Pelé honored by thousands of Brazilians during 24-hour funeral

At 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Antônio da Paz boarded a bus for football icon Pelé’s funeral and drove four hours to Santos, Brazil, where his idol was due rest in state.

When he arrived he was a full day ahead – and the first in line. He had no chair, blanket, or pillow. Just a homemade crown, a plastic World Cup trophy and a jumpsuit with the Brazilian flag.

“I slept with just my shirt on and a hat so I wouldn’t hurt my head,” da Paz said Sunday, recalling his night on the concrete. “But it was worth it because he’s the king. A man who introduced Brazil to the world – through him, through the ball.

Love, adoration and reverence for the man Brazilians and many others call the king of football were on full display Monday in Santos, a port city that Pelé put on the map as the star electrifying part of his football club for 18 years.

Santos opened the doors to their 16,000-seat stadium at 10 a.m. on Monday, and a steady stream of fans began to file past the body of Pele, who lies in a dark coffin in the middle of the pitch, covered in flowers and draped with a veil. The bleachers around him were draped with banners bearing his image and a message: “Viva o rei” or “Long live the king”.

Outside the stadium, fans from across Brazil and beyond had lined up to pay their respects, with the line taking nearly two hours to reach the stadium by late morning. There were fathers with their daughters, mothers with sons, and vendors selling beer, fried snacks, and roses in the shadow of colonial architecture. A man hastily handed out pizzeria menus to anyone who would accept one. The conversation everywhere was about one thing. “Above him, only God,” said one man to another as they passed.

“The atmosphere here is a bit of sadness and a bit of joy – sadness because he died and joy because of the people who saw him play and talk about his story,” said Marcelo Alves da Silva, 41 years, venture investment analyst. who attended the event with his 4-year-old son, Mathias, on his shoulders. Da Silva had taken the day off and he drove the two hours from São Paulo. “It was important to show my son,” he said.

But not everyone was ready to enter. Onofra Rovai, 91, has lived opposite the stadium entrance for 50 years and said he has met Pele several times over the years. From her perch on the second floor on Monday, Rovai, a retired sewing teacher, watched as the crowd snuck into the stadium, but said she wouldn’t join them. “I want to remember him alive, like he was before,” she said, wearing a Santos jersey. “To me, he is not dead.”

Back towards the end of the line, da Paz had just returned from a lunch of rice and beans – he had barely eaten in his 24 hours in line – and was now on his way back to the queue.

Then someone came over and patted him on the back. It was Renato Sousa do Santo, a 68-year-old driver who met da Paz when they both started waiting outside Pelé’s hospital in São Paulo last week when news emerged that he was close to the death. They had hoped to enter to possibly meet the football star, but instead they were stuck outside and started a sidewalk friendship.

“They wouldn’t let us in, so we just stood there, like we were here,” Sousa said. “We put up signs on the wall, and all the journalists came to talk to us.”

Then another voice shouted in the distance, “What’s up, gentlemen?” Didn’t I say I’d be there?

This is Marcolino Olímpio de Oliveira, 62, a painter from the suburbs of São Paulo. He had also met da Paz and Sousa outside Pele’s hospital, part of a small group that had come together in the star’s final days. Now they were together again at his funeral.

“Pelé was everything,” Olímpio said, carrying a big book about Pelé. “Everything he did, he did well, play, sing, play.” He said he watched one of Pelé’s films recently. “I cried twice,” he said.

The men lined up together. Two hours later, they passed by Pelé’s coffin. As he walked across the field, da Paz shouted and held up a homemade sign that read, “Brazil has lost the king, but your work will not be forgotten by the Brazilian people.

After leaving the stadium for the second time, da Paz’s plan was clear: “I’m going out right now and coming back.”

nytimes sport

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