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