Games night in Bergamo, Italy. Local soccer club Atalanta plays an important match in Italy against Lazio Roma. Atalanta’s stadium is located in the Citta Alta district, an upper part of the city, a historic part of Bergamo surrounded by 16th century Venetian stucco walls. The floodlights shine and twinkle in the cold January air.
In the original ESPN Daily, Sam Borden tells how a robust culture and intense fandom have made Bergamo vulnerable to a pandemic. And how this connectivity, along with the hope of encouraging Atalanta again, offers a way out to avoid devastating losses. Listen now”.
There is a bar on the hill. It has dark wood paneling and long rectangular tables. The bar is called Hog, short for “hedgehog.” On the menu is painted Hog, a cartoon animal with funny eyes.
The owner, Igor Prussiani, is a native, a true Bergamian. He comes from Longello, the neighborhood next to his bar. He loves Atalanta. He loves his players and his coaches. He loves its songs and chants. Above all, he loves the way she embodies the seductive determination of his city. Next to Milan, it may be a fashion capital, but Bergamo is a worker’s city,” says Igor, “and Bergamo knows how to work, how to sweat, how to work hard. The phrase “La maglia sudata sempre” is engraved on the inside collar of Atalanta’s T-shirts. Roughly translated, it means “the shirt is always wet”.
On Atalanta match nights, the pig is overcrowded with people. Beer taps hang from the ceiling. He offers a list of original burgers, including the Hipster, which contains half a pound of beef, homemade bread, an egg, cheese, bacon, onions and barbecue sauce. This dish will be remembered for days to come. Hipster is so popular that it is usually made in batches and delivered to hundreds of customers packed into the dining room. During games, the chanting about Hog never stops, except when Atalanta scores a goal and everyone screams in ecstasy.
These moments – the seconds of total pandemonium when this place is bursting at the seams – are why Igor discovered Hog.
“The best feeling,” he says, “is when you see people explode. When you see people with their hearts in their hands.”
He looks around. The pig is empty today. COVID-19 times, Igor explains, only takeout is allowed. There is no music, no humming. No shouting. Just a few pancakes sizzling on the grill in the background.
Atalanta fans watch their team’s victory over Lazio. Igor looks on from his restaurant. This is how it has been for months, through the blockades and quarantines and, of course, the deaths from narcotic coronaviruses that this city has experienced. One would think that the pandemic in the Western world began with the closing of Rudy Gobert and the NBA on March 11; one would think that this would be a turning point. It wasn’t. It was in Bergamo, where three weeks ago everyone went to bed thinking they had just had the best day of their lives and then woke up in a nightmare.
And yet there remains hope, even after so many broken hearts. No one knows when,” says Igor, “but soon the Bergamasques will be singing in the stadium again. Crowds will gather in the bars to hug and celebrate. Being together again. Soon they will be doing those normal things again, those everyday things that have suddenly changed from reassuring to dangerous.
A year ago it was the same,” says Igor. A year ago was great. Now that Atalanta is on the field on match night in Bergamo and the future finally seems a little closer, it is impossible for Bergamasks like Igor not to think about the match night of a year ago. The one from last February, just before everything started.
Atalanta played that night. The fans sang that night. That night, the dog was recovered.
Life then, Igor says, was normal.
Misunderstanding. specified.Atalanta’s historic victory over Valencia last February was a glimmer of euphoria for the city of Bergamo – before disaster struck. Andrea Staccioli/Lite Rocket/Getty Images …
It is February 19, 2020 and Igor is opening his bar for dinner. In the afternoon there are a lot of people, but around dinner time the dining room really fills up. Igor has reserved all the tables in this establishment for months. Atalanta is playing in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. For a small team whose only cup of significance dates back to 1963, Atalanta’s match against two-time finalist Valencia is a historic event.
The game itself takes place in Milan, some 40 miles away. Atalanta’s stadium is tiny and was built in 1928. It has not been upgraded to the Champions League level. So Atalanta plays against Valencia in the famous San Siro, one of the greatest stadiums in soccer.
Bergamo has only 125,000 inhabitants, but about 40,000 Atalanta fans travel there. Those who don’t go to watch in person gather in bars like Igor’s; those who do go find plenty of company in the streets. The trip to Milan usually takes 45 minutes, but that night it takes up to three hours from Bergamo.
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Fabio Piana arrived in Milan around 5 p.m., about four hours before kickoff. Fabio, like Igor, grew up in Bergamo and his parents’ house was just 200 meters from the stadium. Fabio clearly remembers being about five years old and asking his father on Sunday, “Papa, why are there so many people outside? His father simply pointed to Curva Nord, the north side of the stadium, where most of the fans were still. It was instant love. Fabio, now 40, has been standing in Curva Nord on match days for decades. His catalog of Atalanta memorabilia is rich, like the one he had when he played against AC Milan in 1983 and drew 2-2.
Fabio and his friends walk from the café, where they have been drinking and singing, to the San Siro. Dozens of buses from Bergamo bring dozens of Atalanta fans. Others drive or take the train and arrive on site by subway or cabs from Milan. Inside the San Siro, fans stand side by side to shout the words “Viaggiare per l’Italia Seguendo Te” or “Travel through Italy and follow you.”
“I live to love you / And I will never betray you,” they sing. “And with my heart in my throat, I will sing to you.” Ale, Atalanta!
The atmosphere is exuberant. Everyone is smiling, laughing and shouting. Strangers put their hands on each other’s shoulders. It is a celebration, a feast. Children of all ages are also present in the crowd, despite the late hour, including a little boy named Edoardo, whose father posts on social media a bill he wrote to his son’s school informing them that Edoardo will be absent all day for “cultural and historical” reasons. “He will one day live with his father in the history books of Bergamo,” the bill said, and even the mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, retweeted it with a message of approval and the hashtag #GoAtalantaGo.
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Atalanta vs Real Madrid Champions League panel preview on Wednesday.
Gori is also at the game, sitting with her son. The mayor spent a whole day at work, including a meeting with Paolo Gentiloni, the former Italian prime minister, but by 6:30 p.m. he was out again, in the car and on his way to Milan, just like everyone else. Gori’s son is 23 and a graduate of the University of Siena, but Atalanta is keeping them together because they live separately. “This match,” says Gori, who speaks like a proud father, “has been a moment of extraordinary bonding between us on a personal and emotional level.
The game itself is euphoric. To reach the quarter-finals, Atalanta must score more goals than Valencia in two games, one in Italy and one in Spain. Atalanta, the biggest of the promoted teams, need only 15 minutes to show they belong in a 180-minute soccer match. Dutch defender Hans Hateboer opened the scoring and shock in the stands was mixed with joy. Then Josip Ilicic scored a goal. And Remo Freiler. Then Hateboer scored again, and suddenly it seemed that the San Siro stadium was about to go up in flames.
Atalanta fans are on fire. Four goals? In the Champions League? For us? This is a team whose total wages are lower than Cristiano Ronaldo’s. It’s a team that didn’t even play in the Italian top in 2011. It is a team that at the beginning of the tournament had a chance of almost 100 to 1 to win the tournament and was not on the front page of most players’ palmares.
Today Atalanta is part of soccer history, a fearless debutant whose fans have no interest in just being happy here. Fabio can barely see the third and fourth goals go into the net because there is so much jumping, singing, shouting and beer flying around in the area where he is standing, the bergamas are so close together that it seems like they have one face together.
The final score was 4-1, and when the mayor left the stadium that night with his son Gori, he was already planning what to do in the return game. The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible,” says Gori. Wouldn’t it be great if, in a few weeks, there was a big screen in the center of Bergamo for the second round?
Everyone can get together again, Gori thinks. Another party, this time in the city’s main square. That would be great.
Wrong: The specified.mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, was unaware that there would be a health crisis in his city when he attended Atalanta’s Champions League match with his son. He even began planning a public showing of the second part in the city’s main square. Alessandro Rota/Getty Images
IMPORTANT to repeat: this is February 19. Although we are now used to the rapid pace of news about the coronavirus, it was still something new and strange at the time. Should there have been suspicion? Perhaps. But only a man can distract himself from something scary for as long as possible, imagine it and hope he doesn’t get too close to it.
On February 19, the residents of Bergamo saw the virus as something Chinese and said, “OK, it’s 15,000 kilometers away and it’s not our business,” said Andrea Losapio, a journalist who has been reporting on Atalanta for years. On Italian television on February 19, Andrea said that the ratio of news about Atalanta in the Champions League to articles about the coronavirus was “at least 10 to 1.”
After the game, this relationship apparently turns quickly, and Gorey is quick to say that “the week after the game was one of the strangest in my life.” On February 20-the day after the game-Gori learned of the first reported case of COVID-19 in a nearby town. On February 21, another 14 positive cases were reported in the Lombard area, including the doctor who treated the first of these cases. On February 23, the first two cases were identified in Bergamo.
“So every day?” said Gori. “More and more.”
Gori and other Bergamo officials are not impressed at first. They talk further about the open-air party before Atalanta’s next match.
Then, on March 5, Gori checks his email at 11 p.m. and sees a message from a regional health official he doesn’t know: “Mr. Mayor, I have to tell you what’s really going on.”
Late at night, almost ready for bed, Gorey gets goosebumps when he reads the letter about the exponential spread and possible shortage of PSA and how hospitals could be paralyzed by the overwhelming demand. Within a few weeks, everything goes according to plan. Positive results are increasing. Problems with resources. Overcrowded hospitals.
By March 24, about a month after the game, nearly 7,000 people in Bergamo had tested positive and more than 1,000 had died. On March 27, the New York Times reported on the devastation of Bergamo, the first city outside Asia to be completely enveloped by COVID-19. The headline quoted a local funeral director as saying, “We take the dead from morning to night.” A local newspaper is filled with obituaries.
The importance of the Atalanta-Valencia match in relation to the spread of the coronavirus in Bergamo is fast becoming a point of contention. Fabio, a fan who grew up a few hundred yards from the stadium, says that some “Italians see us as bad people early on, as people who spread the virus.” A lung specialist from Bergamo is quoted in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera as describing the Atalanta-Valencia match – with 40,000 spectators in the stands – as a “biological bomb.”
Amidst all these fears and losses, such a description gains traction. Some see this match as a symbol of what went wrong in Bergamo, if not its main symptom. The Associated Press published an article describing the Atalanta-Valencia match as a “zero match.” More than a third of Valencia’s teammates and staff were sent home after being found positive, and the return took place in an empty stadium.
The science is complex and not entirely clear. Complex analyses of aerosol dispersion patterns in nature have yet to be conducted, said Dr. Seema Lakdawala, an expert who studies transmission at the University of Pittsburgh. Fans jumping on each other at the San Siro, she said, pose a risk of transmission, but on game nights, she believes restaurants and bars like Igor’s would be an “even bigger nightmare scenario” because “every time you talk, breathe [and] scream, you’re emitting viruses and aerosols ….that would stay in the air longer, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.”
Error. Movie name not specified.When COVID-19 raged in Bergamo, questions arose about Atalanta’s role in the spread of the virus. PIERO CRUCIATTI/AFP/Getty Images
Dr Guido Marinoni, a long-time general practitioner in Bergamo and president of the province’s medical association, says that the buses, trains and subways used by Atalanta’s fans – again, indoors – were probably a breeding ground for the virus. He believes that while the match itself may have been a “catalyst” for the deterioration of the situation in Bergamo, “it is not the only mass event that may have influenced the situation.”
The only thing that is certain is that it spreads. Twenty percent of Bergamasks who attend a San Siro match show symptoms of COVID-19 within a few weeks, according to a study, in which Fabio participates. His fever is high, but fortunately his symptoms are not so unpleasant. While he recovers in isolation, he follows the disease by phone.
Every morning, he says, he wakes up and checks a group message with friends in Bergamo. And every morning, 16 days in a row, he says, “I had to offer condolences to someone” on the death of a family member, a mother-in-law, an uncle or an aunt.
Igor, the owner of the restaurant, also falls ill. His symptoms are more severe. An ambulance comes to his house because he can’t breathe properly. He is taken to the hospital in Bergamo, but it is overcrowded. He stays there only one night, then he is intubated and transferred to a hospital in Milan that has a bed. He is taken to the emergency room.
“There were sick people coming all the time,” Igor said, “sick people scattered all over the place, and the things that you ….
At that moment, his voice clenches, his eyes suddenly become moist. He feels it happen again and again. He takes a few hits, snorts, tries to pull himself together. Then he describes the pain of what he sees:
All around him, people on stretchers, lying down and trembling, hands up, hands clapping. They were so desperate, he said, that it looked like their fingers were trying to put air into their lungs. “They couldn’t breathe,” Igor finally said. “I could see them breathing their last breath.” So many people on those stretchers with only white blankets.”
Igor spends a month in the hospital – two weeks in intensive care – before he is discharged, and he knows he is one of the lucky ones. But this period is only physical; full recovery naturally extends much further and deeper. Even if he can breathe again, Igor must find a way to save his restaurant. How to take care of his family and himself. How not to be afraid.
Reconstruction is a job,” says Igor, “and ultimately that’s what Gori, the mayor, sees as saving his city. The job. Even in times of unprecedented crisis, Gori says, Bergamasks can always fall back on what they do best. They organize themselves. They volunteer by the thousands. They hand out masks. They deliver food and medicine to the elderly. For weeks, they set up a makeshift hospital at the Bergamo fairgrounds to ease congestion.
They are at work. They are working in the context of closures and quarantines, school closures and trade restrictions, peaks and valleys in infection rates. They work to keep their city together.
Wrong: The film is not specified.Nearly 28,000 people died from COVID-19 in Lombardy, the region that includes Bergamo-nearly a third of all deaths in Italy. Hospitals, overcrowded with patients and medical staff, struggled to contain the spread. Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg/Getty Images
In 2010, ATALANTA launched a program to send the family of every baby born in Bergamo and the surrounding area a small t-shirt and two bottles of replacement milk for breast milk. The idea was simple: Atalanta has its roots here, it is a birthright.
“The relationship between the city and the soccer team is stronger than any other situation I know of,” Gorey said. “It’s total commitment, total identification.”
Therefore, according to Gori, not just any politician can refer to Atalanta during a pandemic as a “rainbow” for his city, a beacon that both distracts from the terrible present and, as he puts it, “offers a better future.”
In August, more than five months after the Valencia game, Atalanta lost their last match against superstar Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Some wonder if this will be the end of the fairy tale for Atalanta, but after a (very) short summer break, Atalanta is back on track in the new season, just like in the old season. It won its first three games. It scored 23 goals in its first eight games. In the group match of the Champions League, Atalanta again failed to beat the English youngster Liverpool.
Wrong: The name of the film is less than specified.a year old, the streets of Bergamo are silent and the stands of the Atalanta stadium are empty. But cheering on their team gives hope to the city and a determination to rebuild. A hand-painted sign in the window reminds residents that “everything will be all right.” Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Of course, no full stadiums, no singing and chanting, but there are always matches, there is communication. Fabio, who now lives in New York for work, watches on his computer. Because the broadcasts are much quieter without the noise of the crowd, he sometimes hears church bells just outside the stadium. It was his church when he was growing up,” he says. It reminds him of home.
Igor also observes and discusses with other restaurateurs when the COVID-19 vaccine will finally be widespread enough to reopen the doors of the Pig. He has lost almost 700,000 euros in this crisis, but his faith in Bergamo has never wavered. If the restrictions disappear, he says, he plans to open a second branch. “It would be nice to have a full bar and eat a lot of hipster burgers,” he says.
The one thing you don’t often hear from Bergamo is the desire to “return to normal.” That doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist here. Not in a place that has lost so much. In Lombardy, the region where Bergamo is located, almost 28,000 people have died. Too much has happened to this city, to these people, to go back to anything – to start over.
Atalanta will play a Spanish team again next week in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. This time it is Real Madrid, one of the titans of Europe. The match will even take place at Atalanta’s stadium, where enough improvements have been made to bring the old venue up to standard.
The stadium will not be full that night, and even if he thinks otherwise on a later night. The love for Atalanta may not falter, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change.
When the stadium is finally open to the public again, of course they go there. Igor, Andrea, Dr Marinoni – and even the mayor of Gori and his son. But it won’t be the same as before. There will be gaps. Fabio will be back in North Curva, but when he looks out, or behind him, or on the ridge, he won’t see all the faces he saw so many years ago. Wounded everywhere. “Diego, Bruno, Evan, Marco,” he says. Those are just four of the names he mourns.
“It will be difficult,” Fabio says of his return to the stadium. “Difficult, but also happy. Happy because we have to be happy. Happy because we will be there to remember.
It’s the only way. They will sing, Fabio says. They will shout. They will sing “Viaggiare per l’Italia Seguendo Te” and shout the words together, no matter how far apart they are. They will sing as loud as necessary, to make up for those who cannot join in.
From near or far, with or without a mask, Bergamo’s love for Atalante is invulnerable. The shirt is always wet.