LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Atalanta

La Dea soars high – Gasperini generates golden era

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

If ever a team has been transformed, it is Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio under Gian Piero Gasperini. The former Juve youth player came to Bergamo in 2016, lost a few early matches then won no few crucial ones to claim a first European place for the club in a quarter of a century.

The remarkable thing is that La Dea, the Goddess, as the Bergamo side is known, haven’t let up since. Three consecutive third-place finishes was interspersed by a debut in the Champions League in 2019-20. That was also the season when Atalanta unveiled their own Gewiss Stadium, the original Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia having been bought from the municipality in 2017.

And the man behind that move, long-term Atalanta owner/president Antonio Percassi, has been just as instrumental in Atalanta’s change in status from regular also-rans to consistent contenders.

Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia/Peterjon Cresswell

While former Genoa coach Gasperini has been granted honorary citizenship of Bergamo, the entrepreneurial Percassi remains in the driving seat at Atalanta after having sold his majority shareholding to an American group in 2022.

Who wouldn’t want to buy an Italian club regularly in the top six of Serie A, only one of four in the league to own their own stadium?

Atalanta started out in 1907, merging with Bergamasca in 1920 and adopting the colours of black and blue as a symbol of the new union. In 1925, the club hired their first professional coach, Cesare Lovati, and the first of several Hungarian players, Gedeon Lukács, who would notch almost as many goals as the games he played in.

Bar Stadio/Peterjon Cresswell

After moving into a new stadium in 1928, where they still play today, Atalanta gradually became a regular presence in Serie A, gaining a fifth-place finish in 1948 partly thanks to later Juve star, midfielder Giacomo Mari.

Creditable campaigns continued through the 1950s, Atalanta winning their only silverware, the Italian Cup, in 1963. A hat-trick from later 1970 World Cup finalist Angelo Domenghini saw off Torino.

Atalanta continued to produce good young players, most notably Gaetano Scirea, but had to wait until the 1980s for another side capable of challenging for trophies. A handful of stars, including Christian Vieri and Filippo Inzaghi, also made their names in Bergamo before moving on to bigger clubs in Turin and Milan.

Gewiss Stadium/Rudi Jansen

With Swedish international Glenn Strömberg, a more dynamic Atalanta made the Italian Cup final in 1987 and the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup a year later. Hiring fellow Swede Robert Prytz and Argentine World Cup star Claudio Caniggia, Atalanta made consecutive appearances in the UEFA Cup before a series of swift shuttles between Serie A and B.

The most recent promotion came in 2011, shortly after the return of club president, Antonio Percassi. A defender who wore the black and blue of Atalanta through the 1970s, locally born Percassi quit the game at 25 to go into business. Having overseen the successful introduction of key global fashion brands to the Italian market, he answered Atalanta’s call of need when owner/general manager Cesare Bortolotti was killed in a car crash in 1990.

Cesare’s father, Achille, had been president before him, when Percassi was a player. A plaque at the Atalanta stadium honours the memory of their familial leadership. Though Percassi’s initial stint in charge of his beloved club ended in relegation in 1994, he went away to gain more experience in global marketing and accrue serious riches.

L'Eco di Bergamo/Peterjon Cresswell

Percassi was perfectly primed, therefore, to put his football and business experience to good use when he took over Atalanta for a second time in 2010. After a handful of middling seasons in Serie A, he just needed to find the right coach. This he did, in Gian Piero Gasperini.

Involved as a player and coach in the youth set-up at Juventus, the Piedmontese Gasperini learned his football when the Turin giants were in their pomp. Having revived Genoa and won over many with his tactics, Gasperini was handed the poisoned chalice of following not long after Mourinho at Inter. 

Gone after five games, none of them wins, Gasperini also flopped at Palermo, returned to Genoa and was ready for a new challenge when he got the call from Percassi at Atalanta.

With the retirement of stalwart captain Gianpaolo Bellini, little was expected of Atalanta in 2016-17. Showing the kind of form that earned him his first Italian caps, young left midfieler Leonardo Spinazzola led an unlikely charge up the Serie A table to put the Nerazzurri above Lazio, Milan and Inter.

Atalanta Store/Peterjon Cresswell

Fourth place then represented a highest-ever finish in Atalanta’s league history – even more impressive given that the club had only three points on the board after five league rounds.

For the subsequent Europa League campaign, visiting fans of Everton weren’t able to take easy advantage of nipping to the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia from Bergamo’s budget-focused airport, but had to trek halfway to Florence, to Reggio Emilia. Atalanta moved their home ties to the ground that has hosted the extraordinary rise of little Sassuolo – the MAPEI Stadium-Città del Tricolore.

Topping a tricky Europa League group with an emphatic 3-0 win over Everton and the 1-0 defeat of Lyon, Atalanta took Borussia Dortmund to the wire in the first knock-out round, Slovenian international midfielder Josip Iličić scoring a brace in five minutes at the Signal Iduna Park.

Qualifying again for the Europa League in 2018, Atalanta missed out on the group stage when club captain Alejandro Gómez hit the bar in a penalty shoot-out in Copenhagen. Vital goals from new loanee, Colombian international Duván Zapata, including a brace at home to Juventus, and one of the two that beat Napoli in Naples, kept Atalanta ahead of the pack chasing European spots in 2018-19.

A better head-to-head record ultimately allowed La Dea to finish above Inter, and claim that vital third league place. Meanwhile, the phased rebuild of the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia allowed Atalanta to play domestic fixtures there, a deal with electrical engineering company Gewiss providing a new name and contemporary lighting for the club’s very own arena.

Playing their first Champions League fixtures at the San Siro in Milan, Gasperini’s team recovered from a dreadful start in the group stage to qualify for spring’s knock-out rounds. By the time Iličić was scoring the first of four goals in the two legs against Valencia, Bergamo had become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic that would soon change the world as we knew it.

It wasn’t until August that Atalanta met their quarter-final opponents, a one-off game at an empty Estádio da Luz in Lisbon – a game they should have won but for two very late goals from Paris Saint-Germain. Playing Champions League group games at the equally empty Gewiss Stadium in autumn 2020, La Dea collapsed at home to Liverpool, 5-0, but shocked the Reds at Anfield to claim another knock-out place.

There were no surprises in Madrid, however, where a rampant Real swatted aside Atalanta at the modest Estadio Alfredo di Stéfano.

By now, Gasperini had changed his side from the one that broke through in 2016-17. Free-scoring midfielder Mario Pašalić had been brought to the fore, along with Robin Gosens raiding the flanks, both soon to star for Croatia and Germany at Euro 2020. 

Ukrainian international midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi had been hired after his title-winning role at Genk in Belgium, while experienced Colombian international striker Luis Muriel had not been offered a permanent contract at Fiorentina. 

This embarrassment of international riches all featured in Atalanta’s last Champions League campaign to date in 2021, a high-scoring affair of 2-2 draws and 3-2 seesaw games – most notably at Old Trafford, where United came back from 0-2 down to edge out Atalanta. Malinovskyi hit more goals against Olympiacos and Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League but RB Leipzig proved a step too far. 

Another wise buy, Italian striker Gianluca Scamacca, disappointing at West Ham, spearheaded the Europa League campaign in 2023-24, hitting two at Anfield to give Atalanta a toehold in the semi-final.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the story behind it

Replacing the ageing Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, the Gewiss Stadium was unveiled for the 2019-20 season, staging its first game that October against Lecce. Although crowds have hovered close to its current near-22,000 capacity, there is still work to be done. Meanwhile, Champions League games take place at the San Siro in Milan.

The Atleti Azzurri was opened in 1928 as the Stadio Mario Brumana. Then one of the finest arenas in Italy, it was built under Mussolini and given a Fascist name, in this case a fallen militant.

The Brumana replaced La Clementina, the name given to a disused hippodrome the club moved into after World War I, south-east of town in Daste. This in turn superseded the modest pitch beside Bergamo train station where Atalanta ran out in the early 1900s.

Gewiss Stadium/Rudi Jansen

For the new era, Atalanta play at a modern ground, partly finished in 2019, with retail outlets to be added in due time. Capacity will be 24,000.

Atalanta fans occupy the Curva Nord (Federico Pisani) on via Fossoli/piazzale delle Olimpiadi, and one half of the Curva Sud, while away fans given their own gate at the corner of piazzale Goisis and via del Lazzaretto.

The main stand, Tribuna Centrale, is accessed through piazzale Goisis, while the cheaper Distinti Nord seats are between the Curva Pisani and main stand.

getting here

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

No bus runs directly from the train station to the stadium, a walk of at least 30mins.

Buses set off from Porta Nuova, at the far end of the main road, viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, that leads up from the station. Turn right at the end for Fermata 101, by via Camozzi 28, beside the UGF Banca.

Once there, the best option is pink line 6 that not only stops at Stadio but goes around the ground. The 9A and 9B both stop at Stadio, on piazzale Goisis.  

Bus 3 runs to Stadio from the funicular stop in the Upper Town. 

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Tickets are distributed at several local lotto outlets in town, including viale Papa Giovanni XXIII No.58 and via Giuseppe Garibaldi, both central. Online sales are taken care of by VivaTicket.

At the stadium, the ticket offices on pizza Goisis are currently closed – on match days, use the ones on viale Cesare. Remember that you need to show ID in order to purchase.

You’ll pay €50 or more for the best seats in the Tribuna Centrale, less than €25 for a seat opposite and less than €20 for a place in the Curva Sud or Pisani.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Atalanta have a main store in town, at via Tiraboschi 89 (daily 9.30am-7.30pm), with black-and-blue replica shirts aplenty, white away ones with black-and-blue trim, baseball caps and scarves.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

The best bar is on viale Cesare, on the opposite side of the road to the stadium. Built into a newspaper kiosk purveying local daily L’Eco di Bergamo, a small, cabin-like café (No.15) is filled with Atalanta souvenirs and photographs – even the chair seats are swathed in images of the ultras in full flow. Münchshof Bockbier and Wells Bombardier are the beers on tap.

Ristorante Garden/Peterjon Cresswell

Further up, behind the Curva Pisani on piazzale delle Olimpiadi, in the lovely old Villa Sport, the pizzeria/restaurant Garden offers a full menu, including a €25 Bergamasco special or a simple spaghetti all’aglio at €10. It contains an upscale delicatessen and betting bar alongside, where you can sample a quality grappa while studying the form.

Towards town, at the pleasant junction of Cesare and transport hub of Oberdan by a stream, the terrace of Da Rasi restaurant is a handy place for a quiet, pre-match beer with the floodlights ahead in the distance.