On the night of Monday 28th November in 2016, the sporting world was shaken to its very core as a plane carrying the Chapecoense football team crashed into a hillside on the outskirts of the Colombian city of Medellin. One year on, the team and the town have come together to continue to defy the odds, and remind sporting athletes everywhere, to never give up.
A small and relatively unknown team from southern Brazil, Chapecoense had become the first team to come from outside of Brazil’s four national divisions to a continental final in 2013, in less than a decade. The progress they had made was unparalleled, and gathered the attention of the Brazilian football world. Before their plane went down, the Chapecoense team were on their way to the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final in Medellin. Of the 77 people on board the plane, 71 lost their lives immediately, or in the aftermath of the crash itself.
The opposing team that Chapecoense were due to play in the final, Atletico Nacional, suggested that Chapecoense be awarded the Copa Sudamericana. This was more than simply a nice thing to do, as it would also allow for Chapecoense to be a part of the Copa Libertadores, the Champions League of South America, bringing in some much-needed revenue for a club that would soon be in dire need of rebuilding. Three players survived the crash; midfielder Alan Ruschel who has resumed his career with the club, Neto who is in training to make a comeback next year, and goalkeeper Jakson Follman who unfortunately lost a leg and was forced to retire.
It was suggested by the league and teams that Chapecoense be given two or three seasons exempt from relegation as they tried to rebuild, but the club were very quick to dismiss these offers. They were determined to stand by their own strength, and continue the hard work started by the players that had gone before them, and they were largely helped by two factors. The first was that Brazilian teams often go through quite drastic overhauls during the offseason, and other clubs helped tremendously by sending players on loan. The second was that they had a few months before the season kicked off. The divisions in Brazil don’t start their campaigns until the middle of May, meaning the team had time to find new players and incorporate new styles of play in the aftermath of what had happened.
After an amazing start to the season, Chapecoense found themselves top of the table exactly six months after the crash. Obviously, it would require a gargantuan effort to maintain their momentum, and the team eventually slumped. Despite this however, the team has secured their place in the top division again next season.The events of the crash will stay with the people of Chapeco for a long time yet, but the heroics of the team in 2017 have honoured the memory of those lost in the crash.