Book Review: From Triumph to Tragedy – The Chapecoense Story by Steven Bell
In this era of over-hyped, sensationalist media coverage, the words, ‘disaster’ or ‘tragedy’ are banded about in football like confetti, usually following a defeat for any Premier League club you’d care to mention. The reality is that down the years in the game there have been events that are genuine tragedies. These have included the loss of Italian side Torino’s squad in 1949, the deaths of many of Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’ in 1958, that of Peruvian club Alianza Lima in 1987 and the Zambia national team in 1993. The common factor linking all four, being that these disasters were as a result of plane crashes.
This sad list was added to on 26 November 2016, when Brazilian side Chapecoense who were travelling to the first-leg of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Finals in Columbia, saw their playing and management staff decimated in a crash that saw their plane plough into the forest mountain of Cerro Gordo.
Whilst Triumph to Tragedy – The Chapecoense Story details the awful events of that catastrophic event, the book expresses so much more about the Brazilian game and its footballing culture, quite an achievement for a book of only 223 pages. It manages this due to the fact that author Steven Bell has such a passion for the Brazil national team, nicknamed the Canarinhos (Little Canaries), his fascination with the World Cup and his love of the game at club level in the country.
The book follows Bell’s experiences beginning with him watching Brazil win the 1994 World Cup which took place in the USA and which led to him travelling to South America to see them host the 2014 tournament. That six week visit was the catalyst for his deeper interest in the game in Brazil and his discovery of a side based in the south of the country, Chapecoense. The author is cleverly able to combine the story of the Brazilian national side, who have one of the biggest kit deals in history with Nike, with a team that in 2006 was basically a non-league outfit on the verge of going out of business. This linking of paths is achieved because Bell highlights the 1994 World Cup winning Brazil squad under coach Carlos Alberto Gomes Parreira, who weren’t in the tradition of the free-flowing sides of the past playing, O Jogo Bonito (the beautiful game), but instead adopted a pragmatic European style to lift the trophy. This change in approach was an influence as Chapecoense, nicknamed the Verdao (the Big Green) took on the mantel of underdog, a side willing to scrap and fight to survive and overcome more illustrious opposition.
The clubs incredible rise and promotions are well documented in the book and the author’s knowledge of the working of the Brazilian football organisation is very useful in understanding the State Championship system, promotion through the Serie divisions and the wider structure relationship within the game in South America as a whole, something very unfamiliar to those used to the rudiments of the pyramid system in England.
As a reader, you are introduced to some of the players, officials and management that came through the Big Green’s rise, and their individual stories are told in such a way that you connect with them. They are real people. Some who had harsh backgrounds, others whose careers were considered over, but all human, with wives, girlfriends, families and a love of the club. So, despite the fact that you know there is tragedy waiting in the story, it is still shocking and sad to read of the deaths of characters that Bell has warmly introduced.
The book doesn’t end with the crash and instead the final chapter details how the club, country and the footballing community dealt with the disaster, which lead the author to an interesting concluding observation.
Bell was in Brazil when the Canarinhos hosted the 2014 World Cup and the nation and its national side hoped to exorcise the demons of the 1950 World Cup loss to Uruguay, instead they were humiliated by Germany in the Semi-Finals 7-1. It was a night of tears and tantrums and of perceived national tragedy – Bell describes the aftermath in which, “Brazilian football was broken: Brazil as a nation was broken too.” Fast forward to 2018 in Russia and the book reflects a change in reaction following defeat to Belgium in the Quarter-Finals, with Bell’s opinion that the Chapecoense disaster had left the nation with the realisation that there is more to life than football.
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