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New Article: Passports, Piazzas & Pyro

Being incessantly bored at work and enjoying writing I'm often pondering blogging and what-not. I'm fortunate to have done a fair amount of ground-hopping around Europe and South America and have been thinking about recording these visits properly for a while. Some games and trips have been relatively uneventful, but if this gets a few hits I have plenty more to ramble about. Any comments, improvements, questions, etc would be welcome.

San Siro

Having been one of thousands who grew up watching the cult sensation Football Italia in the 90s, seeing calcio there had been a long-term goal of mine. There was something about the collage of piazzas, pyrotechnics, cappuccinos and dilapidated stadiums that drew a person in. Not to mention the world's best players, and of course a certain James Richardson with his exotic pink newspapers and bulbous desserts. Woof.

The place that stood out was always San Siro, officially known as the Giuseppe Meazza. A true icon of the game, its steep, intimidating inclines sparkled with noise, life and colour whilst the likes of Van Basten, Ronaldo and Baresi battled far below. For me it was always a must-visit. Having been declined a trip on my eighteenth birthday, a visit to Amsterdam a year later game me food for thought. Flying to Europe really was that easy, and so a few months later in 2006 seven of us found ourselves basking in the glow of Milano's cathedral being chased with wristbands and pigeon feed. I won't mention my wannabe Andrea Pirlo hair of the time.

AC Milan seldom sell out and were playing newly promoted Catania midweek. However, to err on the side of caution we ventured to the ground early morning to obtain tickets. Awaiting on the route from the station was an elderly man, somewhat decrepit and languid who approached us with broken English and flashes of white in his wrinkled, dirty hands. "You like Milan, yes? You like tickets, yes? Good, good seats." After inspection they appeared authentic, and with no sign of a ticket office we indulged for twenty-five Euros a go. Only later did we notice that the price stated on them was zero...

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Returning to the centre for an ill-fated attempt at finding The Last Supper ("Dinner? No more?"), entering the subway that afternoon we were accosted by a group of Catania fans. Ultras. Being the only semi-Italian speaker, I was hastily volunteered as communicator. Their first time in the city, they needed help finding the stadium. Pointing at a map and stuttering, the group soon realised the error or their ways and resorted to abusing their friend for having to ask an Englishman how to find the biggest stadium in Italy. I duly received a raucous round of applause. Before departing, a one-toothed individual also found the time to spit "Italia, campioni del mondo!" at me. I know, I celebrated.

The sun descended and kickoff neared. Walking from the metro San Siro appears suddenly after a corner, a huge, lonely and imposing structure bordered only on one side by a horse racing track. Although old, grimy and often with a poor playing surface due to its roof, the stadium I feel is a unique artwork deserved of a visit at any time. We had a match to go to, though.

For reasons I can't remember we arrived tad later than scheduled. Possibly because of further woeful efforts to locate The Last Supper. Finding our entrance gate and climbing the steps to the second tier, things did seem a little odd but it didn't matter. We were in.

The first thing we saw when reaching our area was not Paulo Maldini or Ricky Kaka, but a large banner showing a middle finger aimed at the away fans. Smoke from dozens of joints engulfed us and such delights as "Catania, Catania, vaffanculo!" roared off the walls, the figures surrounding us bouncing menacingly. Shell-shocked and afraid, we tried to find a steward to guide us to our seats. No one in high-vis was in the stand and with good reason: this was Ultra territory.

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That also explained the 'free' tickets. Many clubs give them away to appease their more influential supporters; these can then be sold on for a profit. After struggling along a row and losing a couple of people, we decided to regroup in the concourse. A mate went into the toilet to see a guy doing a fat line of coke in the open.

The only reasonably safe option seemed to be the nearby empty corner. Today at such games this is my preferred option, it allows you to experience the atmosphere whilst not being an active part of it. That though, was the only time I've sat behind someone toking on a pipe for ninety minutes.

With such events the game can become inconsequential. Instead your gaze drifts towards the curva, the flags, movement and noise hypnotic. Occasionally the trance may be broken, your eyes darting towards teenagers throwing firecrackers at each other's feet or a large group aggressively moshing for no particular reason.

Having travelled 850 miles, Catania's small following also had a trick. To break up their repetitive use of flares, huge bangers were set off. These I can only describe as sounding like a bomb and can presumably be heard far beyond the stadium. Old one-tooth had probably taken to insulting the locals.

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Gilardino and Kaka scored one and two respectively for a 3-0 victory. I was also happy to see my favourite player Rino Gattuso and had his chant etched in my head for a long time afterwards. Ole ole ole, per i Rino Gattuso ole…

Thus ended an experience far removed from anything I had encountered before. Ignore the media, Italian attendances are down but the atmospheres are still going strong. The hardcore will always be there, and that is why many people such as myself will keep on returning.
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Comments

  • Great post mate.
  • Brilliant stuff RP. You should start your own blog. Wonder if Milan's version of this forum has a thread with hundreds of posts complaining about people snorting coke in the toilets.
  • edited November 2013
    Great read, more please
  • enjoyed that and great pictures also. I have thought about visiting some european games myself so would defo be interested in reading any more stories you have.
  • Really enjoyed reading that, cheers.

    Going to a game in Italy has been on my "to do" list for ages, but seems less and less likely the more out of touch I become with Italian football. Last big motivation would probably be to try and catch Pirlo while he's still playing over there.
  • Enjoyed that, cheers RP.

    Never been football in Italy, like to experience it some time.
  • Very good read.

    Have only been to one game in Italy, which was in Bari for Ireland's game in April 2009 (1-1). The locals were amazing and the council had set up a huge music festival in a big square by the waterfront for all fans, with bands from Italy, Ireland and more local Puglia traditionalists. I had taken my dad as it was something he had wanted to experience and we had found ourselves staying in the hotel that the media used for all their pre-match interviews with distinguished commentators and past players. An amazing few days!
  • Good post but should have gone to see Juventus play ;) went to the Napoli game at the weekend was amazing.
  • Fantastic post RP. Was at Juve a couple of weeks back (Gilardino played, but did not score this time). Excellent atmos.

    Forz, do you have any level of membership?
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  • edited November 2013

    Good post but should have gone to see Juventus play ;) went to the Napoli game at the weekend was amazing.

    Nice, that must have been some atmosphere. That reminded me that I needed to check out Pogba and Pirlo's goals, very smart. I have actually been to that fixture (at Comunale), plus Milan v Juve, both of which threw up stupid situations. All being well I'll be at Bologna v Juve next month but ticket restrictions are always a worry.

    Thank you all for the kind comments.

  • Fantastic post RP. Was at Juve a couple of weeks back (Gilardino played, but did not score this time). Excellent atmos.

    Forz, do you have any level of membership?

    Nice, yeah the atmosphere in my opinion is the best I've ever experienced and certainly won't be beaten over here. Yes I've got a Premium International Membership which hasn't served any purpose as you can only usually buy 1 ticket per member and I'm a member of Juventus Club Londra who I use to get all my tickets.
    RedPanda said:

    Good post but should have gone to see Juventus play ;) went to the Napoli game at the weekend was amazing.

    Nice, that must have been some atmosphere. That reminded me that I needed to check out Pogba and Pirlo's goals, very smart. I have actually been to that fixture (at Comunale), plus Milan v Juve, both of which threw up stupid situations. All being well I'll be at Bologna v Juve next month but ticket restrictions are always a worry.

    Thank you all for the kind comments.

    Amazing goals and simply a brilliant trip, I would like to see the other stadiums in Italy but I'd always choose to use my money on going to see Juve at home rather than on other teams or away games.
  • Excellent post Red Panda, thanks for sharing.

    Reminded of my few trips to Parma. No doubt smaller but the Curva was something else. Fantastic supporters, the banners, flags, smoke, flares etc are brilliantly organised.

    One of the most surreal moments regarding the fans was when I saw Parma v Sampdoria. They appeared to have an alliance of some sort and before the game a small group of ultras were on the pitch waving each others flags round the stadium. Great stuff.

    Can't recommend Italy enough for football. I need to get to the San Siro though.
  • Nice read RP. Look forward to more.
  • Good write up.
    Going back a few years Italian games were top of my european list, however Germany is right up there now esp Dortmund.
    Would still love to do the Rome Derby mind and for some reason I have always really fancied a Sampdoria home game.
    It's just finding the money after CAFC and England games plus Rangers once a year.
  • PS my mates did the Milan derby and were not blown away.
  • Fiiiiiish said:

    One of the most surreal moments regarding the fans was when I saw Parma v Sampdoria. They appeared to have an alliance of some sort and before the game a small group of ultras were on the pitch waving each others flags round the stadium. Great stuff.

    Yeah some clubs in Italy (and other countries) have friendships, so they swap scarfs, sing each other's songs, do stuff like this:

    image

    Forza, from Turin you can commute to Genoa and Milan quite easily. I always try and plan trips around (at least) two games. So Organiser, say for Dortmund you can base yourself in Dusseldorf and you have about eight teams including Dortmund within an hour by train.

  • Spot on Red Panda.
  • Next time I want to go to one of the southern stadia or the islands. Always liked Palermo as a city, and imagine they can kick up a bit of atmosphere.
  • Thanks Forz, will join that club
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  • Did the stadium tour a few years ago but didn't catch a game out there. Went to see Lazio play AC Milan when I was in Rome in 1990, not long before Gascoine signed for them. AC had van basten, gullit etc playing for them but Lazio hammered them (4 1 I think)
  • edited November 2013
    Really enjoyed that RP thank you , not half as much as you did hough by the sounds of it!

    Sounds nearly as lively as the obligatory fag breaks in the Valley loos at half time. :-0
  • Good read, I went to the San Siro circa 2002 and my experience sounds similar to yours , although I was hammered , it was an evening kick off and I'd been on the booze a couple of days.
    Really struggled to get a cab afterwards we must have walked for 2 hours before finding one
    Milan was quite expensive, pretty sure we paid €40+ for two drinks in a moody lap dancing gaff before realising this wasn't the place we wanted to spend the next few hours in but I suppose it's like any big city looking for purvey tourists to trap !
  • Next time I want to go to one of the southern stadia or the islands. Always liked Palermo as a city, and imagine they can kick up a bit of atmosphere.

    I did the Palermo Catania derby the first time they had both been in Serie A for donkeys years - my wife is Sicilian. It was absolutely mental - wall to wall noise and hate like you can't imagine. Cracking game as well - Palermo won 5-2 or 5-3 (can't remember the exact score). The stadium is a proper shitheap - like stepping back in time. The return fixture was apparently even worse - a policeman was killed and they suspended all football in Italy for a week to debate escalating violence in football.

    Great write-up RP.

  • Went to a Champions League game at the San Siro. Similar to the game described by the OP the ground was not full but there was a decent atmosphere.

    Good post but should have gone to see Juventus play ;) went to the Napoli game at the weekend was amazing.

    Two stands to be closed at future game(s) following geography based chanting at this fixture.

    How are you treated as an English fan, albeit of Juve, in Turin?

    for some reason I have always really fancied a Sampdoria home game.
    .

    It might be because they probably have the most British style ground of all in Serie A.

    Next time I want to go to one of the southern stadia or the islands. Always liked Palermo as a city, and imagine they can kick up a bit of atmosphere.

    Not sure about Palermo, suspect the atmosphere is good for big games but for more run of the mill fixtures the atmosphere may be not so great due to the lack of roofs on most of the stands. Don't go to Cagliari for a game at the moment, last I heard they were playing their home games in Trieste. Naples may be the liveliest place to watch a game in the South.
  • SR we didn't have any issues at all, got to the ground on the bus (bit cramped). By their nature Juve have a lot of foreign fans and supporters from all round Italy, so there was a lot of day trippers. Might have been different if you were in one of the curvas (behind the goals), which are the bits that are closed for the next matches. Must be irritating for season ticket holders...

  • Good to hear you had no probs, suspect the issues arise (if they do at all) when British clubs play them and then history comes to the fore.

    As for the season ticket holders, well that appears to be the price you pay in Italy for singing about cholera, volcanoes and hygiene.
  • Yeah I don't think any clubs really care about where you come from, especially at a big side like Juventus where they have fans all over the world, even if you sat in the curvas doubt there would be a problem as after all you're supporting them and also English is the language that all Italians want to learn so you often get treated pretty nice. Also I'm half Italian so like to think that I don't stick out too much.
  • A lot of the people sat around me were southerners, so interesting how they react to the taunts. Wonder if there's a similar issue with Man U.

    Thanks for the notes Leroy, still fancy catching a game down there. I recall the Catania incident - think it was a homemade bomb that caused the death, quite shocking.
  • When I lived in the UK - used to go to quite a few European games. I even pulled an outrageous sickie while at a conference in Turin, to get down to the Juventus - Rapid Vienna Champions League game. Remember the fear of bumping into work colleagues that night after the game while sneaking back into my hotel. Also remember getting caught up in a riot outside Fiorentina's ground with tear gas & all sorts of stuff flying around.

    Funnily enough one of the best atmospheres I have encountered is just down the road from here - (OK a 2 day drive but that is relatively local these days) - in Portland at the Portland Timbers. The Timbers are undoubtedly my 2nd team these days, watch every game of theirs on TV every week & have been to a few games in the Rose City - it's a pleasure watching matches at a decent hour and they are a damn good team to watch from our favourite North American city. Anyway they have a passionate following, who put the Palace Ultras to shame with their interpretation of what it means to be tifosi

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Roland Out!