Italian club Fiorentina played their first Serie A match since the death of captain Davide Astori. 31-year-old Astori was found dead in his hotel room on March 4 with the reason of death being a suspected cardiac arrest. The players came out for warmup ahead of the match against Benevento wearing Astori no. 13 shirts and lined up next to a giant poster of his shirt and words “Captain Forever.”
There were many no 13 shirts among the crowd too, including a few in the away stand. A banner read “There are men who never die. There are stories that are passed on through eternity. Bon voyage, Captain.” Purple and white balloons, the colours of the club, was also released after an impeccably observed one minute-silence before the match. The players also stopped 13 minutes into the game and the fans turned one end of the stands purple with “Davide 13” and the stadium chanted Astori’s name.
Vitor Hugo, the player who replaced Astori in the starting line up, was the man who scored the goal that helped Fiorentina win the match 1-0. He celebrated by running to the bench with a T-shirt featuring Astori’s face, giving it to a member of staff and saluting it. Many of the players from both sides collapsed to the ground after the final whistle with tears streaming down their faces.
“Davide was, and will always remain, our light,” said new Fiorentina captain Milan Badelj. “No one will ever forget this match, it will be difficult … Florence has shown us its soul, we are all united after a tragedy like this.” “I hope that, from above, Davide is proud of us, I am convinced he gave a hand to Vitor Hugo to jump so high, he is always on the pitch with us,” said Fiorentina midfielder Marco Benassi. “It has been a difficult day, like the whole week, we have felt a great emptiness.”
Astori’s death sent a shock throughout the footballing world. Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, under whom Astori played for the Italian national team, said before their Champions League match against Barcelona that Astori’s death is “a tragedy.” “This news really hurt me. It’s very difficult to find the right words for the family. I had him with the national team. It’s very difficult to speak about this tragedy. He was a fantastic guy – a great player but especially a fantastic guy. I stay very close to his family in this moment because he was only 31. It’s very difficult to explain this situation.”
Juventus and Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini said that the club dedicated their win over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League to Astori. A number of former and current Italian footballers were present at Fiorentina’s stadium ahead of Astori’s funeral.