Edson Arantes do Nascimento was not born here, and he did not die here.

But for 19 seasons, Pele put this place on the map – so much so that the Brazilian government made it an official national treasure, so it couldn’t play anywhere else.

A king’s return to his beloved Santos was greeted with flags, flares and fans singing his name before the sun even rose on a scorching day in the city.

Football icon Pelé, the only player to win three World Cups, died on December 29 at the age of 82. A Catholic mass will be celebrated in Santos this morning before his burial in a nearby cemetery.

Transported to the pitch that made Pelé a superstar, his home ground in Vila Belmiro had banners adorning signs proclaiming “Viva O Rei” (long live the king) and shirts with his iconic number 10 hanging from every seat in a stand .

Placing it on the center circle one last time was a little less fluid than fans might have seen in real life, as pallbearers had to move perfectly positioned chairs to make room to lift the open coffin onto a plinth.

His relatives said goodbye to him and his son Edinho said a prayer as they gathered.

When the dignitaries started arriving, they were led by FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

Speaking to reporters outside, he said: “We are going to ask every country in the world names one of its football stadiums after Pelébecause in a hundred years when children ask who Pelé was, well, they must remember him all over the world in a place where you score goals, where you feel emotion in a stadium, in a field football where children, boys and girls can play.

“And we have to make sure that happens.”

Jacquie Beltrao eyewitness at Santos FC where fans lined up to see the open coffin of Brazilian footballer Pelé

The first fans to file past his coffin lined up for hours overnight, desperate not to miss their chance as the doors opened at 10 a.m. to reflect on an incredible life.

Saulo, from rural Sao Paulo, lost his phone but wasn’t going to let that dampen his spirit.

He told Sky News it was worth it: “When I saw him lying there I wished it wasn’t him, but that’s the reality we face today.

“There is no doubt that this man is Pelé the King. He will live forever in our hearts and memories.”

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Pelé’s open coffin at Brazil Stadium

Thousands had the same idea of ​​making the pilgrimage, dressed in the emblematic colors of Brazil or the black and white of Santos, and coming from all over the world.

A man who lives in New York, but grew up in Saint Lucia, told us: “Growing up, when I played football, Pelé was one of the first black people to be recognized as one of the greatest – and everyone on the island wanted to be Pelé.”

We arrested an Englishman who was on vacation, who said: “It’s a terrible day for Brazil. I grew up with football. I love football and I had to come here and share this feeling of pride with everyone.”

After sunset, we followed the same route that so many who idolized him came to take and saw the huge wreaths sent by everyone from Brazilian soccer royalty to state political parties and local philanthropists.

We saw his relatives still in mourning next to his coffin, flanked by the Brazilian honor guard. And we saw the great man himself, draped in a Brazilian flag and with an expression of stillness – a world away from his mischievous smile that had so often been seen across the world.

Jacquie Beltrao eyewitness at Santos FC where fans lined up to see the open coffin of Brazilian footballer Pelé

As night set in, the queue still snaked through nearby streets and the festival vibe showed no signs of stopping. People arrived with dogs, family members and friends of all ages.

Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will arrive this morning before Pele’s coffin is paraded through the streets of Santos, 24 hours after his arrival.

His coffin will also house the home of his 100-year-old mother.

Pele’s final resting place will be a “vertical cemetery” – a high-rise building just 200 meters from the stadium, close enough to still hear the crowd roar.

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