26th November, 2014.
I don’t know when I heard the news. I probably saw the footage on a computer screen, but I’m not sure of that either. Australia batsman Phillip Hughes had died, hit on the neck in a domestic match by a delivery from Sean Abbott.
I do remember returning to my flat after work and, checking the news again and again, breaking into sobs in the loo.
Why did it affect me so much? Hughes wasn’t Indian. I’d seen him play in India, on tv, but I had no fandom for him. Yet, like with many other around the globe, a cricketer dying on the field broke my heart too.
Then, a month later, even though India lost a Test match there, I was moved by the spidercam visual of the Australians celebrating on the turf where 408 was painted. 408, Hughes’ Baggy Green cap number.
Hughes’ death brought head safety and concussions into much sharper focus. No more calls for ill-advised “bravery” and “manning up” now.
Atalanta FC is a team in Serie A, the Italian first division football competition. On February 11th, they were scheduled to host Valencia CF of Spain in the UEFA Champions League round of 16. Atalanta’s stadium in Bergamo being smaller than the UEFA mandated-limits meant they had to shift this match to the San Siro stadium in Milan. 40,000 fans travelled from Bergamo and Valencia to witness the match. Atalanta won 4-1. Days later, the coronavirus epidemic took strong hold in Bergamo. Bergamo is the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Italy. Experts have now identified that match as Game Zero of the spread of the virus.
Here’s a highlights video of that match. Notice the crowds, notice the excellent quality of football on the pitch, and then think of the coronavirus spread the match enabled.
Sport is one of the fundamental things that brings joy to our life. Rich and poor, young and old, men and women – every single one of us can feel the joy of sport. Even beginning to think of the pain leaves the mind numb. Football, calcio as the Italians call it, bringing pain and death into their lives? The mind staggers at how people there must be feeling now.
There have been football tragedies in the past. Hillsborough, Heysel, Munich, to name a few. But despite the horrors of these incidents, their direct toll of lives taken was far smaller than what the Milan game will end up having.
The world moves on. Football will resume. We will cheer for our favourite teams again. But, as we shuddered at the demise of Phillip Hughes, we’d probably not forget Bergamo in a hurry.
Sport adds meaning and value to our lives. In our mundane individual existences, it brings a sense of shared joy and community. That sport could obliquely be the reason for the present horrors is pain of the highest order.
This post is published as part of the Blogchatter A2Z, running through the month of April.
Thanks for reading.