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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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.