In the year 1973, the city of Chapeco, Brazil saw the birth of a football club that would in later years, come to uphold the true spirit of the beautiful game. Associação Chapecoense de Futebol was formed by merging two existing clubs, with the hope of restoring football in a city where it was slowly dying out.
Just 4 years later, in 1977, Chapecoense won its first title- the state championship. The following year, they competed in the Brazilian championship for the very first time. Alas, this run did not last long, and after just two years of playing top division football, they were relegated from it in 1979. What did last long though, was the period that followed. It took 35 long years for them to return.
From Serie C in 2012, to Serie B in 2013, they finally re-entered Serie A in 2014. In 2014, they managed to finish 15th on the table. Improving by 4 points, they finished 14th next year. This also meant that they qualified to play in the Copa Sudamericana, the South American equivalent of the Europa League, although they bowed out in the quarter-finals.
This year saw even greater improvement. Midway through the season, they were sitting 9th on the table in Serie A. The truly remarkable feat, however, was their reaching the finals of the Copa Sudamericana for the first time in the history of the club.
On November 28th, 2016, the entire Chapecoense team- including the manager, coaches and staff- was travelling to Medellin, Colombia to play the final that they had worked so hard to reach. Their hopes were burning strong, the fight in them was alive.
But in a tragic turn of fate, they never made it. Right over the mountains near Medellin, the plane underwent an electrical failure, made an emergency call, and moments later, crashed into the mountains with 77 people aboard it.
Of the team, only 3 players survived.
The response of the world to this tragedy had been greatly heartening to see. From the vigil held at the stadium to honour them, to them being granted the Copa Sudamericana title, to the decision to safeguard them from relegation for three years, to the offers from Brazil’s top clubs to loan them players for free; the world displayed a spirit that not only beautifully complements but does justice to the undying spirit of Chapecoense.
It has been nearly 3 months since this tragic event, and since then, the club has remarkably managed to rebuild the entire team and club board. They also played their first match, drawing 2-2 with defending Brazilian champion Palmeiras in a charity game on 21st January.
In a heart rending ceremony, the three surviving players of the crash- goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, defender Neto, and winger Alan Ruschel recently lifted the Copa Sudamericana trophy in honor of their dead teammates.
Let us not forget the story of this remarkable team. Let us keep them in our hearts not merely for the tragedy that befell them, but for everything that they stood, and still do stand for.
Since their inception itself, Chapecoense had always been considered as something of a small club. But they had managed to win a thousand hearts with their progressive rise in position, which was a result of a great amount of sweat and tears.
It is teams like these that remind us that the true spirit of football is not dead. The spirit of hard work, of courage- the courage to dream, to believe, to never give up. Like Leicester City in England, Chapecoense reminded us that it is not million dollar signings that make a club great, that it is not necessarily money that gets them titles, and that pure hard work and determination still go a long way on the road to success.
By Samawiyah Ulde
Photographs- Google Images