Santos de Pele: The city has seen an ordinary citizen become the king of football

In 1956, a frail boy with black skin got off a bus near Praça das Bandeiras in Gonzaga and ran towards the sea. Kicking sand in all directions, he reached the blue expanse and didn’t bat an eye to bring water to his mouth. “He is really salty,” thought Pele, who only many years later would become the king of football.

The bus had left from Bauru, with a stop in San Paolo and the last stop in Gonzaga. It was there that Santos went to pick up the boy who had arrived for tests at the alvinegro club. From then on, news abounded of Pelé’s genius ever since he first wore a Santos shirt.

At that time, despite the resounding and precocious success, Pelé lived in a boarding house in Rua Euclides da Cunha, 215, in the Pompeia district. Coutinho, Dorval, Lima and other teammates also lived in the house that belonged to Georgina. Today she is Benedicta Rodrigues, 77, who has lived there since 1998.

“I didn’t know about this story. The former tenant told me about it after I acquired the property. She told me I had bought a famous house. It was a nice surprise,” the new owner of the former guesthouse said to the UOL, also serving other journalists. “When the press came, I saw it was so true,” she laughs.

First pension where Pele lived in Santos, in Rua Euclides da Cunha

Image: Marcelo Justo/UOL

The house where Pele lived is not luxurious. To enter you have to climb a staircase from the sidewalk. At the top, a spherical prop has become a soccer ball that decorates the facade of Dona Benedicta’s house. “I painted this ball myself and took it over there and put it here. It still needs some finishing touches,” she says.

Pelé lived the first years of his life in Santos in that place, on the upper floor, which can still be accessed today by an imposing wooden staircase. The place where Pele stepped so many times to get up and down is intact, without ruts or creaks.

Upstairs, three large bedrooms still retain the same wooden floor that has seen countless stories and jokes from the king and his associates in Santos.

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Benedicta Rodrigues, owner of the boarding house where Pele had lived since 1998

Image: Marcelo Justo/UOL

“I live alone, with God and with friends who keep showing up. Come on, you can come in and go upstairs, as long as you don’t clean up the mess”, asks Dona Benedicta. “I don’t know which room she slept in, but it’s one of them, I’m sure it wasn’t the doghouse,” she laughs.

It was from one of those rooms at the top of the house that Pelé had to run down the wooden stairs in order not to miss the tram which loudly announced its arrival on the tracks, waking anyone who missed the time.

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Wooden stairs of the first boarding house where Pele lived in Santos, in Rua Euclides da Cunha

Image: Marcelo Justo/UOL

From that tram, which was the second thing Pelé saw in Santos as soon as he got off at Praça das Bandeiras – immediately after the salty water of the sea – Pelé would go down to Vila Belmiro to train. Most of the time he would go straight back to the boarding house to sleep, but on certain days he would walk across Rua Princesa Isabel to Didi’s barber, who had been cutting his hair for over 50 years.

At first it was something simple, a haircut and the tram home again. Later, however, as his fame grew, the crowds began to increase every time the King of Football went to get a haircut from the barber who had become friends with him. But he never stopped.

By tram, he returned to the boarding house. Pele was not a fan of cards, like some of his Santos teammates. In concentrations before matches, what he really liked was sleeping.

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Cable car exhibited at Praça das Bandeiras, in the Gonzaga district, in Santos

Image: Marcelo Justo/UOL

“He slept a lot and was sleepwalking. When he got up in the middle of the night, we used to joke that tomorrow’s opponent was screwed. Especially when it was Corinthians,” said Lalá, a former Santos goalkeeper who played under Pelé.

Lalá studied PE at Unimes with the soccer king. The university operated out of the Brasil Futebol Clube, located in Ponta da Praia. The former goalkeeper had recently retired, while Pelé was still playing for Peixe and studying.

Pele once moved to another boarding house on Rua Oswaldo Cochrane, a block from the beach, but the property was demolished and there is only construction in its place today.

“The house belonged to Dr. Cury, an engineer of the port, but when he died his wife was a bit ‘canned’. He tore up the sign he had here and bullied anyone who tried to come and see the place,” says João Antônio, neighborhood trader. The plaque on the boarding house said “Edson Arantes do Nascimento resided here.”

Two blocks away is the first property Pele purchased. On the corner of the same street as the pension with Rua Vergueiro Steidel. The same establishment is still open on the site today – a bicycle shop, which was run by Mr. Chico at the time.

“Your Chico Ladrão, because it was very expensive,” says a man sitting at a table in a bar while playing lock with friends. When asked about Pelé, he says: “I met the King, he gave me that watch”, but he doesn’t go into detail. Another completes the story: “Pelé was a common citizen for the people who live here, everyone knew him, he didn’t have those frills,” he says, throwing a card on the table.

“He always came here to congratulate Chico, who had a birthday three days after him. That corner over there (pointing to Rua Vergueiro Steidel) is all his,” says another of the cardists.

In 1964 Pelé renewed his contract with Santos and won a house in Rua Oswaldo Cochrane as “gloves”. He would later exchange this house for two penthouses still in the Ponta da Praia neighborhood: one for his father Dondinho and another where his mother, Dona Celeste, still lives. The place where Dondinho lived ended up being sold years later and, in honor of the King’s father, became “Residencial Dondinho”, a name he still bears today.

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Residential named after Pelé’s father, Dondinho, on channel 5 in Santos

Image: Marcelo Justo/UOL

A few meters away, a bakery becomes the meeting place for Pelé’s teammates. The “A Santista” bakery is located on the corner of channel 5 and has a statue of the King of Football in front of it. All decked out with images from Pelé’s time playing for Santos, the venue was popular with four of the dream attackers: Dorval, Coutinho, Mengálvio and Pepe.

“Pelé came less often and couldn’t stay, everyone was all over him and then he had to leave,” says Carlinhos, owner of the venue for 31 years and head of decoration in Santos.

Even with infrequent trips to the site, the soccer king had great affection for the bakery owner. Several times he passed by on Christmas Day and stopped to say hello to his friend. There were so many opportunities that he ended up being “handsome” and the people of Santos started filling the bakery in hopes of seeing the king.

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Carlinhos, owner of the “A Santista” bakery, on channel 5 in Santos

Image: Marcelo Justo/UOL

“The first time he told me Carlinhos, I cried just knowing he knew my name. You just have to experience it to know what his presence is,” she said.

Focused, Pelé changed his strategy, but didn’t fail to show affection to the Santos fans who frequented the venue. On Christmas or New Year’s Eve, Pele would walk past the bakery, open the window, and shout “Go Santos!”, throwing his signature punch in the air.

The bakery went crazy and cell phones were immediately raised to their ears to tell all their friends that they had seen Pele. An ordinary citizen of a small town with simple hobbies. A citizen of the world, admired around the planet and forever the king of football.

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