In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak in the northern regions of the country, in the morning of Sunday, 23 February, Lega Serie A president Paolo dal Pino put out an official statement saying that three games of Italy's top-flight league scheduled for that very day would not take place in order to prevent the contagion spreading further.
At first, fans thought that such drastic measures were exceptional, that they wouldn't and couldn't possibly last. After all, none of us have ever imagined living a life without football, because we're too used to it, that's simply who we are. Imagine going into work on a Monday morning without mocking your colleague for their favourite team's defeat, or walking into the neighbourhood café for a mid-day espresso and not chatting about the evening's fixtures with your trusted barista. Little did we all know, that's exactly what was going to happen.
The following weekend, six out of ten games were cancelled in a rather confusing and illogical manner, also known as the Italian way. Amid heated discussions, grievous accusations and unfruitful propositions on when to reschedule the matches, Serie A fans started fearing that the league might actually be cancelled once and for all. And, at the same time, they started realising how serious of a crisis Italy is genuinely going through.
It now seems like the parties involved have finally come to an agreement, and six of the eight league games that were cancelled over the past two weekends shall be played behind closed doors between March 7 and 8.
Among these fixtures is the much-anticipated Derby d'Italia between Juventus and Inter, which will take place in an empty stadium for the first time in its history. If you thought that the atmosphere during Europa League's Inter-Ludogorets was quite bizarre and surreal, just wait for Italy's most heated match-up on Sunday night, as the absence of the fans will be more keenly felt than ever before.
And if it's true that life and football are so tightly connected, watching this weekend's games might make you understand how life has been like in Italy recently, especially in the northern regions. Surreal and bizarre are, in fact, two perfectly fitting adjectives.
"È come Milano ad agosto", "It's like Milan in August", is a common Italian expression to describe a desolate, lifeless setting, as the ever buzzing capital of the north goes totally silent in late summer, when its people migrate from the unbearable heat towards the cooler seaside towns. March has barely begun, but that's exactly how Milan looks like these days. Add closed schools and gyms, empty trains, ushers outside cafés regulating the entrance "two at a time", an overall hesitation behind personal interactions and you will get most of the picture. Italy as we know it is simply not the same these days.
Last night, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte broadcast an announcement to the Italian people, urging them to stay strong and to respect the rules put forward by the Ministry of Health, and announcing the additional measures taken by the Government in this time of unprecedented emergency. Meetings and social events are officially suspended, schools will be closed until 15 March, and all professional sporting events and training sessions shall take place behind closed doors until a later date.
As we all try to keep a distance of two metres from one another, we repeatedly wash our hands and spend most of the day in our homes, at least football fans can take some joy in knowing that the beautiful game is back, and one of the most exciting Serie A campaigns in years is on its way again. Surely, games won't be the same without the support of the fans or the breath-taking choreographies in the stands, but at least the teams will send a powerful message. As the Olympic games teach us, sports shall never kneel down. No matter the threat.