Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio, based in the northern city of Bergamo, were founded in 1907 and officially recognised by the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) seven years later. They are nicknamed La Dea (“The Goddess”) or the Nerazzurri (“black-blues,” relating to their colours), and are often called the “Regina delle provinciali” (“Queen of the provincial clubs”) as they’ve historically been one of Italy’s most successful non-metropolitan sides.
Atalanta currently back in Serie A after winning last season’s Serie B championship. They’ve made a great start to the season, having only lost twice in their opening 11 fixtures, and would currently be 5th if they hadn’t started the season on -6 points. Embroiled in a betting scandal last season, La Dea have rallied through adversity and are in good stead for a midtable finish.
As documented yesterday, Atalanta have been in and out of Serie A more times than most teams. In recent times they’ve struggled to hold down a top-tier place for any longer than a couple of seasons at a time. European forays and a 1963 Coppa Italia win make Atalanta more famous than most of their provincial counterparts, and they’ve only played a single season outside of Italian football’s top two tiers since Serie A’s 1929 inception.
A football club existed in Bergamo three years prior to Atalanta B.C.’s birth. F.C. Bergamo were founded by wealthy Swiss immigrants in 1904. Atalanta emerged as a splinter of FC Bergamo after a difference in sporting ideologies between members, and, while the Nereazzurri have prospered, Bergamo faded into obscurity.
Named after a mythological Greek athlete and huntress, Atalanta merged with another local club, Bergamasca, to create the club of today. Originally competing in Bergamo’s local league, Atalanta progressed to the larger Lombardy league system and won the First Division championship to secure participation in the 1928-29 national championship.
Poor performances that season meant Atalanta were placed in Serie B’s inaugural 1929-30 season. It took seven seasons before they achieved Serie A promotion, but coach Ottavio Barbieri, a former Genoa winger, achieved that feat in 1937.
La Dea have floated between Serie A & Serie B ever since, with their longest period of top tier competition spanning 15 years from starting in 1940-1955. Several club legends emerged during this period, including Giuseppe Casari and James Mari, the first Atalanta players to ever represent the Italian national team (despite the latter’s Brentford upbringing). Another Englishman, Adrian Bassett, spearheaded La Dea’s frontline during the later years of this period, scoring 57 times in 125 appearances.
Atalanta made their competitive European debut in 1963, when, on September 4th, they defeated Sporting Lisbon 2-0 in the Cup Winners’ Cup. They’d also compete in other now-defunct competitions like the Coppa delle Alpi in the early years but achieved no notable success.
The 1970’s were barren for Atalanta but the ‘80’s proved much more productive. Relegated to Serie C1 for the first time in history, La Dea galvanised and were back in Serie A just three years later. They reached their second Coppa Italia final in 1987 (having won the competition in 1963), but suffered a 4-0 aggregate loss to a Diego Maradona-inspired Napoli.
The following season, 1987-88, is considered the club’s most successful. The Emiliano Mondonico-managed side achieved promotion with a 4th-place Serie B finish, but the real fun came in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Atalanta battled to the semi-finals, their greatest ever European accomplishment, beating Sporting Lisbon, Ofi Crete and Merthyr Tydfil along the way. La Dea suffered a 4-2 aggregate loss to Belgian side Mechelen, but reaching the semi-finals was a huge achievement for such a second tier side.
Atalanta qualified for the 1989-90 and 90-91 UEFA Cups thanks to consecutive top seven Serie A finishes. Eliminated at the first hurdle by Spartak Moscow in 1990, La Dea were considerably more successful the following season. Having already eliminated Dinamo Zagreb, Fenerbahce and FC Koln, Atalanta met Italy’s other Nerazzurri, Internazionale, in the quarter-finals. Holding Inter to a goalless draw in the first leg, Atalanta were defeated 2-0in the return fixture at the Giuseppe Meazza.
No further European escapades followed, but Atalanta reached a third Coppa Italia final in 1996 (they were unsuccessful, losing 3-0 to Fiorentina on aggregate). 1996-97 saw the emergence of future poaching legend Pippo Inzaghi, whose 24 goals made him Atalanta’s first-ever Serie A top scorer. Inzaghi highlighted the growing efficiency of Atalanta’s youth academy, which was headed by current Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli from 1990-93 and 94-97.
The following seasons were devoid of interesting events, barring the standard relegation and promotion here and there. Attacking midfielder Cristiano Doni became a talismanic figure during two lengthy spells with Atalanta, and the 38-year old would still be strutting his stuff for the Nerazzurri today if it weren’t for a 3½-year ban for his involvement in the 2011 betting scandal.
La Dea have a rich history for a provincial side. They were promoted with games to spare last term and are in a good position to survive relegation this season. History suggests that their latest Serie A stay won’t be long, but Atalanta are Coppa Italia winners and their European history is hugely impressive for a club of their stature. The Nerazzurri have plenty to be proud of.