Category Archives: Italy

Calcio Como

Calcio Como v US Pistoiese:  Lega Pro A

Saturday 11th March 2017, Stadio Guiseppe Sinigaglia

“When the desire to do something transcends reason or logic, the lines between passion and insanity become blurred and decreasingly distinguishable”.  I am, of course, quoting myself. Those were the words that echoed in my head as I tried to fix my saddle at 0230 on a Saturday morning, three hours after going to bed.  However, those thoughts were vocalised in my garage, in a moment of introspection and self-realisation as “just what the fuck am I doing?”

Lake Como
Volta’s Vault
Has this Stand ever been structurally sound?

I was fumbling about with my bicycle, which had been in hibernation, in order to cycle 12km to my work, where I could securely lock up my bike.  From there, I would hire one of the Brussels city-bikes, and continue my journey to Gare du Midi, in order to take the 0400 bus to Charleroi Airport for a 0620 flight to Milano Bergamo, where a shuttle bus would whisk me to Milan.  I would hang around for a couple of hours before taking the train north to Como, to watch Third Division Italian football being played between two teams I had barely heard of, before rushing back to Milan for a schedule requiring extreme punctuality, planning and innate navigation.  All parts, except taking a taxi instead of cycling, would be assiduously adhered to throughout this epic day.

I love literal translations

On the other hand, I could have got up at a sensible time, taken the local bus to Brussels Airport about 0900 for a (more expensive) flight to Milan and either a) spent a relaxing day as a tourist in a cosmopolitan modern city or b) had a leisurely lunch in Milan before taking an earlier train to Genoa for the Derby Della Lanterna, allowing time for a wander around the sights and dinner near the ground watching the atmosphere build up.  Sound nice, eh?  Of course, being either ‘passionate’ about groundhopping or just a bit masochistic, I chose the exhausting option to squeeze in the match in Como.  And, for all the hassle and the tiredness, it turned out to be a magnificent decision.

Stazione San Giovanni
Como Price List
Como Ticket booth
Como Harbour
Row Z is the lake
Main Stand at Stadio Guiseppe Sinigaglia
It doesn’t look so safe from here…
Tifo of the Como Tifosi
The seat/step is comfier than it looks
You know you’re in Italy when the toilet has a two bar heater above the cistern but the flush doesn’t work

Getting There and Tickets

Using Milan as a hub, Como is reachable in just over half an hour or just over an hour by rail, depending on which train you take.  Tickets are bookable in advance at Trenitalia.it and can be printed off but, at 4.80€, any savings from pre-booking will be negligible.  My train there left from Milano Porta Garibaldi but my return train arrived at Milano Centrale.  The two stations are about 15 minutes walk (or two Metro stops) from each other but one is like a marble tribute to the Renaissance whereas the other is more like a bus shelter in Paisley.

Tickets for the match can be bought online from listicket.it but it’s easy to walk up and buy the ticket just before entry.  Passport or National ID cards are, as usual, required even when buying on the day, and even at this level, the ticket and documents are compared to verify that you are indeed the correct ticket holder.

Como

Tourism is clearly a major employer in Como and it’s easy to see why.  This is the kind of place where photos are taken and words like ‘idyllic’ or ‘paradise’ are superimposed.  Although the town is not huge, it certainly has enough to keep you amused for a weekend, between the narrow streets, promenade area, funicular or lake cruises.  I was only here for a few hours, including the match, so a stroll to the stadium to pick up the ticket, a wander around the old town and a spot of lunch were my collective achievements pre-match.  I did imagine myself living there – it is the kind of place you’d like to wake up in and wander around.

It was beautiful weather, around 18°C, in Como and I was kitted out for a cloudless early morning start in Belgium, and the heat combined with the tiredness to deplete my energy rapidly.  A pint of generic lager and a margherita (for a combined price of 9€) set me right and I meandered off to the ground via the joyous passageways and piazzi, being careful to avoid the unpredictable scooters, one of which was sideways in the middle of the road with its rider sadly still.  Having nothing to offer to improve this situation, I scurried along to the ground, a little moved by the events and crescendo of sirens.

Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia

The stadium reaffirms many preconceptions and stereotypes regarding modern-day Italian engineering and quality.  The stadium is quirky and oozes character but also looks like it would struggle to withstand any kind of force or adverse weather event.  Only three of the four tribunes were open on the day as the lakeside stand looks like it has been condemned some time ago.  The absence of scaffolding suggests that it is simply hanging around, waiting to die like an ailing pet whose owners cannot have it ‘put down’.  And, as nostalgic and romantic as that stand is, surely the club should euthanize it and build something fit for purpose, as all this is doing now is providing photographic material for people like me, acting as a wind break for the players and serving as an assault course for pigeons.

Just about all of the fans were located, alongside me, in the Curva Como.  The entry fee was 12€, and it was worth it simply to admire the view from the top of the stand with a beer on a sunny day.  After entering the ground, there was a toilet block who smell could be weaponised a few metres away from a little stall selling hot dogs and drinks.  There were no prices anywhere, so I paid the 3€, which may or may not have included a foreigner levy, for a can of Peroni.  The vendor was rather disgruntled when I handed over a 20€ note and, to be fair, he had amassed about as much change as the ‘busker’ on Argyle Street, in Glasgow, who used to just smack a spoon off of the pavement outside Woolworth’s.  So, after shouting a few friends round, he cobbled together my change and off I went to admire the view.  The sun was intense and I was worried I’d get a Vitamin D overdose, not to mention falling asleep.

The fans to my right tried their best to generate some atmosphere and there were about 250 who sang away for most of the match.  However, this civilised paradise of a town is not fertile breeding ground for Ultras vocalizing their persecution.  It was all rather pleasant and child friendly.  There are not set seats, although the steps are numbered, and a higher vantage point does offer a better view.  The depth of the steps facilitates slouching in a way that modern stadia just couldn’t possibly.

Como v Pistoiese

The match itself was intensely dreary. The pace was fairly slow but the accuracy of the final pass was abysmal, leading to a dearth of goalmouth action and incident.  Goalless at half-time, with little of note to report, I found myself fantasising again about living in this area, close to Milan, the Mountains, beautiful weather etc.  However, I do think I’d find myself taking regular journeys to the San Siro if the quality of football in Como was like this every week.

In the second half, an oasis of skill punctuated the desert of mediocrity and Como took the lead.  There was no way another goal was likely – the game was that turgid.  However, the experience of the stadium and the town was almost definitely worth the trip.

I could have happily spent a few hours more in Como after the match, but another match beckoned in Genoa later in the evening so I left the stadium early, looking back at the flimsiness of the half-full stand I had been in with a little relief, and chaffed my way to the train station, which is less than ten minutes away, for my chariot to Milan.

Verdict: An interesting old stadium in a stunning setting, so close to Milan, that it has to be worth a visit.  Could easily be dovetailed with a romantic getaway….

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  **
  • Stadium character: ****.5
  • Stadium atmosphere:  **
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: ****
  • Overall: ***.5

 

 

Inter v Atalanta: Sun at the San Siro

Inter v Atalanta: Serie A

Sunday 12th March 2017, Stadio Guiseppe Meazza (San Siro)

“If the San Siro were a player, it would be Ronaldinho: perhaps lacking the industrial yield of goals to games that characterises the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, but infinitely more joyful, artful, unpredictable and non-linear”

Sitting in a small recess between the gas fire and the television, I sat in the Lotus Position carefully trying not to spill the three-litre brandy bottle full of copper coins as I ate my Weetabix and drank my coffee through the global sporting journey of Saturday mornings on Channel 4.

Wow…
What we need Silvio is lots and lots of circles
Erm, which slope do I take?
Had I wanted to be cool, I would have stood here
Glad I brought the sunglasses
Curva Nord
Attilo Lombardo’s family enjoyed the game

This usually started with Transworld Sport, a program that provided me with many titbits of obscure sporting trivia, about the America’s Cup 1991 or Ice Speedway Circuits of the Baltic States.  This was often followed by Sumo or Kabbaddi which, instead of broadening my perspective of life outside the goldfish bowl, simply  served to validate the parochial nature of my childhood.  After sitting patiently through the adverts, most of which I could recite verbatim, came the tricolore di quattro.  The staccato pitch-shifting guitar, the high-end Casio keyboard drum fill tittilated until the cry of “Campionato, di Calcio, Italiano”.

Gazzetta Football Italia, one of the highlights of the week of the 90s teenager, showcased the greatest players and teams in the world playing in hallowed amphitheaters such as the Stadio Olimpico, the (unloved) Stadio delle Alpi but most of all, the ridiculous marvel that was, and is, the San Siro.  The show would often start with James Richardson sitting, looking incredibly smug, at some café reading Gazzetta Dello Sport and recounting the weeks events and gossip in the world of Calcio, followed by some highlights and interviews.  We were introduced to terms such as “tifosi”, “giallorosso” and “nerazzurri”, that were like aural popping candy.

So, with all of this in mind, it is fair to say that I was excited to visit the architectural behemoth that is the San Siro.  It looks impressive, impractical, implausible and incredible.  For all that I love going to football in Germany, it is difficult to imagine a German designing something like this with so many bizarre appendices.  It is more evocative than almost any stadium in the world.

Tickets

This was the third match of my Italian Trilogy, which is supposed to be when the goodies rise again, against all odds, to vanquish evil in some kind of moral victory.  Growing up, I always had Inter in the role of the baddie: the Darth Vader of Serie A, with the ability to choke their rivals’ Scudetto bid but never quite managing it.  Of course, in the second half of the noughties, Inter were very much the dominant force in Calcio, with Mancini and Mourinho guiding them to a truckload of trophies, including the Champions League in 2010.

While Inter have the highest average attendances in Italy, tickets can easily be bought for matches in the 80000 capacity San Siro via the club’s own website (http://www.inter.it/en/biglietteria#ticket-content), as opposed to using Listicket.it like many other clubs.  For my place in the corner, at the front of the second tier (just along from the Curva Nord), 30€ seemed a very fair price to pay.  Prices vary hugely depending on where you sit in the stadium, ranging from “very reasonable” to “are you sure this isn’t corporate” for most matches.

The Milan Metro, line 5, takes you to right outside the stadium, and costs 1.50€ per ticket.  These are typically bought from little kiosks or newsagents instead of machines, which has its own charm.  After the match, there is a counter at the metro station which tallies the number of passengers and limits it, so be prepared to queue if you don’t leave promptly, and don’t expect a seat.

Milan

The contrasts between Milan and Genoa, where I had travelled from by train, where striking.  From an organic, somewhat fragmented and rough around the edges port-city to an opulent and elegant hub of cosmopolitan affluence and style, Milan is not that pretty but deserves it suave reputation.  Yet, for all its ridiculous fashion houses and stupendously overpriced couture, food and drink were very reasonable.  I had a double espresso and a Nutella-filled pastry for 3€ in the Motta café looking onto the Duomo and, for lunch, I splurged on an indulgent pizza and beer in the grand passageway between Il Duomo and La Scala and it cost 13€.  Perhaps I sullied the grandiose decadence of the place with my trademarked gilet and rucksack combo, and the waiter did place me so that I was slightly hidden from potential diners, but I rocked the fish-out-of-water look to perfection.

As is often the way with this kind of weekend groundhopping, one gets a feel for a city without properly discovering it.  Milan does, however, boast one of the most magnificent train stations in Milano Centrale that is so grand and impressive, it could have been commissioned by Caesar, or even Berlusconi, himself.

San Siro

As a teenager, I’m sure Cindy Crawford disliked the mole on her face that would later characterise her and be the very distillate of her allure.  Similarly, the San Siro is not some characterisation of flawlessness, doing everything efficiently, cheaply and soullessly.  If the San Siro were a player, it would be Ronaldinho: perhaps lacking the industrial yield of goals to games that characterises the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, but infinitely more joyful, artful, unpredictable and non-linear.  It’s not the Amsterdam Arena, with a retractable pitch and roof, underground parking and glitz: no, this is a symphony in steel and concrete, full of unnecessary stepovers, Panenkas, nutmegs and dribbles.

The verticality of the stadium, along with its red roof-scaffold and cylindrical corners are the most obvious things at first glance.  But then, upon closer inspection, one spots a multitude of paths up and down the outside the stadium that are highly unorthodox.  The print-at-home ticket worked a treat, although I did have to scan it at two separate points and, like everywhere in Italy, you must have your ID to hand.

Having ascended one of the long and winding ramps, I then proceeded up some stairs to the second level, which is already pretty high.  The toilets and concessions were regularly dotted around the perimeter of the North Stand, although a couple of points made them noteworthy: it costs 5€ for a draught Heineken, which looked about 30cl (it wasn’t stated) but only 1€ for a coffee. There were also some Beer Angels coming round the seats, hawking their wares, but they didn’t have a keg on their back and were instead purveying lukewarm, flat beer. Also, while the toilets were clean, the absence of toilet paper in any cubicle was thankfully, on this occasion, only a mild annoyance for me but I’m sure someone else’s physiological needs were being deprived because of this poor show.

The view upon emerging from the concourse is very impressive, and the stadium looks as good from the inside.  Those columns in the corner obviously act as the access point to the top tier, which was closed in two of the three stands having a third tier.  I was right next to a perspex wall, separating me and the plebs in the cheap seats from those under two metres away in their more expensive, similarly faded, plastic chairs.

What I would like to have known beforehand is that nobody in the front rows of the Curva Nord sits down or, seemingly, even stands at their designated seat.  Instead, fans choose to lean against the barrier at the front of the tier, forcing everybody else to stand on the seats (not in front of them) to see clearly.  The Sicilian couple next to me were on holiday but they migrated to this barrier, leaving some random guy to take their seat.  A North American couple rightly seemed bewildered that their seats were taken and confronted the squatter, who seemed completely indifferent to their incredulity.  I didn’t hear how this progressed but I’m guessing there was no steward in a fluorescent jacket to the rescue.

Where football grounds in Scotland are populated by men wearing thick anoraks, woolly scarves and hats who can see their breath in the chilly air, the abeti dei tifosi was sunglasses with well-coordinated blue and black accessories accompanied by the strut of Danny Zuccho and the air of volatilised tobacco and ristretto.  I just looked like an increasingly sweaty tourist who had badly misjudged how warm it would be.  My non-nativeness was further alluded to by my head’s redness in the March sun, like crepe paper over a candle: my translucent pastiness wasn’t ready for this level of heat before the first splutters of hay fever had arrived.

The pre-match video link, translated three ways, from Indonesia, was a cringeworthy modern-football stain that the fans in the stadium seemed disinterested in.  I understand that parts of Asia represent a large market for these clubs to develop their brand in, but the artificialness of it all was tough going.  This was ostensibly to celebrate Inter’s birthday, but it was clearly a sweetener to the club’s global benefactors.

The pre-match songs, on the other hand, bounced along and the stand was like Eurovision minus the boas and makeup.  “Pazza Inter Amala” has to be in my top few pre-match tunes.  While this match was lacking the noise and pyro of the Derby Della Lanterna the night before, the 60000 fans in the stadium clapped and sang along dutifully until the players emerged.  There was a dusting of Atalanta fans in the upper tier of the South Stand, although due to the identical home colours, a few could have been mixed in with the Inter fans elsewhere in the stadium.

Inter v Atalanta

The match itself was a complete rout – Atalanta had the cohesion of a team who had to borrow players because a few of the boys were working overtime.  Inter looked like scoring with every attack and Icardi, who seems to be well in with the fans again, had cantered to a hat-trick within 26 minutes.  His movement went completely unanswered from a disappointingly poor Atalanta side who continued like they were racing a car with a punctured tyre as soon as the first goal went in.  While Inter were very good, the dispirited and pacifist nature of the Atalanta team was an insult to their supporters – if they were an animal, they would have been taken to the vet before half-time.  Ever Banega – one of the great superhero names of world football – scored a very nice hat-trick himself and Perisic was a nuisance that Atalanta gave up competing against.  Inter’s five goal lead at half time was obviously representative of their dominance and fully deserved.

The 7-1 scoreline provided excellent entertainment and included some beautiful goals and a fitting back-drop to the event that is the San Siro.  My appetite for all things Calcio had been temporarily satiated and I made my way back to Centrale via the metro, then to Milano Malpensa (45 minute bus journey), before drifting off on the flight somewhere over the Lombardy hills, wistfully conjuring up another scheme to come back to the some of the monoliths of  European football.  Forza Calcio!

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: *****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: ****
  • Overall: ****.5

Verdict: A real modern architectural wonder that remains highly fit-for-purpose as a football venue and is still one of the finest footballing destinations in the world.

 

 

Genoa v Sampdoria

Genoa v Sampdoria,  Serie A

Saturday 11th March 2017, Luigi Ferrari Stadium

Genoa 0 Sampdoria 1 (Luis Muriel): Attendance : 31190

“The toilets are inadequate, the refreshment stalls are very well hidden and you feel like you are in a recently looted Lidl.”

Saint Catherine of Genoa once commented that what we define as normal and weird was simply qualified by the number of subjects who exhibited a certain behaviour.  Visiting her home city over 500 years later has led me to recalibrate my version of what is normal or expected.  Italy can do that to you anyway, with its stubborn rejection of conformity and globalisation in favour of its own wonderful weirdness.  The Derby Della Lanterna, however, featuring the city’s two biggest football teams – Genoa CFC and Sampdoria – cannot be categorised as anything other than exceptional.

For all the grandeur that is dotted around Genoa with its mosaic pavements and renaissance buildings, there is a murkiness to it that is consistent with other port towns like Marseille (which is twinned with Genoa, appropriately) or Napoli.  This edginess seemed independent from the impending match, but there was a real tension about the city with everyone and everything seeming charged.  Walking past the “Fuck Off Tourists” graffiti, I didn’t stop to contemplate the irony of this graffiti being in the Esperanto of tourism.  Twilight was descending, minus the legion of adoring teenage girls but with the multitudes of undead, awakening.

Taking a shortcut from Genova Piazza Principe Station, where the train had chuntered in two hours before kick off, towards my hotel in Piazza del ‘Erbe via the Prè district seemed logical.  Even if it wasn’t the quickest route in theory, it quickened my pace, having twice been offered something murmured (and almost certainly illegal) within the first five minutes of my ever accelerating promenade towards the accommodation.  I don’t carry the most welcoming or approachable demeanour, so that I was offered these goods so readily and so freely concerned me.  Only very occasionally referring to my photographed map on my phone, I bulldozed the narrow, crumbling passageways and alleys towards my destination and sanctuary.

Arriving at what seemed like a lively misshapen quadrilateral (only in Italy could they call this a “square”), my coordinates were correct; I had arrived at Piazza del ‘Erbe. Except there was no hotel Albergo Panson.  Already exhausted from a very long day, a very quick walk and wearing too many clothes, I was a panicking sweaty mess.  Then, out of the corner of my eye, the Ristorante Panson’s neon lights flickered with the low-level hum of 19th century electrical circuitry.  Surely there was a link, and Alberto Panson wasn’t just a fraudulent Genovese front for a Nigerian Prince?

I knocked at the window, and a Gollum-like waiter peered at me.  With my patience having plummeted from its saintly precipice several minutes previous, I thrusted my reservation code on my smartphone in front of him and said “Does this place exist?”  He arched over, removed his cigarette and jewel-encrusted lighter and said “Ah, I get the Bossa…in fifteen minutes”, and proceeded to cower over his wretched burning carcinogenic “Precious”.

No, that’s not good enough!  I tried to explain I was going to a game across the city in a little over an hour but his brain circuitry had long since excluded my irritating presence.  So, I waited for “the Bossa” to arrive.   Thankfully, he was only a little over five minutes. The Bossa looked like a people-smuggling assassin; surely a torturer or a wrestler in a previous-life (or maybe even this one, given Gollum’s face when he saw him).  The Bossa took my 21€ – this was definitely a ‘cash only’ establishment – and took a photo of my passport (I wonder how many poor souls in the kitchens will have my identity in the coming weeks?).  I then followed him through what could have been medieval dungeons to a stairwell.  From here, three separately locked wrought-iron gates had to be unlocked to reach the slaves’ quarters where I was staying. You get what you pay for, I thought.  I could hear the cries from centuries ago of skulls crashing off of these beastly stairs.  Then, for the last ten to twelve steps, there sat a stairlift. You know, the type marketed at senior citizens with carriage clocks if you buy today.  Never before had anything looked so out-of-place.

Anyone got a light?

The Bossa explained to me that the building had been constructed in the 15th century, and the electrical wiring looked like some of Galvani’s and Volta’s early prototypes.  He then showed me the (shared) bathroom and toilet, with the light located right next to a pull cord.  “Which one is the light?” I asked.  I was informed, very clearly, that I was not to pull the cord unless I was in a lot of pain (and I don’t think he meant constipation) as it would send an alarm call to the restaurant and he wouldn’t be happy if it were to be for nothing.  Okay, thanks Bossa.  He then showed me my room, overlooking the “square” below, and left me to get settled.

Getting settled took all of about one minute.  Bag dumped; ticket, passport, camera and phone stuffed into pockets and off I cantered towards the stadium.  Good old Apple Maps reliably informed me that it was almost a straight road from the hotel to the stadium.  What it didn’t inform me was that part of that road was hypothetical, and involved a hillside descent akin to abseiling.  I had not seen one person in football colours so far and my tiredness was causing me to question my grip on reality.  A derby match in a football city is normally accompanied by a liberal sprinkling of roadblocks, fans drinking and tooled-up Police.  None of these elements had been present on my canter to the stadium.

During my descent from Via Assarotti towards the promised land down below, I clutched my sturdy hotel keys between my fingers, ready to use them as makeshift knuckle dusters should I be confronted in one of these arterial tributaries descending the hill.  The faint glow of street lamp down below, accompanied by the waft of yesterday’s fish, reassured me that I was exiting from what would have been fertile ground for muggers and rapists.  Then, all of a sudden, was the noise.  Not some phantasmagoric hell but the reassuringly staccato aggression of the football chant. And, given my state, it was a wonderful symphony of reassurance and equilibrium.

Snaking in and out of blasé scooter riders – I saw one splatted a few hours previous in Como, so was pretty cautious – to cross to the bridge, I saw some flames and the fans were drifting towards the stadium.  Quite possibly the most flustered and least cool person in Genoa, I hotfooted it towards the stadium, as my lateness fear was now also kicking in.  I’m not normally this neurotic, but as Saint Catherine said, Genoa is not normal.

Relieved to arrive, I tried to enter a gate in a perimeter fence a few hundred metres from the stadium, only to be told my entrance, or ‘ingresso’, was away up past the Decathlon shop I could barely see and round the other side of the stadium.  So, shuffling along like Mr Bean on a promise, I made my way to a mêlée which it turns out was the queue to get in.  Two mushroom-shaped queues had  formed and a couple of older men were, leisurely, asking people for ID and checking the tickets. BOOM! Oh no, was that a bomb? Or a gunshot? Why is nobody bothered? Tension levels up, I then joined another queue: this time, to scan my ticket. Incidentally, my ticket was a print-at-home job from https://www.listicket.com/ticketing/home.html – very easy to order, although ID is essential and really is checked.

My advice to anybody going to this stadium would be to turn up very early as this system is very slow and none of the staff seemed to particularly care.  This impression was further consolidated with a security pat-down so lethargic that it constituted not much more than a shoulder grope, maybe incase he found any glass, knives or pyro and was forced to do something about it, which was clearly not on his agenda.  Finally, I was in.

When you enter the concourse and start to ascend the stairs, you could be forgiven for thinking there had been a fire, robbery or some kind of disastrous event that would decimate any internal fixtures and fittings.  The toilets are inadequate, the refreshment stalls are very well hidden and you feel like you are in a recently-looted Lidl.

However, for all of the grumbling, head-scratching, profuse sweating and Gollum waiters, the sight of a pitch from the top of the corner stairs filled me with a wonderful contentedness. The section numbers are difficult to find so look carefully at your ticket beforehand: there is no helpful steward guiding you to your seat.

The Distinti was a fairly shallow tier at the top of the stand and contained both Genoa and Sampdoria fans.  I could not see any of the tiers below but it looked like most of the action would happen right in front of me in the Sampdoria stand.  The noise was immense, even fifteen minutes before kick off.  The rather lax security search, or a hefty bung, had set up the mind-bogglingly amazing pyro among the Sampdoria fans.  I felt for the Genoa fans at this point, who had obviously clubbed together for a choreo but it was completely blown away by the Sampdoria end.

The sheer number of flares, bangers and what I previously thought were bombs in that stand must have been equal to the number of spectators.  That there would be another display at the start of the second half was equally as ridiculous.  It brought back memories of  my twelve-year old daughter being refused entry at Anderlecht because her kitten-faced bag, containing a pack of tissues, was in breach of the security protocol and highly unauthorised.

This report would be incomplete without a mention of the Genoa supporter to my right whose gumsy vocabulary made my feel like I was in an Italian Tourette’s documentary.  When all you hear is “Die die die (I know that’s not what it means in Italian, and it’s spelled ‘dai!’, but that’s what I heard) vaffanculo bastardo” from a woman of that age, you know what this match means to the people of this city.  Or maybe I was just seated next to a potty-mouthed older woman.  In either case, the intensity was relentless from the moment I approached the stadium to the moment I unlocked the four gates of my converted renaissance attic.

Genoa v Sampdoria

Oh yes, I forgot, there was a match going on around all this.  The first half was a fairly even period of nice passing and excellent defending with Genoa creating slightly better chances, but neither team looking likely.  After the break, Sampdoria completely dominated and were worth their goal, which was well finished by Luis Muriel, who played well in leading the Sampdoria attack even if he was an underused outlet.  If anything, Sampdoria scoring a second goal looked more likely than an equaliser, with substitute Schick causing all kinds of problems with his ungainly but effective dribbling.

From Genoa’s point of view, most of their best moves came down their left with Laxalt looking like he had the beating of his opposite number at every opportunity.  Interesting from my perspective as an Anderlecht fan was the appearance of Dennis Praet as a substitute for Sampdoria.  He looked fit, eager and hungry but out of sync with his teammates.  Will he be the new De Bruyne or the new Eoin Jess?

The following morning, I meandered back towards the station through Genoa’s amorphous network of little streets.  The atmosphere was one of bleach, urine, coffee and homelessness.  I felt slightly guilty for having not respected this town enough in advance.  It deserves a better exploration than I could afford it.  Perhaps I will return for such an exploration. Perhaps I’ll be back for next year’s Derby Della Lanterna.  It certainly lit my lantern.

Verdict: An interesting yet unfriendly stadium filled with crazy fans.  A must see match!

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: ***
  • Stadium atmosphere:  **********
  • Hospitality: **
  • Ease of access: ***
  • Things to do around the stadium: ***
  • Overall: Stadium ***; Experience *****

 

 

 

 

 

AS Roma v Udinese Calcio

AS Roma v Udinese Calcio (Serie A)

28th October 2015

They do things differently in Italy.  From using a foot pump to operate a tap at a sink to the complex protocols for ordering a coffee.  You get used to it and you have to admire the originality of everything.  Growing up, Serie A and Gazzetta Football Italia were the pinnacle of football.  The great Milan team of the early 90s with its Dutch and ‘Yugoslav’ contingent were the best team in Europe. However, like many Italian engineering endeavours, the beauty and originality didn’t last long and its majesty was somehow personified in parallel by Berlusconi – all conquering but of questionable underlying integrity.

AS Roma are currently top of the league and playing very well.  They play in the Stadio Olimpico, a colossal white elephant of a stadium whose fitness for purpose diminshes every day.  The other ‘colossal stadium’ in Rome probably had more visitors on Wednesday with no match to enjoy.  Peering into the distance through a damp fog of volatilized ristretto, I saw an excellent football match as Roma’s direct and slick passing game left Udinese twisted like spaghetti on a spoon.

Stadio Olimpico - first turnstiles
Stadio Olimpico – first turnstiles

Getting to Roma

Every time I take a Ryanair flight I find myself uttering the words ‘never again.’ Each flight seems to have less room and more passengers than the last.  The poor cabin crew seem mercilessly drilled to hurt our senses with sales-driven patter and cosmetics for the whole flight to the extent that sleep is an unattainable luxury. The passengers were herded onto the tarmac before the incoming plane had even landed, simply amplifying irritation.  However, when their flight is a third of the price of their competitors’, it leaves you no realistic choice.  My return to Rome Fiumincino Airport from Brussels was a few cents over 50 euros.  It’s a no-brainer really and, ultimately, made this trip financially possible.  I refuse, on priniciple, to include a link to their website – you know who they are.

Transfers from FCO airport to Roma Termini train station are available via bus or train.  There are numerous discounts available if you book in advance.  The bus is slower than the train but is a few euros cheaper.  Upon arrival in Termini, where I was meeting my occasional accomplice Shug, I stumbled out into a busy mélange of cigarette smoke, coffee and corruption.

Tickets and Accommodation

Getting tickets as a ‘foreigner’ was far more difficult than it ought to have been due to the club’s glitchy ticket purchasing service (http://www.asroma.it/en/tickets/matchday.html).  Eventually, after several days of trying, I was able to acquire two tickets in the ‘Distinti Sud’ for 35€ each.  Tickets along the side of the pitch are much more expensive.

While food and drink are generally very reasonably priced in Roma, accommodation can be expensive.  Shug was awarded the responsibility of sourcing a cheap bed and he did well.  For 2 nights, he booked a twin room in the ‘Dreaming Hostel’ in San Giovanni district of town (http://www.dreamingromehostel.com/).  Permit me the indulgence of elaborating a little.  We arrived at the designated address to find a block of flats and no sign for a hostel, grateful that we had only paid a 10% deposit.  Upon closer inspection, we found buzzer in the block of flats labelled ‘dreaming’.  As directed, we climbed to the second floor to a flat – hostel is pushing it a bit – decorated like Victoria’s Secret.

Are you sure about this place Shug?
Are you sure about this place Shug?
Room Decor
Room Decor
Old Roman Stadium
Old Roman Stadium
Note the Martini glass where the pint glass should be.
Note the Martini glass where the pint glass should be.

The ‘brother’ who checked us in was simply fabulous dahling and offered us a jam jar of white wine, before leading us back out to a flat on the fourth floor.  We politely declined his offer of dinner as I wasn’t there to meet like-minded travellers.  We tiptoed up past the long suffering Roman residents of this apartment block and we were shown into a room full of binbags and beer bottles (and goodness knows what other mail-order products – it had that ambience about it).  Clearly disgusted, our host showed us into an adjacent room with a double bed and a camp bed (ironically, the least camp thing in the building) and a half-fitted chandelier with a few stray wires. However, it was merely a place to shower and sleep so it was, especially at the price,more than satisfactory.

The hostel was five minutes walk from a metro station and less than twenty minutes stroll from the Colosseum which suited us perfectly.

Rome

I won’t try to act as tourist information for Rome.  Suffice to say, it really is a unique city.  Rome successfully juxtaposes the ancient with the modern leaving you in awe of human achievement.  Even if you don’t like churches, the Pantheon is a fabulous building worthy of a visit.

In terms of nice areas for eating and drinking, there is no shortage of choice.  We particularly enjoyed the Trastevere area around Sir John Cabot University and found it to be eclectic and interesting.  Campo de’ Fiore, on the inner city side of the Tiber, is also a nice big market square where choice is abundant.  I had a particularly nice Calzone in Roma Beer Company in that square and would recommend it as a pizza or beer destination.

Stadio Olimpico

The Olympic Stadium is in the North West of the city.  I had diligently noted how to get there by public transport but ended up walking there from the Vatican City in the drizzle – it rained on and off all day – making a couple of pit-stops for refreshments.  There is no metro stop anywhere near the stadium and the tram stop is on the other side of the river – surely this kind of hassle deters the less hardcore fan and will be addressed when the new stadium is finished in Torre del Valle (the Stadio della Roma  http://stadiodellaroma.com/about/the-stadio).

When you get there, a mosaic-tiled slippy-as-hell-when-wet path awaits. It is small things like this that make Germany and Italy opposite sides of the same coin.  Having skated across the surface of the mosaic under the watchful eye of some illuminated marble statues, we approached the first security barrier.  A word to the wise for any would-be calcio fan – bring ID to the ground and have it handy.  We had to show ours to four different people and proceeded through two turnstiles.  Thankfully, I had read about this before leaving so half expected it and experienced a more dilute ID check at Paris St Germain last year.  This compartmentalising and segmenting of the stadium makes a walk-round very difficult and inhibits integration with other fans.  However, I suspect its designed purpose of segregation is being well served.

Slippy Mosaics
Slippy Mosaics
The Weeping Angels are everywhere!
The Weeping Angels are everywhere!
Carlo Pilkingtonio photobombing
Carlo Pilkingtonio photobombing
You can see the pitch in the distance
You can see the pitch in the distance
Cage them up!
Cage them up!
Maybe make these seats cheaper?
Maybe make these seats cheaper?
Il Stadio
Il Stadio

The stadium is large although not vertically imposing like Celtic or Dortmund.  It just has a vastness about it more than a purposeful capaciousness.  It could, nevertheless, do with modernisation: the home of Totti is looking tatty.  Once the security were convinced we were neither fugitives nor hooligans, we proceeded to the snack area and ordered a beer and a ‘pizzette’.  Each of these things were 4€, making it a little pricier than Germany or Belgium but not prohibitively so.  The smell of ristretto is remarkable even at the football – I was hoping I wouldn’t need concentrated caffeine to keep me awake at the game.

The concourse where the ‘too small for purpose’ toilets were found was very narrow but the stairway in and out of the stadium is wide. Like a narrow tributary flowing from an estuary.  The seats were far away from the pitch – I had expected this – but I was surprised to find that even the fans in expensive seats would need to climb a metal fence and do a middle distance run to get anywhere near a player.  It’s a real shame.  Running tracks have no place in a football ground anyway but the metal cage dehumanizes the fan.

That said, we did have a good view given the elevation and we were thankfully in one of the more populated sections of the ground.  Just under 30000 fans for a wet midweek game against Udinese (who had no fans at all) is not necessarily a bad turnout but inside the Olympian carcass, it felt empty.  The Roma fans weren’t bad but there was a notable and sad absence of any Ultras or noisy supporter groups.  Rain wouldn’t dissolve the Yellow Wall or the Gladbach Nordkurve and I expected a more vociferous Curva Sud.

Hopefully, many of the practical considerations (or absences thereof) of the Olympic Stadium will be addressed when the new stadium is built.  Juventus have gone from strength to strength since leaving the little-loved Stadio delle Alpi and moving into a purpose-built stadium.

The Match

I had seen the highlights of Leverkusen v Roma in the Champions League only last week and, while this wasn’t an eight goal thriller, the Calcio itself didn’t disappoint.  Roma lined up in an offensive 4-3-3 formation with attacking full-backs.  I was looking forward to seeing Nainggolan and Dzeko in particular.  From the off, Roma’s play was crisp and their passing direct.  Nainggolan directed the play and won back the ball with authority and confidence and was the origin of most Roma attacks. Dzeko led the line superbly and his all round game was excellent – he’s not just an awkward goalscorer. However the star of the show was Maicon who created one goal, scored another and completely bossed his flank.

Roma were two goals up inside eight minute and, given that the likelihood of a close game was now virtually nil, we were hoping for a right good battering full of goals.  It wasn’t until the 63rd minute when the former Arsenal forward – Pussy Gervinho, according to the stadium announcer – made certain of a home victory.  Thereafter, despite a fine team goal finished off by Thereau for Udinese, the game petered out a little.

After the match finished, we made a dash for the tram, along with several thousand other spectators across the bridge towards Piazza Mancini.  We managed to sardine ourselves onto the tram for Flaminio.  To our amazement, the metro at Flaminio was closed (before 11pm – turns out they close it at 10.30).  This seems remarkably short-sighted on behalf of those responsible for public transport in the capital, losing out on thousands of fares.  Pretty poor show.  So, we legged it to Piazza del Popolo, enjoying a nightcap before our exhausted bodies were taxied back to the hostel.

The next morning, Shug left before the first sparrow started nipping my head.  I got up and showered and woke up one of the hostel proprietors (at 0945) to give him the keys: that’s obviously how the Bohemians of today roll.  I then spent three hours wandering around Rome with my hand-luggage, sweating any remaining pollutants out of my body leaving a shell of fatigue and newly-acquired wisdom.

Exhausted, the thought of a chaise-longue in an airport seemed increasingly appealing.  That my Roman adventure would terminate at Termini seemed appropriate.  A few hours of perpetually changing gates at Fiumicino would leave me seeing more of the airport than Tom Hanks did in that awful chick-flick.  Thinking my strength couldn’t be sapped anymore, a few luggage and seating-based tantrums would delay my densely populated flight home before the brisk Brussels breeze battered my bruised body onto a bus home.

In summary, Roma are a great team and Rome is a truly wonderful city.  However, provided the date of completion of the new Stadio delle Roma isn’t too elastic, I’d wait and see them there.  It looks like it could be another Roman landmark for years to come while the Olimpico is made into a museum, a symbol of a bygone era of supremacy.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: ***
  • Stadium atmosphere:  **
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: **
  • Things to do around the stadium: ****
  • Overall: ***