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Thank you

To everyone who’s been so good throughout this hellish week.

Tottenham Hotspur v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

This has been a really difficult week. Like many of you, Davide Astori‘s death hit me much, much harder than I expected; I’ve been tearing up at work and at home for no reason other than thinking about him, and you’ve probably had similar experiences. For me, I don’t think it’s going to end. It will be a matter of coping with the grief, getting acclimated to it, and learning how to live while carrying this new burden.

But, as sad as I’ve been, I’ve also gotten to witness something wonderful: the closeness of calcio, and of football in general. Reading tributes from Riccardo Saponara and Milan Badelj (here and here) was heartbreaking, but so was reading one from Gianluigi Buffon, the most famous of the Juventus squad that is Fiorentina’s greatest rival. Seeing Juve captain Giorgio Chiellini’s tears, or Mattia Perin’s, or Marko Bakić’s, or any of the other players who were unable to hold back, made me feel something that is not validation, but is similar. It gave me proof that this stupid game featuring 22 strangers kicking a sphere around a patch of grass has a meaning that goes way beyond giving something to yell out our screens about. It reminded me that soccer is a way to look at other humans, but magnified and refracted into mythological representations of ourselves. And Davide Astori was a perfect example of how we project ourselves onto these players.

Look at the crowd (at least 6,000 and probably more) that lined the streets to the Santa Croce for Astori’s funeral, the singing and the utter, outer space silence during the ceremony. Look at how many non-Florentines attended; Juventus chartered a private flight from London after their match with Tottenham Hotspur just so they could be there. Every Serie A team was represented. I’ve never seen a gathering like this, in which the Viola fans applauded the Bianconeri players when they arrived. I never imagined that anything like this would happen in calcio.

It’s not just on the world stage, though, that I’ve seen a pathos, a dignity, a sorrow that is rarely visible in any arena. I’ve seen it here, too. In the comments. In the fanposts. In every word you’ve typed, I have seen something heartbreakingly beautiful which has made my decision to not post any more stories this week feel correct, because you have all written messages of utmost respect, of overwhelming poignancy, of such powerful feeling that I could never hope to capture such complex emotions, not if I had a lifetime to try.

So thank you. This has been about as difficult a week to write about as I could ever imagine, and you have all lifted that weight off of me and carried it yourselves, without complaining or commenting or even acknowledging it. Every time I’ve pulled up the site this week, I’ve worried that I’ll have to go through the comments and delete something insensitive or bad, and every time I’ve scrolled through, it’s been nothing but real, unfiltered sentiment that makes my chest feel hollow, then full to the bursting. You have maintained a tone of love and consideration that is a joy to read and makes my heart sing, even though I have no part in it.

I want to say thank you to all of you, collectively and individually, for your awe-inspiring work all week. Even in this time of loss, you have exhibited a strength and a compassion that rises up to meet the pain and overwhelms it with love. We resume our usual programming tomorrow. Thank you all.