in Bergamo, football to life to death

In the stands, during the Atalanta-FC Valencia match, on February 19, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. DANIELE MASCOLO / REUTERS

Giulia Merelli will never forget February 23, 2020. That day, this 28-year-old woman, social worker in Ranica (Italy), in the suburbs of Bergamo, understood that the situation was changing. "The Sunday before Lent, all the villages are carnival, she says. We parade masked and families are on the streets, throughout the province. At noon, at the last moment, all the parades were canceled. The confusion was total. Fear has become more present. " The coronavirus was no longer just a Chinese affair, "A distant thing", as she says.

Four days earlier, Giulia Merelli and tens of thousands of supporters from the local football club, Atalanta de Bergamo, had gone to Milan, 50 kilometers away, to watch the first leg of the League’s knockout stages champions opposing their team to that of Valencia FC and won by the Italians 4-1.

The “zero match” theory

A meeting that Italian doctors describe today as an accelerator of the epidemic in the province of Bergamo, the most affected in Europe with a mortality seven times higher than the norm. Some even develop the “zero match” theory.

To find out more, we must return to this famous February 19. At the time, Italy knew only one "red zone": the stretch of motorway separating Bergamo from Milan, crowded with cars, coaches and vans of some 40,000 tifosis of Atalanta. This modest club has risen to the elimination phase of the Champions League and, for lack of a stadium to standards, is hosted by the powerful neighbor Milan.

Awaiting the big day, a sweet madness has seized this city of 120,000 inhabitants and the neighboring valleys. Giulia offered places to her father, historic tifosi, for her 60th birthday. "Atalanta on this level was the event of a lifetime. "

Read also "Everyone here knows a death or a serious condition": Bergamo, the new epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in Italy

Alessandro Venzi, 28, a local industry worker, rode a friend's Gray Golf. He is usually a supporter of AC Milan, but the epic of Atalanta has brought passions far beyond the usual loyalties. "It normally takes us about an hour to get from the province to San Siro. There we put three and a half hours. It’s as if the whole city poured into the stadium, with at least three generations of supporters, from 7 to 77 years old. Families were in their place. I’ve never seen such friendliness around a football match. "

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