I’ve watched football matches at some of the greatest stadiums in the world: the Nou Camp in Barcelona, the Olimpico in Rome, Wembley in London, and of course Glebe Park in Brechin. But the best stadium I’ve ever seen a game in is the San Siro in Milan.
This was brought to mind today by an article in the Daily Mail (with one of their typically brief headlines): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3606437/The-San-Siro-football-s-Scala-Opera-House-prepares-host-Real-Madrid-Atletico-Madrid-Champions-League-final-history-car-park-spaceship-lookalike.html
I visited La Scala del Calcio in December 2010 on the occasion of my 30th birthday. My wife and I were celebrating the milestone event with a romantic weekend in Milan – it wasn’t entirely coincidental that the Milan – Roma game happened to be on while we were there. Regular readers of this blog (you know who you are) will be aware that football matches often feature in romantic weekends enjoyed by my wife and I. Yes, I know, I spoil her.
And so it was that the Saturday night found me stepping out of a Milan metro station alone, making my way up the stairs and out into a freezing cold evening. There was a light dusting of snow on the pavement.
There weren’t too many other supporters around because it was early (around 7pm and the game kicked off at 8:45) but I still had to collect my ticket and besides, I was going to the San Siro. I was a tiny little bit excited, for not only was I going to the San Siro, I was going to watch my beloved Roma for just the second time. And something remarkable had already happened to me earlier in the evening.
My wife and I were staying at a nice hotel. When we arrived on the Friday night I noticed a discreet sign in the lobby that read: ‘Welcome AS Roma.’ Well, this was an interesting development. There was no sign of any players or club staff but I was very pleased (my wife was also pleased as she regarded this as a good indication of the quality of the hotel).
On the Saturday morning we were up early and off out sightseeing (including La Scala opera house). Milan is a wonderful city and we passed a very pleasant day wandering in the sunshine, marvelling at the architecture, and making regular stops at those funny little cafe/bars in Italy where everyone stands to eat and drink.
It was about 5:30pm when we returned to the hotel. We walked into the lobby, turned left to go down the corridor to the lifts, and as we did so, Francesco Totti came strolling round the corner towards us.
Someone (presumably a fellow guest) jumped out from behind a pillar and asked Totti for a photograph. He smilingly obliged. “Quick, get the camera out” I urged my wife (neither of us owned a smartphone in 2010).
Not knowing the Italian for ‘photograph’ (or very much else), I stood in front of il capitano and made a photograph gesture with my hands. He put his arm round me, smiled, I smiled (a ridiculously cheesy grin), and my wife got the picture.
“Good luck tonight” I said, “I’m going to the game.” Totti put his thumb up; the famous thumb upon which he sucks in celebration of scoring a goal. What a birthday weekend it was turning out to be.
The walk from the metro station to the stadium was long, cold, and uphill. The first sight of the stadium is incredible, especially at night. It sits glittering atop the hill, shimmering like Anita Ekberg emerging from the Trevi fountain.
The car park is big and it was already full of expensive (mostly German) cars. I collected my ticket at the perimeter of the stadium, received a cursory frisk, and I was inside. Sort of. There was still quite a long way to go to get to the stand.
Finally, up some steps, and there she was: bold, beautiful, and utterly breathtaking. The steepness of the stands creates an extraordinary intimacy in a huge steel and concrete structure that seats 80,000 people. I stood still and looked. Up and up, all the way round.
The San Siro was redesigned and remodelled for the 1990 World Cup; it hosted the iconic opening game between Cameroon and Argentina. The Mail article describes the tournament as ‘defining an era of football for many supporters.’ I am among that many.
As a 9 year old watching in Scotland, I was amazed and it was the stadiums that were the most amazing – this despite the fact I’d already been to Glebe Park. It felt surreal to be standing there at San Siro thinking about how many times I’d seen it on TV.
Soon I was watching the Roma players warm up. I was cooling down rather alarmingly as all feeling in my feet gradually disappeared. My new friend Totti glanced over in my direction but I’m not sure he recognised me. Sadly, he started on the bench and there he remained.
I was not in the part of the ground reserved for the away fans so I had to conceal my loyalties, always an awkward situation for a football fan. The first half made it relatively easy however since excitement was not exactly abundant.
The second half was better, much better. In the 70th minute Borriello scored for Roma. The Roma fans (with the exception of my good self) erupted jubilantly. I feigned a scowl though I suspect not altogether convincingly. The Roma fans let off some flares, presumably for warmth.
Milan wasted several good chances to equalise and Roma held on for a hard fought victory. Totti and I left the stadium very happy. I hadn’t thought to ask for a lift back on the team bus so instead I skipped through the snow back to the metro.
I’d been to the San Siro, my team had won. Happy birthday! No Totti, some party.