I’m Staying At Home: Atalanta Fans Celebrate Club’s Biggest Night With The American Experience

Wild #MyPLMorning scenes playing out across Bergamo right now!

Over the past six months, Atalanta fans have been living the American soccer dream. The Bergamo-based club, despite tracing its existence back 112 years, has experienced a litany of firsts, bounced around different grounds and put its supporters through a sustained period of isolated loneliness. In the United States, we call this the New York City FC experience. 

It began with the club finishing third in Serie A last season and qualifying directly for the Champions League. With Atalanta’s Gewiss Stadium currently undergoing renovations to become UEFA compliant, the club’s been hosting its Champions League matches 37 miles away at Milan’s San Siro.

That hulking cathedral holds 75,923 spectators (the population of Bergamo is just 120,287), but Atalanta was able to draw a crowd of 44,236 for its first-ever UCL knockout match, an eye-catching 4-1 victory over Valencia back on Feb. 19.

The time since has been dominated by the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Northern Italy, which started when a 38-year-old man checked himself into a local hospital in the region of Lombardy (containing both Bergamo and Milan). 

With the virus quickly spreading to Spain — where Madrid has been hit hardest — the Spanish recently stepped up their efforts to avoid an “Italian scenario,” and that action included the banning of large scale gatherings like the second leg of Atalanta and Valencia at the Mestalla on Tuesday.

Not that the law stopped a large-scale gathering outside the stadium. 

As the Champions League anthem reverberated around the ground without the customary whistling and jeering of the goddamn Man, it was uplifting to see that UEFA had allowed those UCL-banner-shaking people in. What would this competition be without that beloved parachute activity of elementary school gym classes everywhere? 

If Valencia harbored any hopes of a comeback, it had to come from within. After all, the only supporter inside the stadium was made of metal. 

But the dream effectively died with only 1:24 on the clock after Josip Iličić won a penalty and converted it himself. It’s a fun highlight to watch if only because Valencia goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen can be heard saying “I’m good, no?” to some overzealous refereeing from Ovidiu Hațegan.  

Unfortunately we can’t directly cut to scenes of Atalanta fans celebrating passage to the quarterfinals. Supporters of the Orobici are also getting a taste of what it’s like to be an American Premier League fan! 

With a self-imposed quarantine being the best way to stop the virus’ spread, Italy’s new motto is “I’m staying at home,” which has been gleefully picked up by internet-based lifeforms as a celebration of their long-held lifestyle choices. So Atalanta fans had their own #MyPLMorning (read: alone, homebound and with no tangible connection to their club).  

“Tonight, do not organize an evening with your friends, do not get together to watch the match. Let’s watch everyone at home,” Bergamo mayor Giorgio Gori said before the game. “If what had happened had not happened, the municipality would have liked to set up a giant screen for this historic match. But we must all be responsible and act properly.

"Tonight we will watch Atalanta alone and we hope to win. In the event of a victory, no parade, no celebrations in the streets, do not go into the city, do not go to welcome the team. We are still all allowed to cheer through the window.”

Valencia's Kevin Gameiro would make it 2-5 on aggregate in the 21st minute, but this goal is really only worth watching because of the striker’s failed attempt at a quick restart due to teammate Ferran Torres getting in the way.

Atalanta restored its four-goal cushion just before halftime after Mouctar Diakhaby conceded his second penalty of the match and Iličić converted his second. It was probably in Diakhaby’s best interests that the doors remained closed.   

From a neutral perspective, it was kind of fun but also sad to see Valencia pull two goals back by the 67th minute. Still needing three goals in the remaining 23+ minutes to turn it around, it would’ve remained mission impossible, but the Mestalla would’ve been rocking. Instead, Torres’ fighting goal in the 67th was met with customary silence.

And instead of rocking under increased pressure from the stands, Atalanta immediately steadied the ship as Iličić completed his hat trick to finally bury Valencia in the 71st minute. He’d then pour cement on their grave by scoring a fourth (from four shots on target) in the 82nd.

Who knows what would’ve happened had the stadium been turned into a cauldron after Valencia took a 3-2 lead on the night, but Atalanta supporters have earned their right to “cheer through the windows.”

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