Mauro Ausilio was among 40,000 Atalanta fans, most of whom had travelled 30 miles from the team’s home city of Bergamo to Milan’s San Siro stadium, for a Champions League clash against Valencia on 19 February. “It was the first time in history that the club qualified for the Champions League and I didn’t want to miss out,” Ausilio said.
But unbeknown to them at the time, coronavirus had been circulating in Italy for weeks and the first local infection was confirmed in Codogno, south of Milan, two days later. Atalanta won the game, but the fixture is now remembered as a detonator for a virus that would go on to kill an estimated 6,000 people across Bergamo, putting the province at the centre of Italy’s pandemic.
Ausilio said he will not be watching on TV when Atalanta’s season resumes on Sunday evening in a Serie A match against Sassuolo behind closed doors. The return of football is causing friction between those who see it as a step towards normality after months of suffering, and others who believe it is too soon.
“The last few months have affected all of us psychologically,” said Ausilio. “I know people who died. So even though it is always a big pleasure to watch Atalanta, some of the sparkle is missing.”
Ausilio’s close friend, Diego Federici, lost his parents to Covid-19 within days of each other. “I understand the need to get things going economically, but for those of us who have suffered a great loss, I don’t think now is the right time to resume football,” Federici said.
Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo city, also attended the San Siro match with his son. After steering the city through the tragedy, Gori must now mitigate the economic consequences.