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Chapecoense – the dream that died

It is the dream of every fan of a small, unfashionable football club. That one day their side will defy the odds and the budgets and resources of more fashionable and better-supported teams and reach the final of a major tournament.

In the case of Brazilian side Chapecoense that is exactly what happened, only for the dream to turn into a nightmare when the plane they were travelling in crashed into a Columbian mountain. Nearly all the squad were killed, along with the managerial and coaching staff, and a number of journalists/ And of those that survived, several were unable to play again.

 The team is based in the city of Chapecó in the extreme south of Brazil, hundreds of miles distant from the twin powerhouses of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.

It was only formed in 1973 from the merger of two local teams, and initially competed at State Championship level, until they made it to the top flight of Brazilian football for the first time in 1978.

However, they only managed one season, before they were relegated again, and it would not be until 2014 that they made it back to Serie A once more.

This time they managed to stay up, and, in their next season, amassed enough points to qualify for the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.

And, despite being unfancied, they reached the final after claiming victory over San Lorenzo of Argentina on the away goals rule.

They were drawn away in the first leg against the Columbian team Atlético  Nacional of Medellin.

To get there they chartered a plane from a Bolivian airline company and spirits were high when they set off for the flight on 28 November 2016.

However, as the plane began its approach to the airport in Medellin, it crashed into a hillside, killing 71 of the 79 people on board. Almost the entire first-team squad died in the crash, and although reserve goalkeeper Jakson Follman lived, he had to have one of his legs amputated.

Another goalkeeper, Nivaldo, who missed the flight through injury, immediately announced his retirement from football.

It emerged later that the pilot had requested permission to land early from air traffic control because he was having fuel problems, but was denied because another airliner had priority after also reporting fuel issues.

A 2018 report by the Columbian Civil Air Authority later found that the plane was carry insufficient fuel to get it from its last refuelling stop in Bolivia to its final destination of Medellin.

And it was discovered subsequently that the  plane had missed a crucial refuelling stop because the pilot was under instruction from the company’s management to try and save money.

In the aftermath of the crash, Atlético Nacional asked that the championship should be awarded to Chapecoense, and they were subsequently given the trophy and the prize money that went it with it. And, in a gesture of solidarity, thousands of the Columbian club’s fans turned up at the stadium at the top that the match would have been played to cheer their vanquished opponents.

Meanwhile back in Brazil, other teams offered to lend them players for free, and asked that the club be immune from relegation for three years. The club’s interim president refused such offers of help, saying they preferred to rebuild themselves the right way.

Lawyers for the victims and their families are still trying to get the Bolivian government to help them with their fight for compensation.

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