hear the roar of the crowd.

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