The Legend of Atalanta
Paolo Vezzoli with the photos from Atalanta
This had looked like being the greatest season in Atalanta’s history. When lockdown came they were fourth in the table, three points clear of Roma, with a game in hand and on course to match last season’s achievement of qualifying for the Champions League. In this season’s Champions League, they’d beaten Valencia 8-4 on aggregate to reach the quarter-final, and had done so playing vibrant almost pathologically attacking football under Gian Piero Gasperini. In a last 16 populated only by clubs from Europe’s top five leagues, they were the fairy story.
But the second leg in Valencia was played behind closed doors. The first leg, watched by 44,000 at San Siro, is now thought been a major accelerator in the spread of the disease. Bergamo became one of Italy’s worst affected cities. The local paper, L’Eco di Bergamo, usually prints 20 death notices a day. By March it was averaging nearly 100, peaking at 116. Lombardy still accounts for almost half of all Italian Covid 19 deaths.
Pictures from the Papa Giovanni hospital appalled the world: packed wards, plastic sheeting providing makeshift protection, exhausted medics hopelessly over stretched as they attempted to minister to the dying.
Football has a tendency to plant itself at the forefront of other stories, to become a filter through which everything must be viewed. But here there is relevance, not only in the contrast between the joy brought by Gasperini and his side on the one hand and the horror of the virus on the other, but in the fact that a game probably played its part in the spread. Atalanta’s season of glory has become also a season of tragedy.