In October 2009, Macaé and Chapecoense played at Maracanã in a Série D semifinal’s first-leg, just a few hours before one of the most important Brazilian classics, the FlaFlu game. While Macaé, a team from the Rio de Janeiro state, were fairly well-known amongst local supporters, they knew little about those opponents in green shirts, who lost 2-0 on the occasion. Despite being defeated, due to some Série D rules, Chapecoense would get promoted to Série C anyway, but few among those present would consider this fact a relevant one. After all, the club had been founded only in 1973, in a formerly disputed territory between Argentina and Brazil, where the indigenous also had to cope with the arrival of Europeans looking to seize their lands. Vitorino Condà was the cacique (leader) of the Kaingang tribe, arguably the most represented in Southern Brazil.
Condà fought tooth and nail for the right of the Kaingangs to remain in the area — it’s mostly because of his great courage that, a few miles from Chapecò city centre, some Kaingangs are still keeping their tradition up in a village known as Aldeia Condà.
Identity was a key element to Chapecoense too. In 1973, Chapecò was a city on the move, but it lacked a football team, unlike the rest of the Santa Caterina state, particularly the coast, which could already boast the likes of Figuerense, Avaì e Criciuma. The Oeste (West) wanted a team to compete on a state level — Lotario Immich leveraged this desire to convince three friends when, on 10 May 1973, he showed them a football crest he had sketched, asking:
Why don’t we found a team?
Football was no news in Chapecò, but Atletico and Indipendente, the two former sides of the city, both shut their doors in the early 70s. Immich and his partners all had some kind of experience with those clubs, that’s why they tend to say Chapecoense was the result of the fusion of the two teams. After a slow start, Chapecoense didn’t take long to make themselves a name — in 1975 they took part in the Santa Catarina League for the first time, securing the title just two years later. Arthur Badalotti, who was the president of that stunning achievement, recalled:
Celebrations were unbelievable, they lasted 3 days.
Chapecò had just taken its road to glory, giving the city that team they had been waiting for — since the very start, the great enthusiasm surrounding Chapecoense seemed to be contagious for anyone who was part of the club.
“Indio Condà”, the team’s mascot, is a symbol of peace and union, which could explain the ability of the club to keep united and get back on track after every setback.
Janga, a former player of the 1977’s team, is a shiny example of the strong bond created by wearing these colors — after retiring, he opened a stall with the official logo of Chapecoense to sell hot-dogs next to the stadium. After the title of 1977, a series of joys and pains followed, a quite incredible rollercoaster considering how young the club was. Chape was about to discover the great rivalries of Santa Catarina football, as well as some regulatory issues. In 1978, Avaì withdrew from the playoff of the state league — Chapecoense were top of the table without considering points other teams amassed against Avaì, but the Brazilian FA awarded Joinville with the title instead. Following a period of sporting and economic difficulties in the 80s, the Verdão do Oeste were back in the title fight in 1995, when they reached the final against Criciuma after a terrific season.
That team is one all the people in Chapecò still remember fondly, as a lot of fans draw a comparison between that Chape and the 1982’ Brazil national team. Because, just like that team, Chapecoense lost the title.
Despite a 4-1 home win in the first-leg, rules of that time didn’t consider the aggregate score, which meant, due to the teams’ path in the regular season, that Criciuma only needed a 1-0 win in the return match, followed by a draw in the extra-time. And that’s exactly what happened, with the best Chapecoense team in history until then becoming arguably one of the biggest deceptions. However, the Verdão sealed the title the following year against Joinville, avenging 1978. But a potential stepping stone was followed by a new low, with the team fighting to avoid relegation to the second division of the Santa Catarina League in 2001. Then, in 2003, the club had to change their business name in order to pay some heavy debts, becoming Associaçao Chapecoense Kindermann/Mastervet.
After that, new owner Sandro Pallaoro started a management based on cheap players and competent coaches, trying to create united groups rather than spending extra money.
In 2007 Chapecoense lifted their third state title, but they had now shifted their focus on a national level — they reached the Série D in 2009, and in October of the same year the semifinal against Macaé gave them access to Série C. The climb would then continue in 2013, with promotion to Série B, and in the following season, when Chape amassed 72 points in an impressive campaign securing a place, for the first time, in the élite of Brazilian football, the Série A.
According to owner Pallaoro, this growth was not fortuitous: “Planning, compromises, responsibility and transparency are the keys,” he told Brazilian newspaper Estado. “We kept our feet to the ground, avoiding any temptation to sign expensive players.”
The city has given us a crucial help — we have around 11.000 members paying a fee out of 200.000 inhabitants, which allows us to lower tickets’ prices. We also have an academy with about 300 kids, with the best of them entering our youth system.
In the Brazilian top-flight, Chapecoense managed to avoid relegation with two average campaigns, also earning the nickname “Chapeterror”, due to a couple of stunning wins over some of the country’s giants like Internacional (5-0) and Palmeiras (5-1) at the “Arena Condà”, renovated in 2009. Chape would also beat River Plate in 2015, before losing the quarter-final’s second-leg and being kicked out of the Copa Sudamericana, which they played for the first time in history. But once again, the Verdão do Oeste made a defeat a new starting point — in the Copa Sudamericana 2016, they secured the final against Atlético Nacional after impressive victories against Argentinian powerhouses Independiente and San Lorenzo. In an attempt to give Chapecò a football team to be proud of, Immich and his partners had created a fairytale of continental scale.