5 February ~ Nobody should be surprised that Italian stadiums are so empty these days after the events behind this round of midweek Serie A and Serie B matches. Six of the 21 fixtures were postponed; four in Serie A. Only two, at Bologna and Modena, could be attributed directly to adverse weather conditions. The others, at Siena, Parma, Sampdoria and Bergamo, highlighted the inadequacy of Italian stadiums in 2012. The pitches were all playable but the games were postponed due to a combination of snow-covered terraces in obsolete stadiums that date to 1920s and blocked access to games on the roads.
The most grotesque of the postponements, and the one that best highlights the chaotic state of football in Italy at the moment, was in Bergamo on Wednesday. Atalanta and Genoa were scheduled to kick off at 6pm. Light snow fell in the afternoon, but with undersoil heating there was no reason why the game should not go ahead. The previous day's snow had been cleared from the terraces that morning and it seemed unlikely that the current fall would have time to settle.
The gates opened at 5pm and the hardy few who had braved the elements made their way to the stands and terraces, which did have a light covering. The gates were closed half an hour later and those still outside were told to wait in the falling snow for further news. At 5.45pm a rumour spread that the game was off. Some left the stadium, but most waited for the official announcement.
It never came. Instead, kick-off time came and went as music blared from the PA system. The gates were opened again and the few hundred who had been waiting came in while the players warmed up for a second time. This was surely proof that the game was on. But no – at 6.30pm the match was officially postponed.
There was no word of apology for the fact that some had been waiting an hour with no information, or thanks for turning out on such an evening. As an exercise in the art of (non) public relations at a time when Italian football needs all the friends it can get, it was unbeatable.
The decision was not made by the referee, who was happy that the pitch was playable. He no longer has the last word, which comes a group that includes the chief of police, the Red Cross and the fire chief. They must be unanimous, but the fire chief decided the terraces were too dangerous. This despite the fact that they were almost deserted, and some had been standing on them for an hour before the game was called off.
The decision also flew in the face of what had happened ten days earlier, when Atalanta faced Juventus. Then, with the terrace packed to capacity, Juventus fans hurled firecrackers into the crowd but the match still went ahead. So a few centimetres of snow on an almost deserted terrace is more dangerous than objects that could threaten limb, if not life.
These events also highlight that the absurdly crowded fixture list now relies on winters not being severe. Teams like Atalanta and Genoa can easily reschedule their games. For those still in Europe or the cup it is almost impossible. The obvious solution is to reduce Serie A from 20 to 18 teams, but there is not the will to do this.
Following the midweek chaos, the league decided all matches the following weekend would kick off at 3pm, apart from one at lunchtime. For once TV had to take a back seat. Fans who had bought tickets for an 8.45pm kick-off and could not attend at 3pm will not get their money back. Another public relations disaster. They just don't get it. Richard Mason