A Tunnel At The End Of The Light

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“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”

 Andy Weir, The Martian.

 There is nothing weird about a loud football stadium. With a population of around 60000, they are bound to be noisy. But a pin-drop silence is startling. When a crowd of such magnitude keep their hushed silences for a minute, with their bowed heads and teary eyes, it is other worldly. But that is what Liverpool managed to achieve during their FA cup game against Leeds United, in tribute to the members of Chapecoense(Associação Chapecoense de Futebol).

A week earlier, Chapecoense had beaten San Lorenzo in the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana (South American equivalent of the Europa League) and were to play Colombia’s Atletico Nacional in the finals. They had emerged victorious on away goals, celebrated their fairy tale run with the usual locker room singing and selfies. Nobody could have predicted what was about to happen.

A British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, LAMIA Bolivia RJ85 was entrusted with the job of transporting the players to the final. Around 0300 GMT, the plane crashed outside Medellin due to an electrical failure – killing 71 and wounding 6. Among the passengers were 21 journalists, of whom only one has survived. Among the members of the team, only 3 have survived – Reserve goalkeeper Jackson Follman, Defenders Alan Ruschel and Neto.

jw1hnb3-webpThe team, currently in the first division of the Brazilian League, had received comparisons to Leicester’s run last year. Their coach had even gone on record saying that LCFC were the inspiration for their success –  an unknown city challenging the big-shots in their league. Chapecoense had been playing in the fourth division in 2009, where they finished 3rd and were promoted to the third division in 2010. Three years into that stint, they gained promotion to the second league in 2013 and immediately sealed their progress to the first league in 2014 after finishing second.  They had managed to stay adrift in the top flight despite lesser financial firepower as compared to the other richer clubs in the league.The final of the Copa Sudamericana would have been the biggest moment in the club’s history.

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Football has always been a sport marred by controversy – bribes, corruption, riggings. It has always been seen as a sport motivated by money, especially with the exorbitant transfer fees and ridiculous weekly wages some clubs pay. But the amount of help that is pouring in is extraordinary. Much like when Manchester lost its ’58 ‘Busby babes’ at Munich, and Liverpool – their long term rivals and title contenders and enemies for life, magnanimously offered 5 players on loan, with all expenditures taken care of.

Some of the help that has been extended so far are:

  1. Brazilian clubs will loan players without fees to Chapecoense for 2017, and have requested the association that the club be exempt for relegation for three years i.e. if they finish anywhere in the bottom three, the 16th team will be relegated.
  2. Atletico Nacional have conceded the final and have requested the CONMEBOL to give the Copa Sudamericana title to Chapecoense.
  3. Argentina Football Association has offered free loans in the name of all their teams.
  4. All LaLiga games for the upcoming week will observe a minute of silence in memory of the victims.
  5. Palmeiras (from the Brazilian league) have requested permission to wear the Chapecoense jersey in the last round of the league.
  6. Fans have gone all out to support their club and for the first time in their history, they have sold out all their Jerseys.
  7. Benfica (Portuguese league) has offered to help them in overcoming this loss and there is a possibility of loaning players.
  8. Turkish teams to observe moment of silence during cup games in the memory of the victims.
  9. The CONMEBOL has plans to include the team in next year’s Libertadores and Recopa – both include large cash prizes that can help in the rebuilding of the team.

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While it may look like it is too early to look at the football side of things in the event of so personal a tragedy, it is also necessary. A more fitting tribute to the lost souls would be to see their dreams continued, rather than envelop them with mourning. It is important to adjust the sails towards action rather than paralysis.

However, there are several moral questions at stake. Can you celebrate a goal against them? Do you deliberately play bad against them? Or do you keep playing well, as a sign that you respect them and their grit? Is three years enough to rebuild a squad from the scratch? Even if bigger clubs are willing to loan the players, who would be ready to sacrifice one or two years of their careers, leaving the bigger leagues? All of these are hard enough in theory. In practice, it is going to be impossible to determine how it goes. The future is uncertain for Chapecoense and the whole of the Brazilian league. We wish them more than luck in the coming years and hope that normalcy can return as soon as possible.

What can be more fitting as a message to stay strong than this?

When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your hearts
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your hearts
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone


You’ll never walk alone, Chape.

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