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Bergamo (and Italy!) debates the Guardian's controversial take on Atalanta

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By Tim Doel

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Richard Hall, author of a blog called The Gentleman Ultra that mixes the nostalgia of Italian football with the reality on the Curva, was recently asked to write a club guide on Atalanta football club for The Guardian. However he couldn't possibly have envisaged the huge reaction that it has generated over in Italy. Where in England the article was enjoyed, and Serie A fans awaited the next in the series, in Bergamo, noses it appeared, had been put out of place. Richard is slightly puzzled at the reaction as I put some of the media reaction to him:

The regional newspaper website, L'Eco di Bergamo, published an attack on The Guardian, horrified that the article focused on some of the dark days in the club's history, concerning the behavior of the Ultras, their politics, controversial incidents, and the calling of the stadium a relic of Mussolini's Italy. It was all accurate, but for some Atalanta fans it appeared to focus on these negative aspects too much, and not acknowledge some of the more positive elements of the club.

The article by L'Eco di Bergamo finished their response claiming "Of the real fan, of the families at the stadium, of the Amici dell’Atalanta (a fans organisation), camminate nerazzurre (a charity walk for fans at the end of the season), of the people of Bergamo, of all that surrounds Atalanta, the Guardian makes basically no mention."

But the story didn't end there. Over the next days, news articles appeared covering the story on national newspaper websites il Messaggero, Gazzetta.it, il Secolo XIX, MSN, and more. Sabrina Fratus of Calciomercato.com, took a somewhat patronising approach (we’ll spare mentions of afternoon tea and fish and chips that managed to make an appearance) in reply: “No blame to Richard Hall who is not wrong to make us remember the acts of violence that the nerazzurra fans showed the world, but believe me Mr. Hall, Atalanta is much more... before expressing your firm opinion on a century of history, you should do your homework better, much better."

There was more to come. The story was spreading, and national television channel LA7 ran a news segment on it, covering the reaction to the article. In it the Mayor of Bergamo, Franco Tentorio (yes, the Mayor has entered into the debate too), hit out against the story:

"The Guardian had to fill a column, and they did that. Their judgment doesn't interest me, I'm sure it doesn't interest my citizens either. I think the Guardian journalists haven't ever seen the stadium in Bergamo. It’s true that like many Italian stadiums it is from the period between the two wars, but it was significantly modernised by the club and the City Hall." Watch the video here (Minute 14:30 onwards, in Italian).

Richard admits he was taken aback when he began to see the reaction the piece was getting in the Peninsula: "I am surprised by the amount of coverage the article has received and how it has divided opinion. The article itself is an alternative guide to the clubs in Serie A. The main focus areas are the ground, the Ultras and an iconic player. It is trying to give the readers an insight to the Ultra culture.

"The piece is in keeping with my site The Gentleman Ultra and what it focuses on. I have nothing but respect for the people of Bergamo, the football club and the fans, who are superb. There was certainly no agenda when writing this article."

Everyone against Hall’s piece then? Well not everyone. For the weekend clash at home to Catania, Atalanta fans displayed a banner, saying simply 'L'Eco, do you speak English?'. As with a number of comments made on the various news pieces covering this story, it appeared to suggest the fans themselves did not feel there was such a need to react so strongly to the article.

The gesture was reassuring to Rich: "I was amazed and honoured that anybody would go to such lengths to do this because of the article. All of the reaction has been overwhelming but the fact that it has been defended so strongly means a majority understood what the piece was trying to do."

And despite such outcry, it is indeed the voice of the fans that is the strongest. Talking to A Different League, Atalanta fansite, Atalantini.com, gave full backing to Richard: "The banner has reflected the exact idea of how our most loyal fans feel about the article. Our newspaper [L'Eco di Bergamo], has absolutely misunderstood the meaning of the author... it's absolutely clear that the article was focused on Atalanta's fans, their leaders and the ground in general."

They take it further also, suggesting the article has political roots: "L'Eco has never tolerated the way our ultra support the team. Loyal, faithful but also with some episodes of violence during the years. The newspaper is trying to prove to its readers that Bergamo is known abroad only thanks to our supporters and not for the team's history. They are trying to build a useless polemic founded on political basis."

As for why the article has created the media interest it has, Richard feels that regardless of motives, L'Eco di Bergamo taking issue with it helped bring the piece to attention in Italy, but hopes the article wasn't misinterpreted by too many genuine football fans:

"I focused on the ground and said how its a difficult place to visit for opposition teams, the Ultras, who produce superb choreography and atmosphere... I think that L'Eco di Bergamo brought this to the attention of more people than first intended and its just unfortunate that things got lost in translation."

"My Italian is not the best so I certainly cant blame anyone for that. I hope that the reaction has just made people focus on what a great place Bergamo is and also how special fans of their club are."

Follow Richard Hall on Twitter @Gentleman_Ultra

Follow Tim Doel on Twitter @TimDoel

See the Blog, The Gentleman Ultra here

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