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Bergamo wakes from virus nightmare to resume Atalanta football dream

Bergamo's Atalanta return to action on Sunday, hoping that a resumption of their incredible football success will signal the historic Italian city's return to normality after being devastated by coronavirus.

Bergamo wakes from virus nightmare to resume Atalanta football dream
An Atalanta football fan. Photo: AFP

“These have been extremely difficult months,” said Mayor Giorgio Gori, remembering the dozens of coffins lined up for burial and the macabre images of the military convoys that carried them which were beamed around the world.

“March was a series of mournings, each bit of news more sad than the last.

Now there's relief, we've returned to a relatively normal situation,” he told journalists.

The province suffered 6,000 more deaths than usual during the COVID-19 outbreak, including 670 in Bergamo city which has a population of around 122,000.

Almost everyone there has lost a relative, friend, colleague or neighbour.

It is now known that the Champions League match between Atalanta and Valencia on February 19 played a significant role in spreading the deadly virus.

 

Around 46,000 spectators gathered at Milan's San Siro to watch Atalanta crush the Spanish team 4-1. With every goal, local fans fell into each other's arms, at the stadium and in bars.

'Biological bomb'

The coronavirus was already known in China but at the time seemed far away from northern Italy.

But that soon changed, and from March 4 the number of cases in Bergamo rose sharply, leading some doctors to label the football match a “biological bomb” which had exploded.

After the second leg was played and also won, 4-3, on March 10 in Valencia, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini called for a big party to be held “later” as the team made it to the Champions League quarter-finals.

There followed over two months of lockdown in Italy, and tourists are yet to return to this pretty UNESCO World Heritage Site city.

On Sunday, Atalanta take on Sassuolo in their first post-virus Italian Serie A match, to be held without fans present, but with the team known as “La Dea” resuming what was far and away their best season ever.

“This match represents a small return to normality,” said Atalanta supporter Andrea Sigorini, 36.

 

“But as the staff and players have said, our thoughts will be with those who have been through such difficult times,” he said.

“We're in a hurry to see Atalanta play again, given the level they're playing at,” he told AFP.

Marino Lazzarini is head of the Friends of Atalanta fan club with 6,000 members and is also one of the club's directors.

“Counting friends and others I know, I lost 40 people. Football helps us not to forget, because we don't forget, but to enjoy ourselves,” said the 71-year-old, who has been going to the stadium since he was four.

'Resume the dream'

Atalanta's captain, Argentine Alejandro “Papu” Gomez, has also called for football to resume, despite the opposition of some hardcore “Ultra” fans.

“If you asked me two months ago I would have been against,” he told sports newspaper Corriere dello Sport.

“But now it's safer, that the virus appears to have weakened, I'm for it. Bergamo lives for football, breathes football. But Bergamo won't forget.”

Those who are rejoicing at the resumption of football, even behind closed doors, are desperate to know how their so-far incredible season ends.

Atalanta occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot in Serie A and sit three points clear of fifth-placed Roma with a game in hand.

“The lockdown happened at the most beautiful moment (for the team), an historic moment,” said Lazzarini. “We hope that the dream can resume.”

After their historic victory in Valencia, players showed off a T-Shirt written in the local dialect:  “Bergamo, Mola Mia” or “Never Give Up, Bergamo”.

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FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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