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Chapecoense: How Football Fans Are Often United By Tragedy

19/12/2016 12:41 GMT | Updated 19/12/2016 12:59 GMT
TORU YAMANAKA via Getty Images

The football community is often united by tragedy. We share so much that we often want to express that commonality to people in the community who are hurting, and so we come together to show our respects.

The catastrophe that befell Brazilian football club Chapecoense when a plane carrying their players crashed last month was, in this sense no different. But the scale and intensity of the response from football world felt uniquely poignant.

The disaster happened as Chapecoense were heading to Colombia to play the country's Atletico Nacional team in the Copa Sudamericana final and killed 71 people, including 19 players.

Just six people survived, including three Chapecoense players, two of whom returned home to Brazil this week for further hospital treatment.

The nature and timing of the tragedy is unquestioningly, heartbreakingly cruel. And I think it affected us all so profoundly because it speaks to something deep within all football fans. It speaks to the very essence of why we even are fans.

Supporting a club gives us the chance to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To be part of a community. To connect with other people in a pure, uncomplicated way over something which on some level is arbitrary and pointless, but becomes incredibly meaningful through the decision by us and our fellow supporters to support it.

Detractors lament our ability to get so emotional over '22 men kicking a ball around a field'. And as with anything, if you reduce it to pure physics then of course it seems ridiculous. But football matters precisely because we've all decided that it matters.

It's in the same vein as the way Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard described religious belief - it has to be a leap of faith. You cannot rationalise it. To do so strips it of its power. The collective suspension of reason and embrace of communion is what makes it special.

When the news broke about Chapecoense, I think it connected the whole football world to that feeling. The reason why the fierce rivals of the various other Sao Paulo clubs could come together in solidarity over this event is that Chapecoense reminded us that our similarities are bigger than our differences.

We all take the same leap of faith in following our clubs. We're all doing the same thing under different flags. And we're all doing it for the same reason. A tragedy like this is, perversely, a chance to explore the highest power of football's faith: the ability to connect people from every corner of the globe with one another.

Seeing a club who came so close to glory only to have it cruelly snatched away from them in the most horrifying circumstances caused a particularly emotional response. And it did so because it speaks to the very heart of football.

And that's why a global effort to help rebuild Chapecoense, to give help to the friends, families and supporters who are suffering from this horrible accident, is important not just for Chapecoense but for all of football.

It's certainly not about '22 men kicking a ball around a field'.

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