Steven Bell interview: Wednesday 04 September 2019
Football Book Reviews caught up with Steven Bell the author of From Triumph to Tragedy: The Chapecoense Story (Pitch Publishing) to talk about his recently published book.
Football Book Reviews (FBR): Your day job is as an engineer, but what is your football background and how did that lead to you writing ‘From Triumph to Tragedy’?
Steven Bell (SB): My background – well firstly as a poor amateur player! But a huge football fan who grew up in the 90s and became besotted with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Class of 92. It was then Euro ’96 which swung me towards supporting England really rather than a club side at that stage if I’m honest. That subsequently led me to becoming obsessed with the World Cup in particular and the whole colour, fans, passion and spectacle of the tournament.
My first real World Cup experience was watching Brazil win it in 1994, and when they were hosts in 2014, I knew I just had to go. Going there I made a lot of contacts and started following Brazilian football. The group I was with stayed in Rio for six weeks, next to the old training ground of Flamengo and I sort of adopted them as my Brazilian team and began following their results. When I was back in the UK the first result I looked at was one that was a huge upset, when Flamengo, the biggest team in Brazil, were beaten by a team I’d never heard of called Chapecoense. That was at the back end of 2014, and after doing a bit of digging discovered that they were a team that over the last few years had come from nothing – non league, on the verge of going out of business – to the top division in Brazil. It connected with me as a fantastic sporting story, with a couple of individuals, like the goalkeeper Danilo and star striker Bruno Rangel, with incredible individual journeys, overcoming poverty and making it to the top at the back end of their careers.
Fast forward two years to November 2016, and I woke up to an alert on my phone from all the news outlets that the team had been involved in a tragic plane crash on their way to what would have been their biggest match in the club’s history. I got hooked on the story from there and decided to research it for the book.
FBR: So, does the book trace that story from 2014?
SB: It actually goes back to my love and passion for both Brazilian football and the World Cup with Brazil winning it in 1994 and how that team inspired change in tactics and culture towards football in the country. It was an influence on Chapecoense and their style of play, they didn’t mind being the underdog, they didn’t mind that other clubs had better individual players – Chape could defend and dig in, scrapping and battling to get results.
So, in terms of this book, the story of Chapecoense starts in earnest in 2006, when they were a non league team, pretty much part-time, basically a team and a club falling to pieces. However, the local businessmen didn’t want to be part of a city without a football team, so they got together and put in place a financial package which rescued the club from oblivion. In addition, they brought in a decent manager and created a sound infrastructure, and gradually the team went from strength to strength, which saw them eight years later make it to Brazil’s top division, Serie A, before tragedy struck when travelling to play the First-leg of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Final against Atletico Nacional.
FBR: The book obviously takes the reader through to the tragic events of the 26 November 2016, but presume the story doesn’t stop there?
SB: In the timeline of the book, the crash is probably about three quarters of the way through and then there is a section on the how, why, and aftermath for the club, players, families, community and indeed Brazilian football as a whole. The book actually concludes with a reflection on the 2018 World Cup, which finished around the same time as I was completing the manuscript for From Triumph to Tragedy. As someone who has followed Brazilian football it was interesting to note the reaction to the teams defeat to Belgium in the Quarter-Finals, it was more reflective and a realisation that there is more to life than football, which I believe is a result of the Chapecoense disaster.
FBR: This seems then to be a significant change to the reaction in the wake of the 2014 World Cup Semi-Final mauling 7-1 by Germany.
SB: It’s funny you should mention that game, as I was watching it in Rio and it was a day I remember, with torrential rain all day. At the whistle, there were tears and tantrums, it felt like a national tragedy and was a surreal place to be on that day. For many Brazilians it felt like the world had come to an end. Compare that to four years later, when they valiantly lost to Belgium, when Brazil were the better team in the match, the reaction was completely different, and I genuinely believe that was influenced by the Chapecoense tragedy.
FBR: It is interesting that you talk about a change in fan perception and culture of football in Brazil arising from the crash. Does this book also show a different side and a change to Brazilian football in other ways, as many older football fans and perhaps historically, Brazil have been considered to have essentially one style of football?
SB: It is very much why I started the book at the point of the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Carlos Alberto Gomes Parreira was the Brazilian manager at the time and the style of play he brought in was very unpopular with the media and fans in Brazil who were used to free-flowing football. However, he didn’t have the players to continue that tradition, and he recognised that, so his squad were taught a more pragmatic style that was being used and working for European teams. Italy had been particularly successful with that approach over the previous decade or so, with the irony that Brazil beat the Italians at their own game in the ’94 Final on penalties. It did teach the Brazilian country nationwide that there was another way to play, what Pele had described as, the beautiful game.
FBR: With the recent events at Bury and Bolton Wanderers, does this book have a story to tell for those clubs and their fans at all?
SB: I think it does. Chapecoense were one meeting away from going out of business. Other clubs down the years have proved that there is life after the most trying circumstances. It’s funny what difference a decade can make. Chape in 2006 were on their knees and yet ten years later were taking part in the finals of an international tournament they could only have dreamed of previously. Who knows what lies ahead for Bury and Bolton ten years from now.
FBR: Finally, do you still follow the game closely in Brazil?
SB: Writing this book has been a big part of my life and I’ll always have that interest in the game in Brazil. As I said earlier I was caught up in the furore of the Class of ’92, so I will always say Manchester United were my first team, but having moved to Huddersfield, the Terriers are a passionate club – I live within walking distance of the ground – I can’t help but be caught up in the club. They aren’t doing very well at the minute, and the title of my book, From Triumph to Tragedy, could equally apply to Huddersfield Town at the minute! However, I’m sure they will soon be on the up.
FBR: Steven, many thanks for your time and good luck with what sounds like a fascinating story.
Saturday 28 September 2019 – Steven will be talking about From Triumph to Tragedy prior to the Huddersfield Town v Millwall fixture in the White Rose Club Lounge in the main stand at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Saturday 05 October 2019 – Book signing at Huddersfield Waterstones (11:00 – 15:00)