Brazil gives legendary Pele a joyous farewell

Pele's coffin is taken through the streets of Santos on a fire engine

If Monday’s wake for Brazilian football legend Pele was a day of reflection, Tuesday’s funeral cortege was one of carnivalesque proportions.

The 82-year-old, who many regarded as the world’s best football player, died on 29 December.

His coffin arrived in Santos on Monday, where thousands of mourners came to pay their respects at the ground of his former club – some even queued overnight.

On Tuesday, supporters’ club Torcida Jovem gathered outside the Urbano Caldeira stadium ahead of the casket leaving. Fans waved huge black and white banners, the colours of Santos Football Club. Many wore the number 10 shirt that Pele made so famous.

“Only Pele, 1,000 goals,” they repeatedly chanted as people beat drums and danced in the street.

His body was then accompanied for seven kilometres through the streets of Santos while helicopters flew overhead. His coffin was carried on a fire engine, as is traditional in official parades.

It travelled along the sea front and past Pele’s mother’s house – she turned 100 last year. There, a relative asked for a minute’s silence and the party atmosphere hushed immediately as Doña Celeste clutched her hands in prayer.

These past few days have halted the busy coastal city of Santos.

Pele supporters wave flags

Beyond football, Pele united Brazilians by being their ambassador. In a country deeply divided politically and economically – people have only had good things to say about him.

The same could not be said of the country’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who only this week took office for a third term. He arrived to pay his respects shortly before the wake ended and cheers for him competed with calls that he should be in prison.

President Lula was released in 2019 after spending 18 months in jail for corruption. His convictions were annulled in 2021. The coming together of a nation in grief has been a welcome relief for so many in what has been a turbulent few months since the presidential elections.

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