Campionato, Di Calcio, Italiano!

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Atalanta 1 v 2 Roma (22.11.2014)

Atalanta had long been on my ever growing football “to do” list and the blame for that lays squarely at the feet of Channel Four’s Gazzetta Football Italia. That classic show first planted seeds of intrigue some 20 years earlier!  The novelty of watching overseas football on terrestrial TV back in the early 90’s is more than a fond memory of yesteryear, and Definitive 2’s soundtrack (click here) and intro to Gazzetta is right up there. Recollections of James Richardson sat in a coffee shop with a cappuccino and a flamboyant looking cake whilst reviewing the week’s calcio Italia in the rather camp looking Gazzetta Dello Sport was TV gold in my book. And it was those early experiences of Italian football that inspired my very first ventures to foreign football fields. Initially sucked in by the inevitable bright lights of Lazio, Milan, Inter, Juve, Roma and Sampdoria, the less fashionable Italian clubs such as Atalanta fell down the pecking order and have taken me far too long to get round to visit.

The heady days of Claudio Canniggia and Christian Vieri turning out for Atalanta may be long gone but this club carries a proud tradition and has a passionate and fanatical following. So here we go then, some 10 years after my last foray into Italian football, I find myself drawn back to my first European football love. Back then it was all I knew.

These days Serie A might not be quite smashing the box office as it once was. A decaying infrastructure in an era of the modern purpose built ‘designer’ stadium is no doubt hamstringing Italian football, but you know what, that makes it all the more endearing. You can’t beat an old school ‘rough round the edges’ ground for a bit of character, and there’s also a unique passion to be found in Italian football that still rings strong long after Richardson, Gazza, and Ince packed up their bags for pastures new!

Most football tourists flying with Ryan Air into Milan Bergamo will generally head straight into Milan city centre seeking out the grandeur of the San Siro experience. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with that, many will be completely unaware that Atalanta are actually based in the town they touched down in, and as such a little gem often gets overlooked! Furthermore, the opportunity for two games in one weekend is never a bad thing is it?

Bergamo is 25 miles north east of Milan and lies close to the foothills of the Alps and as such takes up a naturally scenic setting. The city, like many is split in two, the old town and the new town. The former is accessible by a funicular railway and is commonly known as the ‘upper town’, the latter is situated in the ‘lower’ part of the city close to Bergamo’s main train station.

From here the Atleti Azzuri d’Italia – Atalanta’s Stadium – can be reached by a 10 minute, 12 euro cab ride, or if you prefer a cheaper option, buses 6 and 9 will run you out to the ground in about 15 minutes.

If you opt for a taxi you’ll most likely be dropped off at ‘Viale Caio Giulio Cesare’. For this particular game there was a blockade of riot police stretching across the road. I had forgotten about the infamous ‘Carabinieri’, and on exiting the cab flashbacks of heavy policing on previous Italian adventures and in particular a tear gas experience at the Rome derby came flooding back! Apparently a fierce rivalry exists between both sets of fans, and one that has descended into hatred following the stabbing of three Atalanta fans by Roma ultras back in 2006.

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Once past the police blockade, the walk down Viale Caio Giulio Cesare takes you past a number of small bars – perfect for that pre match Peroni! The most popular of which seemed to be the local petrol station. Yes you read that right, the forecourt bustling with supporters as it doubled up as an Atalanta fans pre match watering hole!

The Atleti Azzuri D’Italia is unlikely to be winning any architectural awards any time soon.  Like a communist style estate block, the exterior is tatty and run down; and the drab grey metal barred fencing that surrounds the stadium is only brightened by blue and black Atalanta Ultras graffiti. As you gaze upwards to the top of the uncovered Curvas, the ultras banners illuminated by the huge floodlights add a welcome splash of colour.

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The stadium exterior sets the tone for the interior too, so don’t come here expecting any of the mod-cons you would associate with a shiny new build. This stadium was cut from the ‘basics’ mould rather than the ‘taste the difference’ range, and the focus here is purely on the football.

The impressive looking Curva Pisani houses the ‘Dell’Atalanta Ultras’, whilst at the opposite end the Curva Sud is split into two sections, one accommodating away fans, the other the less established Atalanta ultras group known as ‘Forever Atalanta’. Tensions between both sets of fans was clearly evident as a number of flares and firecrackers were launched into the Atalanta sections by the Roma Ultras.

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The Curva Pisani…

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The Curva Sud…

The game got off to an absolute flyer, and if an unrelated analogy is worth its place here, then Atalanta came out of the blocks like Usain Bolt in the Olympic 200m final. Before Roma had even negotiated the inside bend they were already one nil down!

Given the form guide an early goal from Atalanta was unexpected to say the least, and unfortunately for Ashely Cole he more than played his part in contributing to the opener. Cole uncharacteristically gave up a two yard head start to Raimondi who cut in from the right and after he’d muscled his way through to the bye line, his cut back was then dramatically smashed in off the crossbar and into the far corner by Moralez. There’s nothing quite like scoring a goal in the 1st minute to get the home crowd onside, and the ultras on the Curva Pisani had barely finished folding away their tifo before chaotic scenes ensued!

But 90 minutes can be a long time in football and if you’re going to concede I suppose the first minute is as good as any! Unfortunately for Atalanta this wasn’t the aforementioned 200m sprint race, but more a 5000m middle distance battle. Roma adjusted to the early pacemaker and by midway through the first half they had well and truly taken over the mantle. Ljanic, De Rossi and Pjanic in particular started to control the midfield.

On 23 minutes Ljanic scored a sublime equaliser. Collecting the ball on the left touchline he cut inside to the edge of the penalty area, leaving four Atalanta players in his wake, before unleashing a fierce curling drive into the far right corner.

The momentum was well and truly with Roma and a second goal came just before half time, and followed a well worked counter attacking move. Ljanic was the beneficiary of well-timed overlap into the penalty area, and his cut back to Nainggolan was dispatched into the far corner. That goal proved to be the match winner, and Roma saw the game out to win 2-1.

Atalanta represents a real old school Italian football experience, and is well worth a visit. So if you’re planning to head off to Milan to watch AC or Inter at the San Siro, make sure you check out the fixture list, and if Atalanta are playing at home get yourself down to the Atelti Azzuri D’Italia!

Tickets:

Tickets for Atalanta games can be easily purchased online using the Italian website ‘Listicket’. You can print your ticket at home, and as long as you have an ID document on you come match day the whole process couldn’t me more convenient!

One word of caution though. If you opt for a seat in either of the two main stands make sure you select a seat further back than Row 10. Don’t be sucked in like I was by the surprisingly cheap 25 euro seats close to the half way line! There is a catch. A large panelled section of perspex fencing separates the pitch from the stands, and I would equate it to watching football through an empty aquarium! (see below). The fences were about 8-10 foot high and at the top of the fencing was a metal bar which was positioned right in my sight line of the action! As the game kicked off I must have resembled a meerkat as I kept ducking down or stretching up depending on where the ball was on the pitch. So if you ever visit Atalanta make sure you pay a little more, and book a seat further back than Row 10!

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The ‘aquarium seats’, Row 10 or below, complete with restricted view metal bar…

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The Atalanta blue camouflage  winter jacket – clearly a club best seller!

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‘No Totti no Party’ – a fairly straight forward concept for most – but the irony of the banner unfurled in the Roma end was superb given the absence of the Giallorossi legend…

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