Thousands of mourners walk past Pele’s body ahead of the Brazilian football legend’s funeral

Thousands of mourners lined up to bury the body of football legend Pele as his coffin lay in the stadium where he made his hometown team one of the best in Brazil.

A ceremonial 2km line of everyone from high school students to Supreme Court justices formed on Monday as bereaved fans awaited a final farewell.

The Brazilian football great – the only player to ever win three World Cups – died on Thursday at the age of 82 after a long battle with cancer.

Pele’s coffin, decorated with the flags of Brazil and the football club Santos FC, was placed in the center of the pitch of Vila Belmiro, a century-old stadium near Sao Paulo that was his home for most of his career.

A Catholic mass was to be held there on Tuesday morning before his burial in a nearby cemetery.

Mourners line up to pay their respects to Brazilian football legend Pele as his body lies on the field of his former club Santos Vila Belmiro Stadium (REUTERS)

Brazil’s newly inaugurated president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was also scheduled to visit Vila Belmiro shortly before Pele’s coffin was removed from the stadium.

The 16,000-seat two-story stadium was surrounded by mourning fans on Monday and Tuesday, and covered inside with Pele-themed decorations.

Fans leaving the stadium said they had been waiting in line for three hours.

17-year-old Geovana Sarmento arrived with her father wearing a Brazilian T-shirt with the name Pele.

“I’m not a fan of Santos, neither is my father,” she said. “But this guy invented the Brazil national team. He made Santos stronger, he made him great, how can you not respect him? He’s one of the greatest people in history and we had to honor him.”

Caio Zalke, a 35-year-old engineer, was also wearing a Brazilian shirt as he waited in line. “Pele is the most important Brazilian of all time. He made football important for Brazil and made Brazil important for the world,” he said.

Pele seen in his coffin on the pitch of the Vila Belmiro stadium (REUTERS)

Pele seen in his coffin on the pitch of the Vila Belmiro stadium (REUTERS)

Behind one of the goals were rows of Pele’s number 10 shirts.

Some of the stands filled with bouquets of flowers laid by mourners and sent by clubs and celebrities – among them Neymar and Ronaldo – from around the world, while the loudspeakers played the song Eu sou Pele (I am Pele), which was recorded by the Brazilian himself.

Claudio Carranca, a 32-year-old salesman, said: “I’ve never seen him play but darling Pele is a tradition that is passed down from father to son at Santos. I know his history, I saw his goals and I see how important Santos FC is because he is important. I know some Santos fans have kids supporting other teams. But that’s only because they’ve never seen Pele in action. If they had, they would have felt the gratitude that I feel now.”

Pele’s coffin will be carried through the streets of Santos ahead of his funeral on Tuesday.

A funeral was held at the stadium on Monday morning.

Santos FC reported that more than 1,100 journalists from 23 countries were on duty, where Pele’s dignitaries and friends spoke,

Among them was Pele’s best friend Manoel Maria, also a former Santos player. “If I had all the wealth in the world, I could never repay what this man has done for me and my family. He was as great a man as he was a player; the best of all time. His legacy will outlive us all. And it shows in this long line of people of all ages.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino told reporters that every country should name a stadium after Pele.

A section of the 2km queue for Pele's funeral (Getty Images)

A section of the 2km queue for Pele’s funeral (Getty Images)

“I’m here with a lot of emotion, sadness, but also a smile because he gave us so many smiles,” Infantino said. “As Fifa, we will pay tribute to ‘The King’ and ask the whole world to observe a minute’s silence.”

Another fan and friend in line was Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes.

“It’s a very sad moment, but now we see the true importance of this legendary player to our country,” he told reporters. “In my office there are shirts signed by Pele, a photo of him as a goalkeeper, also signed by him. DVDs, photos, a large collection of his.

Pele has been treated for colorectal cancer since 2021. The medical center where he was treated reported that he died of multiple organ failure as a result of the cancer.

Pele led Brazil to the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups and remains one of the team’s all-time top scorers with 77 goals. Neymar equaled Pele’s record at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

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