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  Sports   Football  10 Dec 2016  Tragic tales: When football teams die

Tragic tales: When football teams die

Published : Dec 10, 2016, 1:12 am IST
Updated : Dec 10, 2016, 6:33 am IST

A Brazilian soccer team has been wiped out in a plane crash. Here are the others who never made it to a game.

The stirring comeback story of Manchester United offers hope to Chapecoense. The bulk of the english club perished in Munich in 1958.
 The stirring comeback story of Manchester United offers hope to Chapecoense. The bulk of the english club perished in Munich in 1958.

Chapecoense isn’t a name even dyed-in-the-wool football fans would have known a week ago outside Brazil. But a fatal plane crash that wiped out the main squad of Chapecoense on the outskirts of Medellin, Colombia, last week put the ill-fated Brazilian club in the hearts of a lot of people across the globe. As fans scrambled to find out whether a player familiar to them has perished in the accident, even those who don’t follow football at any level were moved to commiserate with the dead.  Nineteen players and coaching staff were killed in the crash. Only three players survived the accident with severe injuries. The global football community was united in grief as Chapeco, a small city in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, came to terms with the tragedy.

It’s always difficult to cope with the untimely death of a sportsperson who is in the prime of his/her career. It’s as if the invincible has been conquered because a perfect physical specimen creates a sense of permanence in the minds of the watching public. The grief multiplies to leave an ever-lasting scar if an accident is the cause of death.

Also, the tribal sense of belonging a fan develops in following a football club is ineffable. Chapecoense are a football club, no less. More important, they have a compelling back story. One of the professionally-managed clubs in the chaotic landscape that is Brazilian domestic football, Chapecoense were riding the crest of a wave this season. They were in the air on that fateful day to play the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana, which is the second most important inter-club tournament in South America, against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional. Not a mean achievement for a team that had been outside Brazil’s four professional divisions a decade ago.

Which is why there has been an outpouring of support for Chapecoense from all parts of the world, in particular from South America. Nacional are ready to concede the final to their Brazilian opponents and clubs in Brazil’s top division want a three-year relegation exemption for Chapecoense. The management of Chapecoense has vowed to rebuild the team from the ashes. It’s even ready to field a team against Atletico Mineiro in the Brazilian league on December 11. In addition to dealing with emotional trauma for years to come, Chapecoense also have a job on hand to resurrect the team in the field because history is a mixed bag.

Torino, the best post-war team in Italy, were never able to reach former glories after an accident in 1949 killed the Serie A club’s top players. Having edged out Juventus by 10 points and AC Milan by 16 points for the title in the two previous seasons, Torino were flying high when a plane carrying their players went down at the Superga hills outside Turin. Unlike Chapecoense, Torino’s squad was full of national players and the club never recovered from the crash. And when a plane carrying Peru’s first-division Alianza Lima sank into the Pacific on December 8, 1987, retired players came forward to help their team push through the rest of the season with commendable success.

But the stirring comeback story of Manchester United offers hope to Chapecoense. The bulk of Matt Busby’s champions perished in Munich on February 6, 1958, while returning from a European Cup away leg at Belgrade. In all, 23 people died including a few journalists. The whole of England mourned the disaster as United’s squad had the country’s best. The 21-year-old Duncan Edwards was a star who was destined for great achievements with both United and England. He battled for two weeks before giving up. A fan wrote to a Manchester newspaper: “It was hard to accept the news of Duncan’s death; he was like Superman and Hercules.” Busby, the architect of the team, survived, as did Bobby Charlton who would go on to score twice against Benfica in United’s maiden European Cup final win at Wembley in front of 1,00,000 fans in 1968. Charlton had also starred in England’s World Cup triumph two years earlier.  Chapecoense can take heart from United.

Tags: football, airplane crash, brazil