You couldn’t fail to have been confronted with the news over the past week. Whether a football fan, or simply a human being, it’s likely you’ll have been affected by it. Brazilian team AF Chapecoense were involved in a plane crash on Monday the 28th November 2016 that killed 71 of the 77 crew and passengers on board. The club were flying to Colombia to play in the Copa Sudaemricana Finals against Atletico Nacional after a meteoric rise through the domestic tiers in their native Brazil.
Of the 71 people killed, 19 were members of the Chapecoense first team squad. They perished along with manager Luis Carlos Saroli and numerous members of the media and other club staff. Only 3 players on board survived and, at the time of writing, one of them has been confirmed as having career ending injuries. 22 year old goalkeeper Jakson Follman, though extremely fortunate to survive the crash, had to have his leg amputated, thereby cutting short a fledgling career in professional football.
As a football blogger, it’s my nature to want to voice my opinion on the major events in world football. But sometimes, it just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes, there are no words that could be written that could articulate the feelings of shock and distress at reading about such a story. And so, I’ve watched, I’ve listened and I’ve read. People with much greater command of language have struggled to express their feelings in relation to what happened in Colombia. It’s a word often overused, but in this instance, there is only one word to describe what happened – tragedy.
I’ve thought over the last week about how similar events have affected me in the past in the world of football and immediately recalled my reaction to the death of Motherwell midfielder Phil O’Donnell in December 2007. Having collapsed on the pitch during a Scottish Premier League game against Dundee United, the 35 year-old died after suffering from left ventricular failure.
I remember O’Donnell’s death shocking me to my core. A player I had watched for many years during his time at Glasgow Celtic, his death seemed to make such little sense and be such a waste of life. The striking down of a man at the peak of his physical fitness seemed so unnatural and is, to this day, something I struggle to reconcile.
Remembering how I felt at the time of the death of O’Donnell, it brought into stark contrast the scale and magnitude of what had happened to Chapecoense. If I could feel such devastation at the loss of just one person, how were the friends, family and supporters of an entire squad feeling? One thing is certain – they will be at the start of a long road of mourning, and an even longer road of healing. They will have many questions, most of which will go unanswered.
But, even in the darkness, there have been small specks of light emerging. In a world where football so often divides, there have been signs of the opposite in the wake of the tragedy. There have, of course, been the obligatory hashtags, profile pictures and remembrance pages on social media but these do ring somewhat hollow.
What’s been more encouraging is the number of gestures of goodwill and attempts to help Chapecoense in their hour of need, from across the footballing world. Minute’s silences before every match in every major league appear to have been impeccably observed. Brazilian clubs have drafted a proposal to break with convention and loan players to Chapecoense to allow them to continue participating in the professional football league. More than that, they have requested that the club be exempt from relegation for a number of seasons.
But, in perhaps the most heartwarming gesture of all, it has been confirmed that governing body COMEBOL will crown the Brazilian club posthumous champions of the Copa Sudamericana at the request of their opponents.
These gestures may seem meaningless and, in fact, they most probably are. But in a time when meaning is hard to find, it is hoped such gestures of appreciation and remembrance will bring comfort to the bereaved.
In the wake of perhaps the biggest tragedy to hit a professional football club since the Munich Air Disaster, Chapecoense will struggle to piece together reasons for what happened. They will need to rebuild and will undoubtedly be forever changed by the events of this week. What they will know, however, from the outpouring of love from around the world, is that they will be able to find some solace in the footballing fraternity.