Reading any travel guidebook about Italy, the author will tell you Italians are passionate about several things; food, wine, religion and football or ‘Calcio’. Indeed many will go so far as to claim that even in the nation that is the cradle of Catholicism, football IS the main religion. Last weekend therefore was a perfect opportunity for Italy to display this obsession with the global game as with the season nearing a dramatic conclusion, three of Italy’s biggest clubs had a chance to stake a claim for this season’s Scudetto.
On Saturday third placed Roma entertained leaders Inter at the Stadio Olympico. A win for Inter would have seen them inch closer to equalling the Juventus side of the 1930s in winning their 5th title in a row. A victory for AS Roma meanwhile would see them move to within one point of the Serie A summit as they chase just their fourth Scudetto. It is therefore curious that with so much riding on the game and with a team from Italy’s second city visiting a team based in the capital, drew a healthy crowd of 61 000, but still 19 000 below capacity.
Roma’s subsequent 2-1 victory over Jose Mourinho’s stuttering Inter opened the door for city rivals AC Milan. Again a victory for Inter’s bitter rivals would see them move to within one point of their co-habitants at the San Siro. An added twist to this season’s title race is that Milan and Inter, like Liverpool and Man Utd are locked together on the same number of titles, so local bragging rights are as much at stake as ever. Milan having not won the league for 6 years must be yearning to stop their neighbours as much as for a return to the glossy days of the 90s. Again more reason to believe that the famous Italian obsession with Calcio would be evident on the Sunday night as a rocking San Siro packed with 75 000 plus supporters would urge the Rossoneri forward against struggling Lazio. Strain every sinew singing, chanting, willing their team to victory……..
How very disappointing then that on arriving at the impressive San Siro in Milan’s Western suburbs, to see people milling about as if it were a shopping precinct, rather than a theatre in which the dreams of hundreds of thousands of Milan fans will be played out. There was certainly no excitement detectable outside the ground and the atmosphere was almost sterile rather than the fervour that no doubt would have abounded at Old Trafford, the Emirates or even the Stadium of Light and St Andrews this weekend. Surely inside the ground there would be an atmosphere to make the hairs on my neck stand on end. Alas no, despite the sheer impressive size of the architecture, the crowd was a damp and flat as the night. Worse still it was alarmingly sparse. I kept checking my watch expecting a surge of fans at kick-off time, but it never came. Just 40 300 fans were inside the ground to watch a game of such importance. This left 40 000 very conspicuous empty seats. Allesandro my guide for the day could offer no defence. He is an ‘Ultra’ who usually sits in the Curva Sud with the core of the Milan support, but to him this was normal. I tried to explain that earlier that day a friend of mine had gone to Wembley as part of an 80 000 crowd to watch Carlisle play Southampton in the Johnston’s Paint Trophy Final – two teams in the equivalent of Serie C. Allessandro had trouble digesting these facts. Yes there was choreographed flag waving at the start and yes there were the obligatory firecrackers lit just before kick-off, but does that make the crowd passionate? The volume inside the ground rose only when Milan scored in a dour 1-1 draw. Beyond that there was much gesticulation…pleading, praying etc but no actual support for the team. The match itself was played at a pace that will keep interesting Mr Beckham for many years to come. No Milan player seemed to want to break into anything more than a jog, as if they had more important appointments later that evening and didn’t want to waste time with something as trivial as a shower. A chance to write their names in history along with likes of Van Basten, Baresi, Gullit, Costacurta, Maldini, Boban, Desailly did not seem to interest the cast of support actors in the absence of leads Ronaldinho, Pato, Beckham, Mancini and Gattuso. The game was technically sound, but was light years behind the pace and excitement of the Premier League and La Liga.
Italians will argue that football is in their blood, is part of their culture and that they are passionate about the game. I contest that this is a myth as the evidence above suggests, The game in Italy lacks excitement on the pitch and passion on the terraces, being played out in front of half-full, subdued stadiums. In defence some may point to the plethora of TV time dedicated to football. This however is probably more an indication of the poor quality of Italian TV as many of these shows follow the same 1970s variety format with the cameraman struggling to get the best view of the female presenters’ legs.
Written By Kester Buckland