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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 4 June, 2020

'It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a film' - Irish defender describes life under lockdown in Italy

Ryan Nolan is living in Lombardy, and has been told to remain at home as matches and all training sessions have been cancelled.

File photo of Ryan Nolan playing for his former club Inter Milan.
File photo of Ryan Nolan playing for his former club Inter Milan.

ITALY IS IN a nationwide lockdown, unprecedented in peacetime, in an effort to mitigate against the spread of Covid-19.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the country has reported a total of 9,172 cases, and a death toll of 463 people. The virus continues to spread rapidly, with the number of confirmed cases consistently climbing and the strain on hospitals reaching breaking point. 

The initial lockdown of the Lombardy region has now been extended to the entire country, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte calling this Italy’s “darkest hour.” All sporting events have been cancelled until 3 April, with a ban on all public gatherings and citizens instructed to stay at home. 

Among those confined to their homes is Ryan Nolan, an underage Republic of Ireland international who plays his football with Serie C side Giana Erminio in Lombardy, the Italian region most-hit by the virus. 

The club last played a game on 16 February, and won’t play again until at least 3 April. The squad were told this morning that training is suspended, and have been told to remain in their homes. Travel is only permitted for an emergency or for work, with written permission needed for the latter. 

Nolan lives about 20 minutes from Milan. 

“People didn’t take it that seriously initially as we thought it was just a flu”, he tells The42 over the phone from his apartment. ”Now more than 9,000 people have it in Italy and around 450 people have died. It doesn’t stop spreading every day. More people are getting it and there are more deaths. People are starting to panic, especially close to Milan. 

“There’s hardly anyone on the streets now. One in every second or third person has a mask on, and nobody really wants to get close to anyone. It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a film. It’s weird. 

“In restaurants, tables have to be two or three metres away from each other. In shops, it’s okay now, but a week or 10 days ago I went to the shops to get food and everything was gone from the shelves.

“Every few kilometres, police are stopping people to ask them where they are going, and unless you have a written permission from work or there’s an emergency, they can fine you as you’re not meant to leave your home or leave your town.

“I left to do a big shop a couple of hours ago as I don’t want to leave the house, I’d prefer to stay in my apartment for now with all that’s going on. I had [a work permission slip] in the car in case but I didn’t see any police. It’s not as bad as people thought it might be this morning – that there’d be police everywhere – but it’s not like that at the moment.”

italy-virus-outbreak The Vatican City stands deserted following government lockdown. Source: Andrew Medichini

Nolan’s club issued players with written permission slips yesterday, but at a meeting today they were informed that training is now suspended. The squad have been guaranteed their wages but the overall situation remains deeply uncertain: they may return to training in the next couple of weeks, or they may yet not play again this season. 

“I think if the club really wanted, we could train as professionals can work, but the club and the president don’t want to take that kind of responsibility. A lot of players are frightened, for their families more than anything.

“I’m living here on my own, but a lot of them are afraid if they get it they may pass it on to their parents or grandparents.” 

The club had been taking players’ temperatures everyday, but now that there are no training sessions, players are asked to take their own temperature and then report it to the club’s medical staff. 

Nolan is living by himself, but some of his team-mates have been quarantined separate to their families. “There’s a few who have their wives and children living two or three hours away. They can’t see them now, they’re not meant to go home. It’s hard for a lot of lads.” 

Exercising is going to be a problem too: bar doing push-ups and lifting weights in his living room, there’s not a whole lot else he can do. There’s a patch of grass outside his apartment block, and Nolan says he may venture for a run late at night when the place is clear. 

Otherwise he has to occupy his mind while in limbo: he has a Playstation but says he isn’t the kind of person who can give Fifa hours at a time. 

“Today’s the first day we stopped training, we were up until today. Over these two or three weeks, I don’t know what I’m going to do, to be honest.” 


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Gavin Cooney

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