All world wide, fans have mourned the lack of Pelé, whose unrivaled mastery of the gorgeous game catapulted him to a level of celebrity attained by few athletes.
Yet in Santos, Brazil, where Pelé shot to stardom and spent much of his profession, his death hit like nowhere else, the loss more personal and intimate.
He arrived within the port city south of São Paulo as a scrawny teenager within the Fifties, and in some ways, he never left. For some, he was a neighbor or a friend who, even after rising to global celebrity, all the time stopped to talk near on the corner of Vila Belmiro, because the stadium for the Santos F.C. soccer team, where Pelé began his rise, is popularly known. For many who never met him, his soul seems to permeate the place, representing a unifying spirit in Brazil despite, or perhaps due to, inequity.
Together with his funeral set for Monday in Santos, fans flocked to sites around the town to recollect Pelé’s legacy, on and off the sphere, and to bid farewell.
Marcos Martins, 48, civil engineer
I used to be born here — I’ve all the time been from Santos. My uncle was also a football player for Santos. He was Santos’s tenth top scorer, so he was on the team with Pelé, he played ball with Pelé.
My uncle all the time told many stories about him. When Pelé arrived in Vila Belmiro, he was already 28 years old; Pelé was just 17.
It practically raised the bar for football in Brazil. With the arrival of Pelé, the whole lot modified.
He turned Brazil, and likewise Santos, into a worldwide football reference. Santos is a small city, nevertheless it had a football team that was reminiscent of, if not higher than, some European teams.
And Pelé learned to play the guitar with my uncle. My uncle taught him. My uncle liked to play the guitar. And Pelé liked music, too.
Fernando Perez Jr., 65, lawyer
Hold on, I want a minute. It’s really emotional. It’s really hard.
I’ve seen him play here. I saw his farewell game in 1974. But I also saw him play in 1968, in 1970. I used to be about 13 or 14 years old once I used to look at him play.
All my brothers were Corinthians (a rival team). I used to be born here, but they got here from São Paulo. So my brothers and my father hated Pelé because he would all the time destroy their team. He would wipe them out. And I needed to run away from home to take heed to the games, to take heed to Pelé play.
Pelé raised the vanity of the Brazilian people. Brazil is a rustic that suffers quite a bit. And Pelé gave us that dignity. He made us feel like we might be big, too. And it went beyond football. It’s this sense of “I’m, and I might be.”
Manuel Messias dos Santos, 83, retired dock employee
I met Pelé once I was within the military, on the time when he was serving as a soldier. His team within the barracks used to win quite a bit.
Then once I worked as a warehouse clerk within the Gonzaga neighborhood, where he frolicked quite a bit, he was all the time on the sidewalk, talking to someone, talking to another person. He was very very similar to us, he was a person of the people. He spoke to everyone. Everyone. With children, with old people, with whoever. He talked to everybody — he was a preferred man.
Teófilo de Freitas, 68, retired city hall employee
Here at Santos, I’ve been a member since 1975. I’ve been rooting for the team since I used to be a child. Contained in the stadium, I even played ball with Pelé. It was during a Santos training session in 1972.
All Brazilians like football, so Pelé is an idol for us. He’s the idol of football. So for us, it’s heartbreaking — it’s very sad to see him go. In fact, we’re all going to die in the future. But it is a loss that brings deep sadness to Brazil.
He was a one-of-a-kind person, he was a rare player. Pelé made so many individuals comfortable. He was a football genius.
Onofra Alves Costa Rovai, 91, retired seamstress
I’ve been here since 1949. I got here here from the countryside. I got here to Santos. And straight away, I got here to live in front of the stadium. I’m a die-hard Santos fan!
From my house, I could see the sphere. So we used to look at the games from my lounge. When he played, the stadium was all the time packed. Everyone desired to see him play.
He had something different about him. When he got the ball, he ran and ran. He played football along with his heart.
I already met him. He used to stop by here on a regular basis, to say hello. My mother adored him — he all the time talked to my mother here on the front door.
Mario Mazieri, 66, retired banker
I got here from the countryside. I moved here once I was 14 due to Santos.
Within the Sixties, once I still lived on the farm, my brothers and I might take heed to the Santos game on the radio. There wasn’t any television then, just the radio. So we listened to the games, to the plays that Pelé made, to his goals.
And I made a decision that I needed to see this with my very own eyes. Once I arrived in Vila Belmiro for the primary time, I used to be shaking head to toe.
I’m all the time on this bar here, it’s all “Santista” here. We used to see Pelé around here, too. At some point, right over there, I got to shake his hand. It was 2012.
Luiz Fernando Tomasinho, 31, air-conditioner mechanic
Santos was all the time my team, and it was my dad’s team. I moved here two years ago due to Santos.
Life was hard for many individuals once I was growing up. And watching Santos brought a lot pleasure to the community.
My first football shirt was Pelé, No. 10. I used to be 7 years old. And with my kids, it’s the identical thing. They’re each 7. And I already got them their shirts.
I took them to the stadium today, so that they could pay their respects. It’s really sad — it’s heartbreaking.
I never got to see Pelé play. I only saw the photos and the videos. He had this magic, he was different from everyone else.
The youngsters today, they do the identical thing; they watch his plays on YouTube, they usually fall in love with the game. His legacy is big.
Lúcia Bueno, 25, project manager
I’m from Vila Belmiro. A lot of my memories of the neighborhood must do with listening to the sport and hearing the goal, before it appeared on TV. And it was all the time a time of getting the family together, to look at the games.
I feel he left a mark on many individuals due to his excellence as an athlete, but there’s also the story of him coming from a really poor family.
I’ve all the time been really involved in Black social movements. And I even have come to grasp what Pelé meant to people, as this really strong role model.
He played this role within the lives of so many individuals, by setting an example. He was a rare athlete, but he was also a Black one who was one of the best on the planet.
Gabriel Silva Paulino dos Santos, 20, app developer
I personally have never seen him play. But my father used to look at his games and he would see Pelé walking down the road. As if he were just a standard person.
Today it’s already very difficult for poor people to show into successful players. And in his time, I feel it was even harder because there have been more barriers and it was harder to play. Players fouled hard and didn’t get called for it. Those things were harder back then.
So he dedicated himself quite a bit, he trained quite a bit. There’s the story that he trained here on the beach. He trained on the club and trained on the beach here afterward. He was very dedicated.