How Pele put Santos on world map

Santos, January 1

Pele. Santos, Brazil.

Over decades, adoring fans around the world mailed thousands of letters, postcards and packages to the sports legend without his address or full name.

Almost without fail, they reached the office of Edson Arantes do Nascimento in the port city he made famous.

Santos was founded by the Portuguese in January 1546. It hosts Latin America’s biggest port, which feeds the Sao Paulo area and exports the country’s agricultural commodities to the planet.

Only after a 15-year-old sensation started scoring goals for the city’s team did Santos, a city of about 430,000 residents today, become a household name. The Brazilian great, who died Thursday at 82 after fighting cancer, played there from 1956 to 1974. “There’s a Santos before Pele and another after him,” said Serginho Chulapa, Brazil’s striker in the 1982 World Cup and a local hero with more than 100 goals for the club. “He put both the city and club on the map. Before him, people came to work at the port and go to the beach.”

Chulapa had four spells at Santos FC as a player, all during the 1980s. Since retirement he has worked at the club in different capacities, some of them alongside Pele.

“Santos is not in a metropolis like Sao Paulo, we have to work with less money. And Pele made this club gigantic since he started playing,” Chulapa said. “Santos had its peak with him.”

Pele gave Santos two Copa Libertadores titles and two Intercontinental Cup titles against Benfica and AC Milan, as they beat some of the best rivals around the world. The Brazilian great won 26 titles at the club.

One of Santos’s main touristic attractions is the Pele Museum. It lies in the renovated area of the Casaroes do Valongo, close to the city port. It opened in 2014 and hosts tens of thousands of tourists. Many are like Gisela Claudia, 65, who arrived on a cruise ship to spend New Year’s Eve in the city. “It is my first time in Santos. And I only came in this cruise because my husband wanted to see the city of Pele,” Claudia said. — AP

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