Brazilians have started paying their final respects to football great Pelé with a 24-hour public wake, which began on Monday at the Urbano Caldeira Stadium, the home of his former football club, Santos.
The wake is open to the public and mourners began entering the stadium Monday morning.
On Tuesday, a funeral procession will then carry Pelé’s coffin through the streets of the city of Santos, including passing down the street where Pelé’s 100-year-old mother, Celeste Arantes, lives.
The procession will continue to Pelé’s final resting place, the Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica cemetery, where a private funeral will be held for family members.
Fireworks greeted the hearse carrying Pelé’s coffin as it left the Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, where the three-time World Cup winner died on Thursday from multiple organ failure due to the progression of colon cancer.
The hearse was under a heavy police escort as it headed to the stadium, where his coffin will be placed in the middle of the pitch.
Fans had already started lining the streets in the early hours of Monday morning, many holding flags or banners with messages for ‘O Rei’ (“The King”). “Pelé, you are eternal,” read one by the side of the highway.
Inside Santos’ 16,000-seater stadium, a number of large banners had been placed throughout the stands, with one reading “long live The King.”
Pelé’s son, Edson Nascimento, posted a series of stories on Instagram about the trip to Santos.
“Taking our king home”, read one that showed the convoy on the highway. Another showed his hand over the coffin with the caption: “We are home.”
Famous Brazilians, including players such as Romário and Neymar Jr., and club officials from Real Madrid and São Paulo FC, were also in attendance.
According to CNN Brasil, Pelé’s widow Marcia Aoki attended the wake and was seen hugging Edson Nascimento.
People of all ages flocked to the stadium as the gates opened for the memorial and many people were wearing the iconic yellow jersey worn by Brazil’s football team and Santos FC jerseys.
It was a somber occasion and many fans were overcome with emotion, tears running down their faces as they made their way into the ground. The stadium’s public entrance was adorned with flower bouquets and the Santos FC flag was flown at half-mast.
The song Meu Legado (“my legacy”), sung by Pele, was played on repeat inside the stadium from the moment his casket entered, as fans sang along to the words.
Among the first to arrive to pay their respects was FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
“Pele is eternal,” Infantino told reporters, per Reuters. “FIFA will certainly honor 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.”
For more than 60 years, the name Pelé has been synonymous with football. He played in four World Cups and is the only player in history to win three, but his legacy stretched far beyond his trophy haul and remarkable goal-scoring record.
“I was born to play football, just like Beethoven was born to write music and Michelangelo was born to paint,” Pelé famously said.
Pelé, born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in history and Brazil held three days of national mourning following his death.
Tributes have poured in from sports stars, politicians and musicians from all around the world for a man that transcended his sport and became a global icon.
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