The words “shocked” and “stunned” don’t do justice to a moment like this.
A disaster like the air crash which has killed over 70 people in Colombia reverberates around the world, but usually (if we’re lucky) never hits too close to home. As football fans this one feels different, because we can automatically associate this one with our own lives and glance over the horizon to a dreaded “What if?” And we can understand the immensity of the grief of the families, the supporters and, yes, the survivors because of that.
Because football is a family, and although we have unruly members like every family, we get what it means to go to a game and never come back. To have people you idolise and whose relationship with you is cherished taken away by something so sudden. That an entire team has been wiped out is a nightmare almost beyond the comprehension of most supporters, but it has happened before and will undoubtedly happen again.
I spoke earlier of the child abuse banners and the way there’s a growing backlash against it, comparing that to the scum who sin g about the Ibrox disaster and other tragedies. One of those tragedies is especially clear in the mind today, and I mentioned it earlier not knowing that a similar disaster was unfolding on the other side of the world.
I refer of course to the Munich air crash of 1958, which killed 23 people, eight of them players. Another two never played again; their injuries were too severe. The club took over a decade to recover from the horror of that day, in football terms anyway. It’s difficult to know if a club can ever get past such a tragedy; like Hillsborough, it hangs over Manchester United to this day. From the outside you can only try to wrap your brain around what it must be like.
The Zambian national team was completely wiped out in 1993 by a similar tragedy, and another crash claimed the lives of every player in the Torino side of 1949. History hasn’t forgotten those disasters, but the shadow of Munich looms over all.
In the absence of true comprehension – which we strive for without knowing what it actually is we want; the pain isn’t something you’d wish upon yourself, and proper comprehension would depend on feeling what those at the centre of it do – we instead turn to what little we can do to help, and bring comfort to those who are suffering.
And that’s where we see football at its best, and I am especially proud that one of the nicest suggestions so far that I’ve seen online has come from my fellow Celtic supporters. Celtic_First, on Twitter, has suggested that the club start to sell the Chapecoense shirt in our stores for a time, so we can help raise money for the club and those who’ve survived. The idea is a beautiful one, something simple and worthy of support. It’s also a show of unity with a community that has been virtually destroyed in the space of an afternoon.
Football fans amaze me sometimes. They can be heartless and cruel to each other – as we’ve seen, as I’ve written about in the last two days, and for months – but we don’t forget that the sport is a unifying force too, that our communities are all part of a bigger community.
I have no doubt that our supporters, and fans around the world, will honour the dead in an appropriate way.
Celtic fans have a long history of it from the banner for Miklos Fehér (and which I’ve written about a few times) to the way we were the first club to play Liverpool and offer our support to the families of those who died at Hillsborough.
This is what we do.
Whether selling shirts is the answer, or something the club will go for, I’ll trust them to decide. But the sentiment is right. Showing solidarity is right. It reminds us that there’s more than one reason why they call it the Beautiful Game.