Sometimes, out of immense darkness can emerge small chinks of light. And it was thus yesterday in Praça Charles Miller, the square in front of the famous old Pacaembu football stadium in the heart of the sprawling metropolis of São Paulo.
The torcidas organizadas, or organised fan clubs, of São Paulo state’s four biggest teams; Corinthians, Santos, São Paulo and Palmeiras, as well as groups of fans from smaller clubs Santo André and XV de Piracicaba, congregated in the plaza to pay tribute to the 71 people who lost their lives in the tragic plane crash in Colombia in the early hours of last Tuesday morning.
The torcidas are organised groups of fans whose memberships can often run into the tens of thousands and contain violent factions of hardened hooligans. Meetings between the groups often end in vicious armed clashes and have lead to innumerous deaths. On Sunday, however, they were able to put aside their feuds to pay their respects to the dead. It was an incredible show of solidarity and something that many would have deemed impossible beforehand.
The groups met at 1 o’clock in the centre of the square and held a minute of reflection, marked by the slow thumping rhythm of the drummers from the four biggest torcidas, joined together in mourning. This was followed by an impassioned recital of the Lord’s Prayer in which members of the warring factions held hands in a show of unity.
The majority of the people present wore shirts of their teams or of their torcida and many held green and white flags with the words ‘força, Chape’ emblazoned across them.
At the end of the moments of worship the gathered crowd broke out in a spontaneous chant of ‘vamos, vamos, Chape’, the song that the players could be heard singing in the much publicised and now-haunting video of their dressing room celebrations following their semi-final triumph. Several amongst those in attendance were moved to tears.
The chanting continued for several minutes, with fireworks released into the sky and banners of the various groups being waved above the heads of the crowd. It was an emotionally charged and powerful homage to the players, coaching staff and journalists who were involved in the accident.
Seemingly as quickly as it had begun the requiem came to an end, but the haste of the event takes nothing away from its symbolism. The groups separated in the most orderly and peaceful fashion, heading back to the fleet of coaches that had brought them there.
There are many things wrong with the world of football, especially in Brazil, but gatherings like this, and the various tributes that we have seen across the planet in the last seven days, can provide a small ray of optimism. One also hopes that through these demonstrations of solidarity the football community is supplying some strength to the families and friends of the victims.