At 22:15 (03:45 GMT) on the 28th of November tragedy struck the footballing world. Brazilian side Chapecoense were travelling to what was due to be the biggest game in their history, the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, South America’s equivalent to the Europa League. However, tragically, they never made it.
The plane taking them to Colombia via Bolivia lost contact with aviation authorities and crashed into the Colombian mountains near Medellin, the home of their opponents Atlético National. In total, there were 81 people on board including players, coaches, medical staff, cabin crew and 21 Brazillian journalists who were going to cover the game. There were only six survivors. Two are confirmed to be footballers, defender Alan Ruschel and goalkeeper Jackson Follman made it out alive, so too did Marcos Padilha (Danilo) but he later succumbed to his injuries in hospital. The plane came down in a remote area of the Colombian mountains so access has been an issue and as such, reports of the identity of all the remaining survivors remain unclear. The cause of the crash is believed to be an electric fault.
This was supposed to be a fairytale match for the Brazilian side but instead, the footballing world has been left in disbelief at this fairytale’s tragic ending. In footage released by the club before flying out, manager Cadu Gaucho described the trip as “the club’s most important to date.”
It was another big step in the journey Chapecoense have been on in recent years. As recent as 2009, they were plying their trade in Série D, Brazil’s fourth division, but every year since then they have improved their league position and after three promotions in five years they made it to Brazil’s Série A for the first time ever in 2014. With only one game to go in the current season they sit 9th in the twenty team league, yet another improvement as they finished 14th last season.
The football club brought such joy to the city and it is the size of the city that makes the club’s success all the more incredible. Chapecó only has a population of around 200,000 yet it has a top division football side who currently sit ahead of Brazilian big-hitters Internacional, Cruzeiro, Fluminense and Sao Paulo. Their feat has been compared to that of Leicester last season but to put it into more perspective, imagine Mansfield Town gaining promotion to the Premier League and making the Europa League final in 2023.
Understandably, this story has resonated across the world and it has been made all the more heartbreaking by some of the footage that has appeared of the club’s players. The family of Tiaguinho released a video of him showing his elation at the prospect of becoming a father, the footage was taken just one week ago.
The club also released a video of the celebrations in the dressing room following the draw with Argentina’s San Lorenzo which took them to this historic final. They described the scenes as “The last pictures of our warriors.” This can be contrasted with the scenes of utter devastation in the dressing room following the crash, where players that didn’t make the trip due to injury and suspension found out the news.
— Chapecoense (@ChapecoenseReal) November 29, 2016
The Chapecoense players who didn't travel with the team in their dressing room today. pic.twitter.com/wRbGy2MLxU
— TheSPORTbible (@TSBible) November 29, 2016
Due to the nature of events, three days of national mourning have been declared in Brazil, while the Brazilian Football Confederation have announced seven days of mourning during which all matches have been suspended. The Copa Sudamericana final has also been called off with opponents Atlético National appealing to CONMEBOL to hand the title to Chapecoense, a brilliant gesture in the face of such tragedy.
Fans of the club have gathered at the stadium today to lay flowers and pay their own tributes. As well as this, the football community has rallied around the club at this time. All clubs in Brazil have changed their profile pictures on Twitter to the badge of Chapecoense in black along with the words “Today, all clubs in Brazil are one” as a show of solidarity. Furthermore, Flamengo, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo have all offered to loan the club players to help them rebuild and Sao Paulo have insisted that Chapecoense should be exempt from relegation for three seasons. Elsewhere, Real Madrid and Barcelona held a minute’s silence before training today, a gesture that has been replicated in this week’s EFL Cup ties. Twitter has also been flooded with tributes. These kind of stories warm the heart and show that in times of tragedy the football community really comes together and supports its own.
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) November 29, 2016
Brazilian football is in mourning. It is such a tragic loss. My sincere condolences to the families of the deceased. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/jfoTMUBWtN
— Pelé (@Pele) November 29, 2016
Deeply affected by Medellin's plane crash. I shared locker with Cleber Santana and it's difficult to reveal how I feel. A huge hug. pic.twitter.com/TdeNzssZFN
— David De Gea (@D_DeGea) November 29, 2016
These events are very close to home and bring back memories of the 1958 Munich air disaster in which so many of the ‘Busby Babes’ lost their lives. We should remember the Turin air disaster in 1949 and the Zambian national team that was completely wiped out after a plane crash in 1993.
No club or family should have to go through this, everyone at TFF sends their thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of the victims. As for the survivors, keep fighting! We wish you all a speedy recovery and we hope to see the players involved able to get back out on the pitch soon.
Feature Image Credit: Retirado do Orkut