The people of Bergamo and Brescia have been at war for nine hundred years. Theirs is a rivalry that goes beyond football.
The rivalry between them has overseen a bitter territorial dispute, and perfectly encompasses the Italian attachment to community. The Italian concept of the belltower symbolises this, with the disparate regions of Italy attaching themselves to the religious cornerstone of their town.
As neighbours Bergamo and Brescia are sworn to rivalry under the shadow of their communal bell towers. Yet there has been little to settle this antagonism football-wise in recent times.
Atalanta (of Bergamo) have secured themselves a place in the top division for over a decade. In the past two seasons they have metamorphosed into the Serie A’s most entertaining side. Conversely, Brescia have largely sat in the division below since the turn of the century with just two seasons spent in Italy’s top flight since 2005.
Brescia’s promotion to the Serie A in 2019/20 was meant to herald a new dawn. It was eagerly awaited by both sets of supporters. Finally, a clash between the sworn enemies would take place on the field. The first since 2006. Circumstance would have it that both fixtures would have their sheen taken however.
The first of the derby games, a 3-0 win by Atalanta at Brescia, would be devoid of the away side’s travelling fans. The recent crackdown by the Italian governing body on football ultra culture saw the Atalanta fans boycott the fixture in protest.
The return fixture would be delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. But, this time with no fans at all. Without them it felt empty. Italian ultra culture is renowned for its boisterous support. The fans are raucous. The ground practically quakes from the noise on match-days.
Atalanta ran away with a 6-2 victory. But it was a fleeting moment of joy. The game was devoid of the fiery spirt attached to matches of similar magnitude.
Twenty years ago things were very different however. Fans of the two might remember a particularly fierce clash between the two sides. One that has become synonymous with the actions of one man: Carlo Mazzone.
The Defining Moment
Mazzone was Brescia manager, and a frenetic first half saw his side trail 3-1 at the break. The following forty five minutes is etched in Italian football folklore.
Brescia would not score their second goal until the seventy-fifth minute. Their talisman, Roberto Baggio, scored his second of the game to galvanise a fight back when he swivelled to hook a bouncing ball past Massimo Taibi in the Atalanta goal.
Mazzone rose from his seat, pumping his fist toward the away fans. It was a clear statement of intention. “We are going to get a third, and when we do I am coming to the curva”.
It had echoes of Jose Mourinho’s antics at the Camp Nou nine years later. This was a bold deed to antagonise his adversaries, as Mourinho had at the Camp Nou in 2010.
Sure enough, Baggio completed his hat-trick in the final minute of the game. The sixty-four year old Mazzone made good on his word, and charged towards the away end. Fist pumping, holding off the restraints of a suited club official, he ran the length of the pitch. Beneath La Dea’s fans he stood, one man standing against the might of a fan base.
The game finished 3-3. The enthralling derby would become synonymous with Mazzone.
Brescia’s relegation in 2019/20, and Atalanta’s continued ascension means they will likely have to wait a while longer to rekindle this rivalry.
For as long as they do however, they will always have the derby of 2001 and Carlo Mazzone to remember why this derby means so much.