Perhaps it’s the decommissioning of ‘battleship San Siro’ that has triggered such contempt. What could make the news that one of the world’s greatest stadiums, is to be demolished and be rebuilt, worse? Both representatives from Inter’s Curva Nord and Milan’s Curva Sud were up in arms this week as it was announced that Atalanta would play their Champions League games in the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. For them, it is certainly salt into a very raw wound, but for Italian Football and Le Dea, it seems an absolute must.
After Milan and Inter finally gave their approval for Atalanta to play their Champions League games at San Siro (as their own ground doesn’t meet UEFA standards), Atalanta President Antonio Percassi gave an official response of thanks. This was a cultured and well thought out statement that followed Papu Gomez’s Instagram message of appreciation. It thanked both clubs for the ‘prestigious opportunity’ to play in such a stadium, said they would try and honour the teams by giving their best in the Champions League and that they would respect the fan bases in the process.
This last statement of ‘honouring the fan bases’ is more important than one may first think. Love them or hate them the Ultras play a huge part in Italian Football and this move has offended both Milan and Inter fans. They both released statements yesterday, the Nerazzurri’s Curva Nord called it a “wicked choice that tramples all logic,” whilst the Rossoneri’s Curva Sud claimed “this request should have been returned to sender with a good long laugh and it is offensive, as San Siro is our home.”
Whilst many will claim that this is simply an obvious solution, as Bergamo is so close to Milan, certainly more than Sassuolo’s Mapei Stadium. Atalanta will be able to play in a UEFA licensed stadium for their Champions League campaign, you can see the point from Milan and Inter. Yes, it makes sense and in turn, the entertaining side from Bergamo will be able to represent Serie A in the best possible way. The Atalanta Ultras will no doubt make San Siro as intimidating as they do their own ground and potentially will be able to progress in Europe’s elite competition. However, it doesn’t feel quite right.
Football is developing and the modern game is changing we all know that. It is, however, the people’s game for a reason and some of the intrinsic values that we all love, however tribalistic, still matter. Look at any playground or five a side pitch to see these changes. Children in Milan, Vienna, Basel or Liverpool don’t always wear football kits of their hometown. Rapid Vienna shirts have been replaced by Manchester United, Everton shirts replaced by Juventus and nearly all playgrounds have three Barcelona shirts with Messi on the back. Still, in this new age the world is smaller and more and more people travel to these new ‘Meccas’. How many people now make pilgrimages to Dortmund, Madrid, Manchester and Milan?
These stadiums are important and that is why both Milan and Inter fans were devastated about the plans for their home. What has now been proposed for Atalanta is the culmination of frustration, as it feels like the final indignity. Their rivals from Bergamo are now going to be able to use their ground and their Curva to support Atalanta in a competition that Milan aren’t even in. It is surely worse for the Rossoneri, as this will feel like an extra kick in the teeth. Around the cafés of Milan this morning, both the red and blue sides will be asking, ‘is nothing sacred anymore?’
There is no doubt that Atalanta playing in San Siro makes sense. It will be good for Serie A and good for Bergamo, but it isn’t good for the Milanese. This final indignity may well be laughed off as stupid, childish and outdated, but it still matters. These are the same fans that produce the theatre of the Derby Della Madonnina that the whole world purrs over. Then these fans are not petty, then this is the one of the best football matches in the world. They do that because they have pride of their home. When you criticise them ask yourself this, would you allow a squatter into your house?