Neil Walton, an account director at Deep South Media, reflects on the plane crash in Colombia which wiped out a generation of gifted young footballers. The public outpouring of grief reveals the true heart of football as communication executives at clubs here in the UK look how to sensitively mark a tragedy which has shocked so many of us.
It is often said that football is a cruel sport, but events late on Monday night proved such relative suffering to be insignificant.
A plane carrying 77 people, including the majority of Brazilian Serie A side Chapecoense, crashed in the Colombian mountains near Medellin, just minutes from its destination.
Three Chapecoense players, including defenders Alan Ruschel and Helio Zampier Neto and reserve goalkeeper Jakson Follman, were pulled from the wreckage.
Goalkeeper Danilo was also rescued but succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
The club, which had enjoyed a rapid rise through the Brazilian football pyramid since its creation in 1973, was flying to play the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional.
In winning South America’s second-tier club competition, akin to Europe’s Europa League, the victors would have qualified for the Copa Libertadores, equivalent to the Champions League.
It is a sign of the great familial spirit within world football that some touching gestures have been made in this time of grief, showing the true heart of the sport.
Several top Brazilian clubs have offered to loan players to Chapecoense and have requested that the club be exempt from relegation for three seasons. Most poignantly, Atletico Nacional has offered to concede the Sudamericana final in order to declare Chapecoense as champions.
Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona held minutes of silence before their training sessions, and Manchester United, themselves victims of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, will make their own tribute before their EFL Cup game against West Ham.
Most heart-wrenching of all are the ‘selfies’ taken by the Chapecoense team on-board the plane before take-off.
One picture sees Ruschel and Danilo sat beside one another, grinning, not a care in the world.
These joyful images, as they were at the time of taking, are of our fathers, our brothers, our sons, our uncles, our nephews, our husbands, our boyfriends, our lovers.
We can all relate, which is why the tragedy has such resonance.
With such a sad story, it is the media’s responsibility to convey its profound melancholy.
In times of difficulty, sport has a way of pulling people together. Nelson Mandela said as much.
Football is close to religion in Brazil; the nation has three days of mourning. Scarred, it will recover. It has to.
Communication executives at soccer clubs here in the UK will be considering what public marks of respect should be made, to reflect a grief which transcends nations.
They will also be acutely aware that such actions could be misconstrued for tokenism despite the best of intentions.
We must finally spare a thought for the relatives of those who died and the unimaginable suffering they are enduring.
Perhaps, though, this was fate. After winning the semi-final, Chapecoense’s manager Caio Junior said: “If I died today, I’d die happy.”
Prophecy, it seems, could be the cruellest notion of them all.