It should have been the time of their lives. After years of struggling, the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense were on their way to glory. Only days earlier they had fought their way to victory against one of Argentina’s best teams, San Lorenzo. And now they were getting ready to play in one of the biggest football matches in South America. The team and their fans were euphoric. However, their moment of joy would soon turn to tragedy and grief – and for four people in particular, a lifetime of “what ifs”.
Chapecoense was established in 1973 in Chapecó, a city in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. A relatively small club in a small city, in 1977 they nonetheless managed to win their first state championship. And the following year they qualified for Série A, which is the country’s highest division. Their climb up the rankings didn’t continue, however, and in the 1990s the club almost disbanded.
Then in 2010 things began to turn around for Chapecoense when president Sandro Pallaoro brought a new professionalism to the club. They might not have had the large budgets of the more famous teams, but through a combination of discipline and motivation they still managed to return to Série A in just three seasons.