The Brazilian coastal city of Santos, which sporting giant Pele turned into a byword for soccer brilliance during a glittering club career, started bidding goodbye to its hero on Monday with a 24-hour wake.
Mourners lined up to see Pele’s body in an open casket in the center of the field at the Vila Belmiro stadium, home of the Santos Football Club. Pele died on Thursday at 82 after battling colon cancer.
“Pele leaves millions of Santos fans across our country. He was the creator of Brazilian soccer,” said Antonio da Paz, a fan outside the stadium for the memorial that began at 10 a.m. (1300 GMT).
FIFA President Gianni Infantino was among the first to arrive for the service and said he would ask every country to name a stadium after Pele, the only man to win the World Cup three times as a player.
“Pele is eternal,” Infantino told reporters. “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.”
Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele’s given name – was born in 1940 in the small country town of Tres Coracoes, but moved to Santos in 1956 and lived there for most of his life.
In the early hours of Monday, his body arrived under fireworks in the city of about 430,000 people from Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital.
Former Brazil midfielder Ze Roberto and Pele’s son Edinho helped place his coffin on the field, TV footage showed. Floral wreaths were sent by the likes of Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Spanish club Real Madrid.
On Tuesday, a procession carrying Pele’s coffin will pass through the streets of Santos, ending at the Ecumenical Memorial Necropolis cemetery, where he will be buried in a private ceremony.
Santos’ press office said some 5,000 journalists from all over the world had been accredited to cover the wake of Pele, who scored more than 1,000 goals for Santos.
Several government officials are set to attend the memorial, including newly sworn-in Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Vice President Geraldo Alckmin, a longtime Santos supporter.
Lula will pay his respects and pay tribute to Pele and his family on Tuesday morning, the president’s office said in a statement.
Sao Paulo state military police said in a statement they had prepared a special operation called the “King Pele Operation” to ensure public order.
“I’ll be here all day, 24 hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 a.m.,” fan Roberto Santos said. “Pele deserves it”.
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