• Atalanta fans at the Champions League match against Valencia. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Atalanta's first appearance in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League ended with an unforgettable 4-1 victory over Valencia at the San Siro. However, it may come to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
SBS The World Game
30 Mar 2020 - 1:59 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2020 - 1:59 PM

On February 20, 2020 Hans Hateboer scored twice to secure tiny Atalanta a historic Champions League victory over Valencia. 

The BBC called it a fairytale. The Guardian said it was 'a night to remember', Atalanta defender Mattia Caldara described it as 'beautiful'. 

Journalists, fans and pundits marvelled over the fact that of a town with just 122,000 people, over 43,000 of them were in the San Siro for the match. 

Over a third of Bergamo's population had travelled the two hour round trip to Milan. And for those that stayed, many gathered together in small bars, cafes and restaurants to watch the game. 

As the goals flew in, people hugged, people kissed, how could you blame them? This was a team that had the same budget as Reading who were 15th in the Championship and they were on the way to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. 

As of today - March 30, 2020 - Italy has the second-most cases of COVID-19 in the world. 97,689 have been confirmed to be infected, with over 10,000 deaths, according to John Hopkins University. 

The town hardest hit is Bergamo. 

"Officially, 1,878 people have died there, but the toll may be four times higher," reports the New York Times. 

Fabiano di Marco, the chief pneumologist at the hospital in Bergamo, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that the match between Atalanta and Valenica was a 'biological bomb'. 

“I have heard a lot (of theories), I’ll say mine: 40,000 Bergamaschi went to San Siro for Atalanta-Valencia. In buses, cars, trains. A biological bomb, unfortunately.”

Luca Lorini, the head of the intensive care unit at the hospital, echoed those sentiments. 

"I'm sure that 40,000 people hugging and kissing each other while standing a centimetre apart - four times, because Atalanta scored four goals - was definitely a huge accelerator for contagion," Lorini said.

The mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, agreed with this theory. 

“We were mid-February, so we didn’t have the circumstances of what was happening,” Gori said.

“If it’s true what they’re saying that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them.

"As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars to watch the match and did the same.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here. It was inevitable.”

The fairytale has become a nightmare, the night to remember will never be forgotten.