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From the only fan in the stadium to glory as club president | a superfan's outstanding journey

When Brazilian side Futebol Club Santa Cruz do Sul lost 4-1 to Grêmio in February 2012, there was only one Santa Cruz fan in the stadium - a loyal 23-year-old superfan called Tiago Rech. He was pictured sat alone in the stands, feeling the pain of a season that ultimately ended in relegation to the State Championship second division.

So when Santa Cruz won the state FGF Cup and qualified for Copa do Brasil in December 2020, it was the ultimate success for Tiago personally - for it was he who by then had turned the club around as president. This is the story of how a fan’s passion and devotion let him achieve his dream.

Santa Cruz do Sul, in southern Brazil, is Tiago’s hometown. He was born there, grew up there, and is now a hero there. He speaks to Charlie Rowan about his journey. Tiago is working as a press officer for the mayor of the town. He also works as a journalist at a PR agency and owns a PR company called Rech Content. But his passion lies at FC Santa Cruz, where he’s also its part-time president. 

Tiago recalls: “Since I was a little child, I was always watching the Santa Cruz matches with my father. But, when I was a teenager that’s when I realised that Santa Cruz was my life.” 

The stunning rise began for the Brazillian in late 2013. Tiago moved from his home in Porto Alegre to Santa Cruz do Sul and became a press officer for the club he loved. But, because of the small club’s limited resources, he had to be much more, working in a range of back-room roles and gaining experience in management. That was when the club’s directors took notice of his enthusiasm.

“After the 2014 second division State Championship, I talked to the directors about how important it is for the club to play the whole year. Before that, the club only used to play the State Championship for three to four months, and not other competitions for the rest of the year. The club was closed every year for more than six months. 

“Playing the whole year round, you can keep the same coach, hire players that will have passion for the club and that will ensure continuity.”

He talked to the directors and pitched them a project to play the Copa FGF in the second half of 2014. They agreed, and asked Tiago if wanted to be the president. He couldn’t say no, and was elected later that year, but initially the offer didn’t go down well at home.

“My family at first didn't want me to do this. Because I was working at a big newspaper, a really great company, and with a great future as a journalist and press officer. But I wanted this so much that I convinced them.”

In July 2015, Tiago finished his term as president and moved back to Porto Alegre. His first term as a president (2014-2015) didn't go as planned. He invested and lost a lot of personal money. Santa Cruz were in decline. Then, in 2018, the club effectively fell apart. They were relegated to the State Championship third division and desperately needed change.

Tiago had the emotional bond to the club that other presidents didn’t; he felt devoted to resurrecting Santa Cruz. He had the passion to build the club back up. Six months after the relegation, he returned as president.

“It was really hard, I lost a lot of money, I lost a lot of hope. I ended up thinking football management wasn't for me. I was so close to giving up football. But I had to return in January 2019. I had more experience and chose the right people to work with me. It was worth not giving it up.

“Being relegated into the third State Championship division was the worst thing to happen for our club. The team hit rock bottom. I was there when it happened, not as a president or director, but as a fan. So you can imagine how sad I was. People were talking about closing the club.

“Closing Santa Cruz was something that could never happen. After three years of working in Porto Alegre, I was fine again financially. It was my mission to keep the Club opened and to find ways to recover it.”

Towards the end of December 2020, Santa Cruz won the FGF Cup - the first trophy in the club's history - and qualified for the Copa do Brasil, as well as a Community Shield type match, ironically against Grêmio.

Last year, Tiago, now 33, was living and working as a journalist in Porto Alegre. Most of his decisions as a president were remote via WhatsApp - so he used the help of his vice-president. Every weekend he travelled to Santa Cruz to see the players, but in 2021 he moved back home. Tiago plans to be re-elected this month, play in the Copa do Brasil for the first time and take the club back up the divisions.

“When I was around 15 years old, I started thinking about becoming a board member or even the club's president. I always dreamt to win a title, to make the difference. From being the only fan in the stadium to election as president and now a champion. It's the club's first title.