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.

Passado mas nao esquecido

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Book Review: A Lack of Thrill in Brazil – A Diary of England’s World Cup Disaster by Dean Blunden

Not just a lack of thrill in Brazil…

…It took me several attempts to read this kindle offering. If you want a book which is packed full of stats – that in all honestly you don’t need to know and have no real relevance – then this is the book for you.

I don’t care how many caps John Ruddy has or anyone else on Roy Hodgson’s standby list for that matter. What I do care about is being entertained or informed when I read.

Reading is something I do for enjoyment and reliving the catastrophe that was England’s World Cup is not something I want to do for fun. I know most England fans thrive on purgatory, you only have to watch one of the games to see that, but to want to read about it is not my idea of a good time.

Perhaps in 20 or 30 years time when we look back with ‘rose-tinted’ glasses at World Cups’ gone by, and ask, “I wonder who played right-back in the friendly against Peru?” will this book find its purpose.

This is not a diary in the sense of Bridget Jones’s Diary or The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, which both have various plot strands. The only story in the book is the much maligned and analysed performance of the England football team and we all know how it ended. The newspapers and television companies spent millions on coverage and commentary of the tournament so do we really need a book to remind us what happened?

Blunden doesn’t provide any insight into the England story nor does it reveal anything new. It’s merely a collection of match reports and articles similar to those that we read at the time and which have now have been consigned to the bin.

If he had been in Brazil or at least spoken to someone who was there, then he may have found something new to talk about. There are so many stories that come out of every World Cup that to focus on what we already know seems a little futile.

I want to find out something I didn’t read in the newspapers or see over and over again on the TV. Stories like people surviving on crisps at the 2002 World Cup because they had spent all their money in the first week would have helped bring this book to life.

This book must have been a labour of love for the author, because I can see no other reason for him to write it. The headlines that littered the text were straight from newspapers and there is no colour in any of his descriptions. This is due to the fact that Blunden was not in Brazil leaving his descriptions of the game to be factual and without emotion.

For example, on reading the report of the Italy game, there is no sense of the oppressive heat of Manus, the tension of being a goal down or the passionate release when Sturridge equalised. There is none of that emotional rollercoaster that might have made this book interesting, only a factual description of the game. Blunden doesn’t even make a reference to the legions of fans who stayed up late back in England either huddled round a TV or packed in a bar and who at the final whistle speedily retired home to bed hoping that when they awoke it would have all been a nasty dream.

We all have our own thoughts on why England faired so badly – we don’t need to read the match reports of a fellow fan – or perhaps I have completely missed the point of this book and I’m in a minority of one?

For all this though, I hope that Dean produces another book because there is evidence of skill in his writing and has clearly put a huge amount of effort into this book. However, in future he needs to inject some colour and feeling into his writing and find the story.

Stories are about people – so tell me about the people because I know all about the team; I watched it painfully unfold with my own eyes.


Ed Williams


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