Lais Morais and Eduardo Simonis
SANTOS, Brazil (Reuters) – The coastal Brazilian city of Santos, where sports giant Pele has become synonymous with footballing prowess during his illustrious club career, woke up 24 hours a day on Monday to show his hero prepared to say goodbye to
The Vila Belmiro Stadium, home of Santos Football Club, will hold a memorial service for Pele, who died at the age of 82 after battling colon cancer on Thursday.
“Expectations are high, the whole world is here,” said local fan Roberto Santos. “Pele doesn’t need a presentation. For us, Pele is everything.”
Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele’s real name – was born in 1940 in the small rural town of Tres Coracoes, but moved to Santos in 1956, where he lived most of his life.
“Pele leaves millions of Santos fans across our country. He was the founder of Brazilian football,” said fan Antonio da Paz outside the stadium at 10am (1300 GMT). I was waiting for a memorial set to begin with.
Pele’s body arrived early Monday morning from the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo under fireworks in Santos, a city of about 430,000 people. On Tuesday, his coffin-carrying procession will run through the streets of Santos and end at the ecumenical his memorial his necropolis cemetery.
About 5,000 journalists from around the world have qualified to cover the only man to score more than 1,000 goals for Santos and win three World Cups as a player, the Santos press office said.
People began to gather outside the stadium on Sunday to take pictures next to a statue of Pele.
A street vendor sold Santos and Brazilian jerseys under his name. Inside the stadium, preparations were made for the wake, with messages such as “Long live the King” and “The only man who can stop the war.”
Several officials attended the ceremony, including newly inaugurated Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, longtime Santos supporter Vice President Gerardo Alcumin and FIFA President Gianni Infantino intend to do something.
The São Paulo state military police said in a statement that they had prepared a special operation called “Operation King Pele” to ensure public order.
Fan Roberto Santos said, “I’m here 24 hours a day, from 10am to 10am. ‘Pele deserves it’.”
(Additional reporting by Diego Vara; writing by Gabriel Araujo; editing by Nick Macfie)