LONDON (AP) — Someday, somehow, soccer will likely return at Chapecoense.
Through the grieving and after the funerals of the 19 team members who died in a plane crash, soccer will probably be played again, just as it was at Manchester United and Torino following similar tragedies.
“For so many years I was at the heart of Manchester United’s effort to maintain its place in football,” England great Bobby Charlton wrote in his 2007 autobiography. “There was always one great hope: the return to greatness of my beloved club.”
Chapecoense, a team from the small Brazilian town of Chapeco, was on its way to play in the Copa Sudamericana final — South America’s second biggest club tournament — when the charter airline carrying the players, staff and media crashed into a Colombian mountainside, killing 71 on board.
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Three players survived, but all suffered serious injuries.
In 1958, eight Manchester United players died on a snowy Munich runway. Led on the field by the 20-year-old Charlton, the English team soon set about ensuring the soul of “Busby Babes” was not extinguished.
Torino was the dominant force in Italian soccer before the 1949 Superga air disaster killed 18 players. The team had won the previous four Serie A titles, but it took until 1976 for the team to win the league again — its last league title.
“It’s a destiny that binds us inextricably,” Torino wrote on Twitter after the Chapecoense disaster. “We are with you fraternally.”
The Chapecoense administrators who survived or didn’t travel with the team have to balance the responsibility of caring for the families in mourning and the players still alive.
Matheus Saroli, the coach’s son, forgot his passport so he couldn’t travel. An injury prevented Alejandro Martinuccio from joining his team in Colombia for the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional — the biggest match in the club’s history.
Since the crash, Chapecoense has been offered players on loan by rival clubs Flamengo, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo in order to keep going, just like Manchester United was 58 years ago.
Matt Busby’s talented 1958 United squad had been destined for greatness. The team was flying back from Belgrade after securing a place in the European Cup semifinals. Two months later, a reassembled United team lost to AC Milan.
“I played my heart out on the night and I was man of the match against Milan,” forward Kenny Morgans, who died in 2012, recalled in 2008 ahead of 50th anniversary of the disaster. “Then I just sort of packed my career in. I didn’t want to play in the first team because I missed the boys that had died.”
After Munich, some United players felt abandoned by the club.
“Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry found life very hard after Munich,” teammate Albert Scanlon recalled in the 2007 book “The Lost Babes” before his death two years later.
“Munich killed not only a lot of the players who were on that flight but some of the survivors, too, and all the young players who had to come in a year or two early. They were never the same.”
A decade later, United won European soccer’s top prize for the first time. Charlton, fittingly, scored twice in a 4-1 victory over Benfica in the European Cup final, capping the recovery of a club that has gone on to become the most successful in the English game.
“(Munich) brought a great deal of sympathy at the time and, from then on, the romance was built purely because of the way Matt rebuilt the team and won the European Cup in ’68,” former United manager Alex Ferguson said, “and did it the right way.”
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports