Thursday, 28 April 2011

Italian European Football Weekend

The Italian Job

Atletico Roma 1-2 Gela, Serie C1 (16:04:11)
AS Roma 2-3 US Città di Palermo, Serie A (16:04:11)
SSC Napoli 1-2 Udinese Calcio, Serie A (17:04:11)

Belgian Stephane Lievens living the dream in Italy....

When we booked our Easter family holiday last year, we settled for a trip to Japan. However, due to those circumstances, we were forced to cancel that one at short notice and rebook another trip. The choice went to Italy, not quite the same as Japan, but on the plus side was the opportunity to catch some local football, which eased the disappointment somewhat.

First stop was Rome, home of Lazio and AS Roma. Both teams are deadly rivals of course but walking in the streets of Rome, you would hardly notice the presence of two big teams in the city. In most of the touristy areas, Roma shirts and souvenirs are on sale, and very rarely Lazio stuff. It is said that the Romanisti are from the capital city, while the Laziali are mostly coming from the Lazio region and the towns around Rome. As an outsider, I won’t take this for granted and leave that to people better placed than me.

There are of course Lazio shops around the city, like the one very close to our hotel in Ottaviano, where the West Ham-Di Canio-Lazio connections were…erm quite obvious.

And SS Lazio are also the oldest team of the city, as they were founded in 1900, while AS Roma are the result of the merger in 1927 of three local teams, a move destined to rival the stronger Northern Italy clubs. Lazio, on their side, refused to take part in this.

We stayed in Rome for five days and luck was on my side, as the Giallorossi of AS Roma were due to play Palermo at home on the Saturday at 6pm (very handy timing), which was the last day of our stay there.

Roma are having a troubled season and the Stadio Olimpico was never going to be full. I nevertheless purchased my ticket a couple of days beforehand, in the club shop located in the posh area of Piazza Colonna, for the hefty sum of 15 euro (these were the cheapest ticket though, some were as high as 100 euro).

As I had done a little bit of homework (but not enough, more of that latter), I had noticed that between the Flaminio metro station and the Stadio Olimpico, located in the north of Rome, there was another football(and occasionally rugby) stadium, the Stadio Flaminio, home of the Italy Rugby team but also of Atletico Roma. Furthermore, this stadium was built in 1957 on the site of the stadium which hosted the 1934 World Cup final, the Stadio Nazionale PNF, destroyed in 1953, so a little bit of an historic place.

Who the hell are Atletico Roma? Well, they are Roma’s third team and I bet that not too many people know that there is actually another professional football team in Rome! The club is the result of a merger in 2004 of two corporate side, Cisco and Lodigiani, both playing in the local amateur leagues. Known as Cisco Roma
until last season, they were promoted to Serie C1 (officially called Lega Pro Prima Divisione nowadays), when they also changed their name to Atletico Roma FC and their colours red and white to blue and white. I had actually heard about Cisco Roma a few years ago, as they were the last club to have the infamous Paolo Di Canio on their books, for the 2006-2007 season.

Atletico Roma take on Gela Calcio in the Stadio Flaminio

Looking forward to take a look at the stadium and maybe sneak in to take a few pictures, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that there was actually a game taking place there (there is a God - Ed.) so much for my homework then, as Atletico were taking on Gela, a team from the South coast of Sicily (maybe they travelled together with Palermo to the capital, hence the Saturday afternoon kick-off).

After much discussion with the stewards outside the stadium, they finally allowed me in for the last half-hour. The stadium, which can host 32,000 people, was virtually empty, as they were only about 1,000 people watching this Serie C1 fixture.

Gela won the game 2-1, boosting their survival hopes, while Atletico are, somewhat surprisingly, still fighting for promotion to Serie B through the play-offs. If they do get promoted though, I wonder what kind of crowds they would get in Italy’s second tier (although they certainly would not be alone with a small support, Serie B crowds are often poor, a club like AlbinoLeffe for example are regularly playing in front of only 500 only).

The Atletico Ultras were out in force

After that unexpected bit of action, it was time to move on to the Stadio Olimpico across the Tiber river, a 15 minutes walk from the Flaminio.

The stadium was built in 1930 and called Stadio dei Cipressi, and was part of the larger sport complex known back then as Foro Mussolini. In 1960, it was renamed Stadio Olimpico for the Olympics. Somewhat surprisingly, the Mussolini years legacy is still present, like this modern obelisk in front of the stadium.

Next to the Olimpico is the Stadio dei Marmi (stadium of the marbles) built in 1920, also part of the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico), a quite visually stunning place, made of 59 marble statues representing athletes from the Italian provinces.

Stadio dei Marmi

Today, the Olimpico, once more rebuilt for the 1990 World Cup finals, can host 72,000 people. Only about 33,000 came for this AS Roma v US Città di Palermo Serie A game. As I said earlier, Roma are having a bad season by their standards. Claudio Ranieri was sacked in February of this year and replaced by former local favourite Vincenzo Montella, but results have not really improved, the team being in 6th place. Before the game though, the local fans gave their players a good reception, especially to their God, Francesco Totti, who can seemingly do nothing wrong in their eyes.

15 euro for Serie A, tick

The God of the Giallorossi

The day before this game, Roma became the first Italian club to have foreign ownership, when a consortium led by Thomas Di Benedetto (obviously from Italian origins) bought 67% of the club shares. Many American flags were waved by Roma fans, but the Curva Sud were not impressed.

For their part, Palermo have nothing left to play for in the league, concentrating on their run in the Coppa Italia (they are in the semi-finals), and it showed on the pitch, as they largely tried to prevent Roma from playing and rarely tried to attack. Coach Delio Rossi was back on the bench for the visitors, less than two months after he got the sack from crazy Palermo owner, Maurizio Zamparini. Midway through the first half, Roma were awarded a penalty, duly scored by who else than Totti. Everything was set for an easy win for the locals, but it was not to be. Just before half-time, in one of their rare excursions in Roma’s box, Palermo were also awarded a penalty, converted by Chilean Mauricio Pinilla.

After half-time, sensing the crowd getting restless, the locals created a few good chances. After one hour, Montenegrin international Mirko Vucinic came on and immediately missed an open goal from a pass from Frenchman Jérémy Menez (who himself had wasted a great opportunity minutes earlier). From then on, the crowd turned against their team and the players looked nervous and unable to create further danger. The biggest cheer came when Vincenzo Montella juggled with the ball on the touchline. Palermo, who until then were just happy to keep their point, ventured into Roma’s territory and from a good counter-attack, Uruguayan forward Abel Hernandez scored five minutes from time. From that moment, each time Vucinic touched the ball, the crowd booed him (while hundreds were leaving the stadium). And deep into injury time, on another counter, Abel Hernandez scored his second. From the restart, who else but Vucinic scored Roma’s second from a good shoot from just outside the area. The crowd’s reaction to his goal was more
booing and whistling. It finished 3-2 to Palermo, sending their 200 followers wild and more barracking from the AS Roma fans. Roma are still Rome’s second team as Lazio are 4th and in the Champions League places.

The Palermo fans enjoy their trip to the continent.

It was 8pm, time to go back to central Rome and another great Italian meal with my wife and my kid!

The next day, we took the train from Roma’s Termini station south to Naples, the city of Maradona, uncollected rubbish, the Camora, the Vesuvio and of course, SSC Napoli. When exiting the modern Napoli Centrale train station, you get the city in the face. Uncollected rubbish lies everywhere, most of the buildings are covered by tags and graffiti and the whole place looks run down. The next day, I hired a car there for the rest of our trip, and it was the scariest city drive I have ever had, and I have driven before in places such as Athens and Palermo. The setting of the city is stunning though, with the Vesuvio looming above the city and the Gulf of Naples.


The streets of Napoli

Santa Maradona! (and Cavani gets a mention too)

But on to the football, as the local team were hosting Udinese in the Sunday night game. Thanks to EFW member Paul Whitaker’s advice (thanks mate), I had purchased my ticket through the internet, as I was unsure to get a ticket on the day of the game. It turned out to be a good move, as the game was a 60,000 sell-out. The nominal price was the same as in Rome (15 euro), but I had to pay more than that, but hey, like Paul said, it is not every day that you get the chance to watch Napoli in a full San Paolo. And the ticket was waiting for me at our hotel in Rome.

Taking the metro to Stadio San Paolo in the Fuorigrotta district West of the city (if you ever take the metro in Naples, don’t bother buying a ticket as all the turnstiles seem to be broken), there seemed to be surprisingly few Napoli fans on the train and also around the stadium about one hour before kick-off. As I found out later, the reason was simple : most of the fans were already inside the stadium.

The San Paolo parking

In theory, I had a seat in the Curva B, but when I got inside, I soon realized that it would be impossible to get near the place were I was supposed to be seating (while in Rome the day before, it was a lot quieter, even in the Curva where I was sitting). I had to settle for a standing place at one of the Curva’s entrances, and lucky I'm a tall bloke, otherwise I would have seen almost nothing of the game.

Errrm, can I get to my seat please?

The Curva B mean business

The San Paolo was a cauldron of noise, and the Azzuri players were greeted like semi-gods. This season, SSC Napoli are (or rather were) fighting for the Scudetto. Before this game, they were in second place, 6 points and a game in hand behind despised northerners AC Milan. The locals were still dreaming of their first title since 1990 and the magical Maradona days. But Udinese themselves are no mugs. 5th in the table and still with a chance of Champions League qualification, the team from Friuli came to the South without their two best players, Chilean Alexis Sanchez and Napoli born striker Antonio Di Natale and also without a single away fan. OK, it was a far away trip to make on a Sunday night from the Slovenian border to the deep south, but I was expecting a few Bianconeri fans nevertheless.

That’s the one! 

The San Paolo erupts

…while precisely zero Udinese fan made the trip South

The game started brightly for Napoli, crowd favourite Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani, nicknamed “El Matador”, getting a few chances but then, the local side quickly faded and Udinese resisted without too many problems. In the stands, it was all happening though, with fans jumping up and down and lighting flares – it was more spectacular than on the pitch.

But after 56 minutes, the noisy local crowd was silenced for a while when reported Napoli target Gökhan Inler scored a brilliant goal for the visitors, a shot from far outside the penalty area in the top left corner of Morgan De Sanctis’ goal. Despite the support from their fans, Napoli were unable to find an answer, and 5 minutes later, former Napoli player, Argentinian German Denis scored Udinese’s second, unmarked from Colombian Pablo Armero’s cross. After his assist, Armero kneeled on the ground and made the cross sign, a gesture applauded by many Napoli fans.

Then tempers flared. Maggio headed against the bar, Udinese had Domizzi sent-off as the ref awarded a penalty in the 90th, which Samir Handanovic saved from Cavani, of all people missed. There was still time though for Napoli to score through Giuseppe Mascara, but it was too little too late, and their title dream looked well and truly over.

We then left Naples to head South along the Amalfi coast. The region is home to no less than 6 teams from Serie C1, so if you plan your trip carefully, you could catch a game of the likes of Salernitana, Sorrento, Juve Stabia (in Castellamare de Stabia), Cavese (Cava de’ Tirreni), Paganese and Nocerina (who have just been promoted to Serie B).

I only got the chance to visit Cavese’s stadum, the Stadio Simonetta Lamberti in the pleasant town of Cava de’ Tirreni. All in all the trip was a quite an experience, a throw back to Italian football of the 80s-90s, in the stands at least.

Stadio Simonetta Lamberti, home of SS Cavese 1919

- Feel free to comment below -


Anonymous said...

I have to say that there were precisely 56 Udinese fans, allocated in the first tier seats that are overhanged by the second tier.
Also the selling of the tickets was prohibited for the fans from Friuli-Venezia Giulia who don't have the Tessera del Tifoso (the ultras), which turn up the biggest, though still pretty poor, followings.

Bluisthecolor! said...

If you want to see Cavese supporters in action, you can see this video: