March 11th 2020. The world as we knew it was beginning to fall apart. The coronavirus pandemic was beginning to take its grip on Europe.

In the football world, Atletico Madrid travelled to Anfield for the Second leg of the Champions League Last 16 tie with Liverpool, leading 1 0 from the first leg three weeks previous.

The game was to be the last time a major football match was played with a full capacity in the United Kingdom, as Liverpool crashed out of Europe in dramatic style.

Should the game have ever taken place?

In Madrid, universities and schools had been told to shut on Monday 9th March due to a rise in coronavirus transmission rates in Madrid. Madrid was on the cusp of shutting down.

Madrid had 782 of Spain’s 1,646 cases. Yet, over 3,000 people jumped on planes bound for Liverpool to watch Atletico play.

On the same day as the game, the World Health Organisation labelled the coronavirus as a pandemic.

The WHO Director General said on 11th March: “In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.”

Up til that point, the NHS had reported 22 deaths up to March 11th, with the number rising everyday.

Yet, with the infection rate on the rise – 52,000 fans packed to Anfield that Wednesday night, with 3,000 travelling fans from Madrid. Thousands more watched the game in bars and homes around Liverpool City Centre. The city was buzzing all day and night. Fans from Madrid and Liverpool were mingling in bars before and after the match. Nightclubs and bars were full of students, Scousers and Atletico fans.

On the pitch, Atletico won a dramatic tie 4 – 2. Three goals in extra time took the tie away from Liverpool. The Champions League holders surrendered a two goal lead to get knocked out of the competition.


Players did not shake hands on the pitch and Jurgen Klopp shouted at fans for trying to high five his players by the tunnel, with obvious concern about the virus.

Jurgen Klopp showed annoyance in his pre match press conference, as a Spanish journalist questioned him on the coronavirus.

Elsewhere in Europe that night, the Last 16 tie between Paris St Germain and Borussia Dortmund was played behind closed doors at the Parc de Princes. This was due to a surge in coronavirus rates around Europe.

Atalanta vs Valencia – No lesson’s learnt

By the time Atletico Madrid visited Liverpool, the virus was having a devastating affect on the Lombardy Region of Northern Italy. Its two hardest hit cities were Milan and Bergamo.

On February 19th, Bergamo side Atalanta played Valencia at the San Siro in Milan. A third of the population of Bergamo – 40,000 people, travelled to Milan for the game. A further 2,500 fans travelled from Spain for the occasion. Atalanta won the game 4 – 1 (their first ever appearance in the Last 16 of the Champions League).

The scenes in the stands of the San Siro saw many hug those around them as their team marched to first leg victory in the clubs finest hour.

The game was later locally dubbed the “biological bomb” or “game zero”. The coronavirus infection rate rose incredibly rapidly over the next two weeks, both in Lombardy and in Valencia (Spain). It is estimated that up to 4,500 people died within one month in Bergamo and the surrounding areas due to Covid-19. 

Mayor of Bergamo Georgio Gori said to the Foreign Press Association. “If it’s true what they’re saying that the virus was already circulating in Europe in January, then it’s very probable that 40,000 Bergamaschi in the stands of San Siro, all together, exchanged the virus between them. As is possible that so many Bergamaschi that night got together in houses, bars to watch the match and did the same.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t have known. No one knew the virus was already here,” the mayor added. “It was inevitable.”

The world had seen the impact that this football game had on a rise in transmission rates, yet the Liverpool v Atletico Madrid match still went ahead.

Coronavirus transmission rate following the game

The Liverpool Echo reported that there were 18 cases reported in Liverpool on March 21st – eleven days after the match. The real figure is unknown due to a lack of testing.

Many students in Liverpool have spoken of feeling very unwell in the weeks of late March.

At the same time as the Champions League tie, was the Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival. A quarter of a million people attended the event from around the country.

Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London, said the two events held in March had “caused increased suffering and death that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred”.

Cheltenham and the North West became hotspots for the coronavirus following the sporting events. There is a hypothesis that these events were a huge part of a rapid increase of transmission of coronavirus around the nation. Twelve days later, the country was in a strict lockdown, with a ‘Stay at Home’ order imposed.

In April 2020, Liverpool City Council alongside Liverpool John Moores University and University of Liverpool announced that an enquiry into the match and the consequences of it would take place.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in April 2020. “It was the right guidance at the time based on the scientific advice we were provided with”.

In hindsight, allowing the Liverpool/Atletico Madrid game to be played in a full stadium is astonishing. The virus was rampaging through Europe. Italy was in a national lockdown as the game was taking place at Anfield. Madrid was on the cusp of a full lockdown.

Two days after the game on March 13th, the WHO stated that Europe was the epicentre of the pandemic.

The Mayor of Madrid had said that allowing the game to take place was a “huge mistake”. Three days after the match, Spain ordered a national lockdown.

Has there been any action taken?

On April 24th 2020, over 270 people had died in hospitals on Merseyside during the initial outbreak. On the same day, it was announced that an inquiry would be made into the Liverpool v Atletico Madrid fixture.

A year on from the fixture, the inquiry is yet to have began. Instead, the Liverpool City Council is still grappling with the pandemic in the community.

There is no confirmed connection between the sporting events and a rise in transmission. However, with a lack of mass testing in the United Kingdom until the summer of 2020, there is no figure on the true impact of both events.

In April 2020, the government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, Angela McLean, said it was an “interesting hypothesis” worthy of further study.

The United Kingdom has the highest death rate due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the time of writing, 125,000 have died due to the coronavirus pandemic.