The Italian Job
For as long as I can remember, I have regretted not being born Italian.
I am fascinated by everything Italian: culture; food; language but, above all, football. This obsession has so far led me to do things as practical as learning the language to enrich my trips and as unusual as getting married in Italy, in Italian, outdoors in 100-degree heat, although not to an Italian.
The Greatest Game
My interest can be attributed to three things. Italy was based in the North East group of the 1966 World Cup finals and played at Roker and Ayresome Parks respectively. To a nine-year-old Sunderland fan, the groups of Italian fans wandering around the town with their tricolors exerted an exotic fascination which would endure.
The second trigger was watching what to this day is often called the greatest game ever played the 1970 World Cup semi-final in which Italy would eventually beat West Germany 4-3 before losing to Brazil in the final. The game was played in the Aztec stadium in Mexico City which to this day bears a plaque referring to it as the “Partido del Siglo”, the game of the century.
The third factor, naturally, was the exposure calcio gained from 1992 onwards when Channel 4 began their iconic “Gazzetta Football Italia” magazine shows and live match broadcasts, hosted by the incomparable James Richardson.
Juventus The Italian Job
So, I loved gli Azzurri, the Italian national side, but what about Juventus whom I would come to follow across Europe? I believe the horrible images flickering through my TV screen from Heysel in 1985 made a lasting impression. Such an impression, indeed, that I would be present eleven years later in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to see Gianluca Vialli lift the European Cup. As he did so, a giant banner was unfurled in the Curva Sud dedicating the triumph to the “39 ghosts of Heysel”; and they say it’s only a game.
Curva Sud, Allianz Arena Turin
My love of Juventus has so far taken me around Italy and to European Cup Finals in Rome, Munich, Amsterdam and Manchester as well as cathedrals of football like the former San Mames stadium in Bilbao, the San Siro and the former Stadio Delle Alpi on several occasions.
I would highly recommend a visit to a game, once we can travel further than the end of the street, of course.
The bigger games, especially at night at the San Siro or Olimpico, are a sensory overload from the aroma of the significantly superior footy grub on sale outside to the noise, pyrotechnics and choreography inside. Yes, I’ve seen violence and the various Ultra groups are to be treated with care but do not let this deter you from what is a fantastic experience.
Particular highlights of trips include:
- Leading a large group of Sunderland fans to Rome for a Lazio v Juventus game because Sunderland had no game that weekend.
- Seeing Juventus beat AC Milan 6-1 in the San Siro in 1998.
- Travelling to Bilbao for a European Cup game in 1998 and ending up spending ten days there.
- What would be memorable trips to Munich, Amsterdam particularly and Rome for European Cup Finals, was I able to remember much of what happened.
- Taking my wife to a Rome derby to see Lazio win 3-0 amid scenes of shall we say tension, and they say romance is dead! They’re not keen on tear gas but there’s no pleasing some women.
- Being in VIP/Corporate at the Olimpico for a Lazio v Siena game when who else but Tore Andre Flo came on as a sub for Siena.
- Finally, singing the Italian national anthem word perfect in a pub near Old Trafford much to the astonishment of a group of Juventus Ultras.
Featured image attribution: “26° MEMORIAL COCIANI JUVENTUS VS RIJEKA” flickr photo by Antonio Marano https://flickr.com/photos/marantoni1950/34529057415 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license