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

Comments (8)
Comment by Jobi1 2012-02-05 08:05:28

In fairness I don't think Italy has the monopoly on silly postponements. I can recall plenty of games in Britain (mainly Scotland) in recent years that have been called off due to conditions in the surrounding areas rather than the state of the pitch. But yes the Atalanta example is pretty extreme, although hardly unsurprising in a country where customer service is a completely alien concept.

As I write (9am on Sunday morning) the snow has just started falling again here in Milan. Let's see what nonsense the day brings...

Comment by geobra 2012-02-05 12:34:01

@ Jobù

Don't you mean 'hardly surprising'?

The decision that the game will now be played on February 15th, when the forecasts suggest that the cold spell will still be with us, shows that you're right. Apart from a couple of Wednesdays in April and May with a full programme of midweek games, Atalanta and Genoa are free till the end of the season. So why not play in March, when the weather should be more clement?

Still, those of us who were there may have witnessed a first. Game on, then off, then on again, and finally off. All in 90 minutes! Can anybody beat that?

Comment by Janik 2012-02-05 14:28:05

Derby vs Forest is off today for similar reasons.
Derby officials, whilst supporting the need for a postponment, have noted that "The pitch is fine and inside the stadium is safe and dry. However, the roads throughout the city and county are unsafe."

Comment by geobra 2012-02-05 15:07:13

So Derby and Forest fans avoided a fruitless journey, which is what didn't happen in Bergamo on Wednesday. In fact, those leaving the stadium at 6.30 found themselves caught up in the evening rush hour, which was made more chaotic than usual by the snow.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2012-02-06 07:58:31

What is the difference between "adverse weather conditions" and adverse weather?

Comment by geobra 2012-02-06 10:34:55

The same as 'getting off' and 'alighting'. None. Should have written 'bad weather'. Sorry.

Comment by peakevilla 2012-02-06 14:16:58

The stadiums in Siena , Parma and Bergamo may be dated, but the same can't be said for the Luigi Ferrari in Genoa. True , it was built in the 1920's , but it was demolished , and completely re-built for the 1990 World Cup, and is a fine stadium, holding some 36,000 spectators. As for old stadiums, are they not part of the charm and character of football, rather than the soulless arenas e.g. Emirates, that are the norm these days?

Comment by geobra 2012-02-06 16:46:41

The problem with the stadium in Genoa is its position. Think of Kenilworth Road or the Baseball Ground and you have an idea of how hemmed in it is. It also faces huge problems when there is heavy rain and a nearby river burst its banks.

I've never been to Parma or Siena so I can't say if they are charming stadiums. The stadium in Bergamo was built in 1928 in the fascist era and its architecture reflects this, so I don't think 'charming' is the first word I'd use to describe it. It does have some positive atributes though. It's a proper football stadium now that the running track has been removed and it's very atmospheric, especially under floodlights. But it's also extremely uncomfortable, with meagre refreshment facilities and toilets that are a disgrace in the year 2012. Most of us would happily swap it for an arena which protects us from the rain(quite frequent here)and gives us a degree of comfort which is currently totally lacking on the terraces and not much to write home about in the stands either. Like the Luigi Ferraris in Genoa, it is also right in the middle of a residential suburb, though to be fair it wasn't when it was built. They were talking about building a new one when I arrived in 1987. They still are!!

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