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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Andy Lines

Brazil bids farewell to pioneer Pele in glorious send off for football's greatest

As Pele left his beloved Vila Belmiro stadium for the very last time on Tuesday as fans bellowed songs of joy praising their hero.

They waved huge flags and bounced up and down in unison as his coffin emerged and was placed on a fire engine.

There was an extraordinary cacophony of noise.

Fireworks rippled across the sky and cannons sent golden ticker tape into the air.

It felt more like a carnival in Rio de Janeiro than a funeral in Santos on a cloudy Tuesday morning in January.

But it turned out to be a wonderful, glorious send off to the world’s greatest player.

As the fire engine inched forward, carrying the only man to have ever won the world cup on three occasions, it was engulfed by fans.

They loved him not only because of his football brilliance but because he was an inspiring pioneer for black and poor people across the globe.

The boy who grew up in poverty and started playing in Santos with no boots who ended up the biggest sports star on the planet.

He was such an icon that some supporters like Professor Oswald Dauvergne, originally from St Lucia, paid £1300 for a flight from his home in the US to come and just say: “thank you.”

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Pele's coffin was carried through the streets as thousands paid their respects (Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

It was a privilege to watch the sheer love and joy shown to Pele by the Santos and Brazil fans all the way from the stadium to the cemetery.

Apart from his wife and close family not a single person wore black.

Most were in white - a tribute to Pele who lit up the world of football.

The gates of the grand old stadium were shut at 9.48am with the last few fans squeezing through so they could file past the open casket.

New Brazilian President Lula was among the last to visit Pele’s body placed in the centre circle on the pitch.

As he arrived jubilant crowds surged towards his cavalcade delighted with his recent election win singing “Lula, Lula, Lula.”

Brazil president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva consoled Pele's wife and family (AFP via Getty Images)

The new president and his first lady, Rosangela ‘Janja’ da Silva, were openly moved at the brief service.

They stopped before the coffin, draped in the flags of Brazil and Santos, and both warmly embraced Pele’s grieving widow Marcia Aoki.

But when President Lula left Pele’s coffin was then carefully carried to the fire engine.

It was then taken on an emotional journey through the streets of his home city.

It stopped and paused by the home of his 100-year-old mum Dona Celeste in the Canal 6 district.

Earlier a team of yellow uniform clad cleaners had busily swept the street outside to ensure it looked its best for the last visit of “the king.”

Then it passed along his favourite beachfront where it was greeted by thousands of fans.

Fans lined the streets of Santos to say goodbye to Pele (Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

There were so many people the procession ran over an hour late before it finally arrived at the world’s highest vertical cemetery where he was laid to rest alongside his dear dad Dondinho.

And they all hadn’t stopped paying their respects for a single minute during the night.

Thousands of supporters filed past Pele’s coffin throughout the night.

There was a constant flow of supporters at every stage.

I joined the queue at 5.45am and walked with families along the side of the pitch before turning right to head to the centre circle to pay my own respects.

Fans had previously queued for hours to attend Pele's funeral wake at Santos' stadium (Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

Many mourners had thrown single red and white roses towards the coffin which had been gathered up and placed behind a barrier The man in front of me wore a Brazil no 10 shirt.

Another clutched a Jules Rimet trophy and bellowed “thank you Pele” as he passed.

And the crowds were still so large and steady, orange shirted stewards constantly, politely, urged us to move on.

As I left I spoke to one police sergeant.

He said: “It’s been busy all night. I can honestly say there has not been a single minute when no-one passed by Pele’s coffin.

“It was a little quieter between 3.30am and 4am but still there were people streaming past.”

A number of Santos and Brazil fans were out to pay tribute (Andy Stenning/Daily Mirror)

Before yesterday’s procession and service, an estimated 230,000 people had walked past his coffin.

After watching the fire engine leave the Santos stadium I walked to the nearby vertical cemetery and waited for it to arrive.

As his journey reached its final end light rain began to fall.

The fire engine reversed into the parking space in front of the entrance and the crew carefully manoeuvred the coffin from the roof onto the ground.

Then Pele was taken into the cemetery for the final family service.

Pele was then interned with a ninth floor “view” looking over the Vila Belmiro stadium for ever.

There’s no doubt he will never be forgotten here in Santos or Brazil or throughout the rest of the world.

As Professor Dauvergne said: “Pele gave hope to generations of young black kids. He was an inspiration to us all.”

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