Chapecoense plane crash: Goodbye to the men I knew on board

A rescue policeman works at the site of a chartered airplane crash in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. Image copyright AP
Image caption The search for those who died continued into Tuesday

The news alert that popped up on my smartphone on the train journey to work had already sent shivers down my spine.

It was impossible not to feel heartbroken by what seemed a horrific end to Chapecoense's "Roy of the Rovers" campaign in the Copa Sudamericana.

Just a few days earlier, I had been one of the many people who shared the images of their schoolboy-like celebrations, after they had seen off the much more fancied Argentine side San Lorenzo in the semi-finals.

Just a few minutes after getting the news on Tuesday morning, it got worse. It transpired that several fellow journalists I had had the pleasure of working with were on board, and among the 75 who died.

They included Fox Sports pundit Paulo Julio Clement, a man whose mentoring I happily accepted while starting my career as a journalist in 1995.

That brought a tough story even closer to my heart and it was a challenge to do my work without getting emotional.

He was a guy who told me not to be starstruck by my idols - I am a massive fan of Flamengo football club, and he was the first guy who opened my eyes that it wasn't a fantasy to work with these guys.

He was a funny guy, very ironic. I was only 21, in a newsroom with guys who had all these prizes, and he and the others treated me no differently.

I last spoke to him two weeks ago - and we argued about (Manchester City midfielder) Fernandinho.

Image copyright EPA/BIA PIVA / DIARIO DO IGUACU
Image caption Fans of Chapcoense have gathered at the club's stadium in Chapeco, Brazil, to pay tribute

As for Chapecoense, they were a feelgood story in a time Brazilians are divided by a political-economic crisis. It looked like they had become everybody's second team.

In this age of social media, people became connected to the Medellin tragedy in a way that would have seemed unthinkable for a mid-table Brazilian football club a few years ago.

Tributes came from some of their richer and more famous counterparts, including from Manchester United, a club that has also experienced that kind of sudden loss.

There's talk of Chapecoense's rivals offering to concede the Sudamericana final. That, and the fact this team managed to galvanise so much support, as well provide some brave displays on the pitch, should mean the rulebook goes out of the window. They have won so much more.

May the 75 rest in peace.

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