Date: 17th June 2021 at 12:34am
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During the springtime of 2020, serie a odds were the least of our worries as nations worldwide were struck with the coronavirus pandemic that ultimately forced the planet into lockdown situations. Italy saw police roadblocks remove the ability of towns and families to reconcile, life’s most simple pleasures were removed to protect Italian citizens. Hospitals soon became war zones, 6 pm curfews were instated, and attempting to leave your home became illegal without written consent.

Romans gathered on their house balconies and, in unison, began to do the only thing possible – they sang, waved flags, clattered pots and pans together whilst applauding the overworked doctors and nurses.

Italy went back in time to a nationalist front, in a modern-day where flags and chanting are often viewed as distasteful.

The summer of 2020 has been etched in history; these unforgettable nightmares will stand the test of time and be remembered as the dark days we wanted to forget. And with that said, a new light was shone upon the Italian people this past week.

UEFA fan zones saw Italian fans gather in bunches as flags were flown, the was played, and more importantly, zero balconies were necessary. The Euro 2021 opening fixture between Italy and Turkey attracted fans in front of a giant screen that broadcasted the game, with minimal restrictions holding them back.

Sure, the anthem was muffled through the medical masks, signalling that Italy is not entirely free from the horrific pandemic just yet. But even though a limited-capacity crowd attended, realising this moment in history was one worth the recognition is important – stemming from a moment in time where normality was entirely eradicated. Admittedly, it was not quite the turnout of Italy’s Euro 2012 final in the ancient Roman racetrack amongst millions of fans, but it was still special.

Rome is one of the most historic places on earth. Roman history is intriguing, having dealt with wars, popes, emperors, and plagues – it’s known for building up, crumbling, and fighting back to a place that was once known. Unfortunately, another fight back is precisely what we witnessed this past Friday.

On February 19, 2020, a third of Bergamo’s population visited Milan to watch Atalanta host Valencia during their first-ever Champions League knockout fixture.

“If it’s true what they’re saying that the virus was already circulating in in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them,” Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori explained during a live chat. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here. It was inevitable.”

Unknowable mistakes were made, lessons were learnt, but most importantly – action was taken. Rome, in particular, saw their sporting officials become strict on crowded events of any kind. But along 16 months later, a stage in Rome was prepared and become the centre of attention for an entire nation and beyond, as the Euros commenced.

Before the pandemic, Rome was selected to host the opening game. Which, in hindsight, can now be viewed as bittersweet since the country was once the pandemic’s epicentre.

“It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also a duty,” Rome’s UEFA Euro 2020 commissioner told the press. “There is a certain amount of Roman pride coming from our history, but we are also an integral part of Europe. This an event for the world. Rome is a welcoming city, an appreciated city. We are still standing. We are still here, and now we are ready to welcome the world.”

We’re often used to seeing tens of thousands of fans arrive in Euro host cities for the sports festivities, but this year’s focus was on the fan zones set in place and how to achieve results with COVID-19 restrictions still in place. A limitation of 1000 fans and mandatory mask-wearing rules overcame a time that may have seemed “normal” but was still a massive step in making the best of a bad situation.

The turnout was a success, and the Italian squad make light work of the Turkish outfit by defeating them 3-0. However, normality seems far away. The country remains under a national curfew, and the streets that are usually ram-packed with tourists were eerily empty. But these factors were unable to damage Rome’s spirit, as they carried on in true Roman fashion, as they always have done.