The one that When Saturday Comes didn’t like – 2016 Edition.

13 06 2016

Last month I entered the WSC competition for football articles written by amateur writters, needless to say I didn’t win again.

Here’s the rubbish what I wrote this time, now with added photos!

La Dolce Vita

How a hopeful email led to an unexpected reconnection with happiness via the fulfilment of a long forgotten ambition in an Italian port.

The banter bus and the rapacious exploitation of football had reduced me to the annoyed cynical husk of a football fan by the start of February 2016. A few days into the month I was briefly freed from world weary prejudgement by the fulfilment of my long forgotten ambition of visiting Serie A.

The undeniable exotica of Italian football has long exerted a pull on me. A potent mixture of World Soccer team groups, Simon Inglis’ Football Grounds of Europe, Italia ’90 and S4C’s Sgorio stirred my imagination and the apparent jet set world of Channel 4’s James Richardson inspired me to go out there. I longed to see the cubic terracotta lines of Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris at first hand.

I finally made it to Italy when Wales played in Milan in 2003. When I saw the mythical San Siro through our coach windows I could barely contain myself. When we set foot outside the ground I was presented with an area pockmarked by crumbling tramlines and a pervading atmosphere of menace. There was fascist graffiti in the toilets, the home fans threw stuff at us and Wales lost 4-0. It was a deflating and dispiriting experience.

It would take fate over a decade to present me with another calcio opportunity in the shape of February’s work-related trip to La Spezia. Just after Andy and I arrived in the charming northern Italian port we realised two things; our free evening coincided with Sampdoria’s home match with Torino and Genoa was only around the metaphorical corner. After years of unconscious suppression my long forgotten desire bubbled to the surface. I sent an email to Sampdoria’s ticket office without the expectation of receiving a reply.

I received a personal reply, written in English, within twelve hours and my well-worn cynicism started to crack. It turned out that buying tickets in Italy was easy. We could just turn up at the ground and buy one or buy one from the betting shop / bar near our hotel. We only needed our passports rather than ticket accounts, passwords or buying histories.

The simple act of going to buy tickets also put a spring in my step. Andy, Serdal and I strolled across La Spezia’s sun-dappled piazzas and along its orange tree lined streets towards the crowded betting shop / bar. I was persuaded out of buying the cheaper terrace tickets so we bought seated tickets for the equivalent of £22 instead. I was now going to a Serie A match and I was beyond elated.

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The train journey to Genoa was also soul-affirming. My coastal train journeys always involve a cheerful reverie but this was even better, everything outside our windows was a sun-enhanced vista of breathtaking beauty. It was clear why Cinque Terre and Liguria had influenced Shelley and Byron.

When we arrived I was adrift in a sea of giddiness. I already felt the excitement of an impending match in a new ground but now we were also surrounded by evocative architecture and fantastic public art like the Christopher Columbus monument near Principe Station.

As we walked I enjoyed our immersion in a viscerally intoxicating culture of hidden ornate chapels, political graffiti battles and an evident eventful history. Not even the joy deadening opinions of Alan Green or Robbie Savage could have blunted the joie de vivre that was coursing through me.

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The tourist information office confirmed that we were meandering in the right direction and that we’d be able to catch the post-match train from Brignole, Genoa’s other main station. They furnished us with a map and directions. We had to turn left at a big fountain and walk towards Brignole via a long street with ornate archways. I’m the kind of guy that loves to take everything in when they’re on an unhurried stroll past neon signs that remind you of famous films.

We were enveloped by the familiar football throng near Brignole. In the under station subway the political graffiti battle had cross-fertilised with football thanks to Genoa’s anti-fascist fans. It took about ten minutes of excited shuffling before we saw the ground’s floodlight haze and cubic outline from across the dry river.

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A short break seemed very apt so we stopped for a coffee and a chat. The bar was very civilised, a family owned place filled by families of Sampdoria fans. I basked in the warmth of it all. People seemed to sense we were visitors in search of a memorable evening and we left for the ground with “Grazie” in surround sound.

The trip was turning out exactly as I hoped. Groups of friends crowded tiny bars, young fans carried giant banners around and scooters were everywhere. The fans had a certain way of carrying themselves with a certain attitude and a certain way of wearing scarves. After I bought one of those scarves we headed towards our seats via two ticket and passport checks.

I excitedly approached the entrance to the terrace and the inimitable moment that a football lover waits for; the first view of the pitch in a ground they’ve never visited. What a glorious sight! That fact I was standing in the location where Scotland beat Sweden and Ireland beat Romania a quarter of a century earlier probably wouldn’t mean anything to most people but it meant something to me.

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They say that the anticipation is often better than the event but it wasn’t true today. Our seats appeared to be in the family section but this wasn’t a bad thing. We had a great view from the fourth row and we were surrounded by the most charming Genovese you could ever hope to meet. They not only helped us negotiate our way to our seats they wiped them before we sat down.

Our new friends were particularly taken with Serdal’s new Bangor City scarf (a present from me). “Ah Galles…….Bale!” they said approvingly. I didn’t know what I was hearing during the match, it could have been the same generic drivel I normally hear, but I didn’t care. It sounded charming and I was in a ground I’d always wanted to visit.

The ground wore a fantastic lived in look. The pitchside glass fences were one of the things I’d noticed in Italia ’90 and I worried that they’d be view obstructing but they weren’t. Legroom was at a premium but an empty row in front allowed us drape room, amazingly a steward didn’t threaten to chuck us out.

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There was a social feel to everything, unaccompanied children ran around and friends warmly greeted each other as they wandered. At no point did a steward intervene with curt directions. I could get used to a matchgoing experience like this!

When you consider stellar names like Mancini, Vialli, Pagluica, Gullit and Veron have played for Sampdoria I could’ve been disappointed that I only recognised three names in either squad – Sampdoria’s Quagliarella and Cassano, Torino’s Immobile – but I wasn’t. The past is a different country and other televisual markets are now more lucrative. This background knowledge didn’t alter my small taste of Serie A, I was enjoying myself too much.

The match was as expected anyway; the players displayed good touches and the defences were comfortable on the ball. Most of the play was down our touchline so I was able to see the pattern of play quite easily. We saw two goals before we left but neither were classics.

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The fans were good value. This may have been a run of the mill bottom half of the table contest on a warmish February evening but the teeth rattling fireworks of Sampdoria’s Ultras meant that it the first match where I literally felt the atmosphere. Perhaps it had been a good idea to avoid the terrace.

We left ten minutes before the final whistle to be sure about catching our train. After a few vague directions from the bloke on the gate we made it to the deserted yet scooter infested pavements. We heard a large roar that suggested a late Sampdoria winner and a second muffled roar that suggested something else; a disallowed goal? A bad foul? A Torino goal?

We made it to Brignole with about ten minutes to spare but our train was delayed anyway. I lamented our now misguided desire to leave the match early. Judging by the demeanour of the Sampdoria fans that arrived after us the muffled roar had been caused by a Torino equaliser. A bearded gentleman ranted at me but I smiled the international language of agreement and he left me alone.

As the train progressed towards La Spezia I felt an almost spiritual sense of well-being. Not only had I fulfilled an ambition, my cynicism had lessened and I knew that another way was possible. I had paid roughly £22 to watch a match whilst surrounded by decent people in an architecturally beautiful ground in one of Europe’s famous leagues. Why couldn’t football feel like this more often?

 

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