Chapecoense striker Tulio de Melo says the team feared they would not honor the memory of the dead.
So it was to their great relief that it avoided relegation in the Brazilian championship almost one year after an air crash killed 19 of its players in Colombia.
The team from southern Brazil beat Vitoria 2-1 at home late Thursday to stay up in the championship with three rounds to go.
During the match, as in all others since the air crash, fans chanted “Vamos, vamos Chape” (Let’s go Chape) at 71 minutes in reference to the total number of victims.
On Nov. 29 last year, a plane carrying the team to the final of the Copa Sudamericana crashed into a hillside near Medellin, killing 71 people including most of Chape’s board and coaching staff and several journalists.
De Melo was one of the new signings by the club.
“We promised to keep the team in Serie A, which is where our warriors left us,” de Melo said.
“We had a difficult year and their memory made us fight until the very end, so Chape remains in the topflight division for the fifth year in a row.
“That is no small thing for a club of our financial capabilities, and a city from the countryside that endured so much.”
Chapecoense was offered immunity from relegation because of its totally new squad, but refused it. Its fans regretted the decision until a streak of victories in the last month eased the tension.
Chape’s season had other glorious moments, including the friendly against Barcelona at the Camp Nou despite the 5-0 defeat.
The Santa Catarina state championship was successfully defended, and defender Alan Ruschel, one of the three survivors of the crash, also returned to action. His teammate Neto, another survivor, is working to do the same next year.
Goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, who lost part of his right leg, returned to training last week aiming to become a Brazilian Paralympic athlete.
Chapeco’s rich meat industry and other Brazilian clubs helped in the construction of the new team, which failed to defend its Copa Sudamericana title, awarded by acclamation last year. But the club, which has endured three coaches this year, sits a safe 10th in the 20-team Brazilian standings.
“The effort we made this year was beyond normal, so I can’t be anything but very happy,” club chairman Plinio David de Nes, who was supposed to be on the plane, said after the win against Vitoria.
On the financial side, Chape is struggling less than families of players who are still waiting for financial compensation after the air crash.
Chapecoense said this month it will not mark the first-year anniversary in a major way out of respect to the families of the victims.
Gates to the club’s 20,000-seat Arena Conda will be open on Nov. 29 for fans to pay respects, and leave candles and flowers.
On Wednesday, Sao Paulo-based Corinthians, leading the competition by 10 points, was crowned Brazilian champion for the seventh time.