Venice - city of canals, Casanova and the most romantic football stadium in the world
Richard Field leaves his wife in the shops of Venice, and makes a pilgrimage to the city's home of calcio...
There are some cracking views to be had in Venice. Some people say the best is from the Campanile in Piazza San Marco, while others prefer the view from the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. However these people have clearly not been to the Curva Sud in the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, home to Serie D outfit Venezia.
The centre of Venice is made up of 118 islands which are separated by canals and interconnected with bridges. The Penzo is located on the most easterly of these islands, Sant' Elena, and is a favourite in pub quiz questions, being the closest stadium in the world to a canal.
As with most grounds, it's not in the prettiest area of town. But this is Venice - there are no dodgy areas here, despite what you might think when you see all the graffiti on the walls approaching the stadium (this is Italy after all, the home of graffiti). Built in 1913, it's the oldest ground in Italy and it must be said it could do with a lick of paint, if only to remove the ultrà doodles.
To get here, take waterbus line 1 (the black line) down the Canal Grande to Sant' Elena - this is surely the best commute to any football ground in the world, passing under Rialto bridge with world class tourist sights on either side. Stepping off the boat at Sant' Elena, the city's greenest area, it's a five minute walk to the stadium through a park and over a footbridge.
With no roads and therefore no cars in Venice, the easiest way to arrive at the stadium for players and fans is by boat (unless they fancy a long and confusing walk over the bridges). To arrive in style, there is always the option of a gondola, although at €80 for 20 minutes, this is one for the prawn sandwich brigade.
Venezia have enjoyed a fairly inauspicious history on the pitch, although they won the Coppa Italia in 1941 and finished 3rd in Serie A the following year, their highest ever finish. Other than that, they've yo-yoed between the lower divisions, although they had a couple of seasons in Serie A in the early noughties - you might remember them featuring on Gazzetta Football Italia with the prolific Filippo Maniero.
They've experienced a pretty turbulent history off the pitch since being formed in 1907 as AC Venezia, being involved in Italian football's customary trinity of mergers, match-fixing and bankruptcy. In the 1980s they were forced to merge with AC Mestre - the team from the grim industrial new town on the mainland. Following relegation to Serie B in 2002, the then president Maurizio Zamparini walked away from Venezia and took his money and most of the squad to Palermo. Things spiralled from there, and a match-fixing scandal led to demotion, followed by bankruptcy in 2005. AC Venezia reformed as SSC Venezia before a further bankruptcy in 2009 led to the formation of the current outfit, Foot Ball Club Unione Venezia (F.B.C. Unione Venezia for short).
Venezia have spent the 2010/11 season in the regionalised Serie D, finishing second behind Treviso. This has guaranteed them a play-off place, but a bit unfairly, they'll only gain promotion if they win their play-off and a team from the division above goes bankrupt. There has been an average of 1,800 hardcore lagunari attending games, even though the stadium can hold around 10,000.
I walked around the perimeter of the ground and took pictures in the shadow of the four massive, scary-looking old-school floodlight pylons. Being a non-match day, it was clear I couldn't break in so I headed back to meet the wife in Piazza San Marco at the allotted time.
Everywhere you look in Venice there's a reminder of the city's glorious history, but to get a true appreciation of Venetian culture, get yourself down the Pier Luigi Penzo. With tickets from €10, a match here is a rare example of value in the most beautiful and expensive city in the world.