Behind The Badge is a series by COPA90 exploring football’s unique crests. These Football Times teamed up with their COPA Collective partners to tell the story behind each one.
Atalanta are one of those clubs whose storied tapestry you really have to unravel to discover what the thinking was behind the name, images and colours associated with the team. They took their inspiration for their current crest from over 2,000 years ago and have kept adjusting it to suit the times.
At the start of the 20th century, Ancient Greek, Latin, science, philosophy and history were the order of the day under the roof of the Liceo Classico Paolo Sarpi school in Bergamo. As it transpired, one of the most important class discussions took place in the gym as some Swiss students, disillusioned with the state of sporting societies within the city, decided to set up their own club. With their Ancient Greek studies coming to the fore, the figure of Atalanta would be their centrepiece as propositions were put on the table.
Atalanta was a strong, athletic character from Greek mythology who had taken a virginity oath. She dealt with a couple of centaurs who tried to break that oath and would challenge any man wishing to marry her to a race. If they won, she was theirs. If they lost, they would be killed.
It wasn’t until Hippomenes – the grandson of Poseidon – that she would be beaten, distracted by some delicious apples that were thrown in her way by Aphrodite. Anyway, to avoid straying further off-topic, Atalanta wouldn’t make it on to the badge of this club until decades later, but her name remained in more ways than one, as the club came to be known as La Dea – The Goddess.
Those Swiss students opted for a black and white striped kit to start off with, hence the stripes on the left of their first badge. A merge with Bergamasca – who donned blue and white stripes – in 1924 brought the former into the equation, with the newly formed club taking on its current black and blue stripes.
Having largely established themselves as a Serie A side, a Coppa Italia triumph in 1963 was about to propel Atalanta forward in terms of wider appeal. Angelo Domenghini hit a hat-trick against Torino in the final to not only bring the cup back to Bergamo for the first time, but European football too.
With the Cup Winners’ Cup ticket booked, Atalanta went about a facelift, incorporating the silhouette of the Greek athlete the club is named after into their crest. She can be seen running in one of her infamous races against possible suitors on the right, with blue and black stripes now filling the left half of the badge, rather than the original black and white.
That European tour only made one stop as Atalanta were eliminated after three matches – an extra playoff was needed after the first two legs – by eventual winners Sporting CP, who were managed by part-time architect, part-time rugby referee, and part-time football coach Anselmo Fernandez.
Atalanta then became Italy’s yo-yo club, bouncing between the top two tiers for a number of years before falling below Serie B and into Serie C1 in 1981. Three years later, they were back in the top flight with a new badge to boot.
The name ‘Atalanta’ was dropped from the crest, and so was most of Atalanta’s body, as La Dea favoured a more circular shape which simply included Atalanta’s head and the colours black and blue. A reference to the club’s roots is made in Atalanta’s hair, which meanders in black and white stripes. The gold trim is still there having been a feature on previous badges, too.
It was with this crest on their chests that Atalanta reached the 1987 Coppa Italia final, beating the likes of Parma and Cremonese before losing out to Diego Maradona’s double-winning Napoli over the two-leg showpiece.
The Scudetto winners’ qualification for the European Cup allowed Atalanta into the Cup Winners’ Cup again and, after defeat to Welsh side Merthyr Tydfil in the first leg of the opening round, they reached the quarter-finals. Sporting were their opponents again with revenge on the cards; Atalanta would progress 3-1 on aggregate. It was eventual winners KV Mechelen who finally put them out in the last four.
There were further UEFA Cup runs in the following years as Atalanta visited Moscow, Zagreb, Istanbul, Köln and Milan. With the club making continental strides, the badge was changed again, as the team’s name was reintroduced above Atalanta’s head and the establishing year was included underneath. Having diced with relegation and been docked points for the Calciopoli scandal, Atalanta are once again a force both at home and in Europe as they continue to make history under Gian Piero Gasperini.
The origins of Atalanta’s name and now global image may have been borne thousands of years ago, but the way the club is run and how the team is performing on the pitch does justice to that famed Greek athlete more than ever before.