With it being a significant amount of time, (well just over a month!), since our last excursion onto the continent and one of our Football Tourist weekends; the wife and I looked at options to escape the autumn routine and eventually settled on a trip to Turin.
As someone who grew up with an exotic view of Italian football based on the excellent UK Channel 4 show Football Italia; it has been somewhat sad to watch the corruption-sparked decline of Italian football and the way it has been usurped by the Premier League, La Liga and even arguably the Bundesliga, in terms of profile, popularity and wealth. Where once it was a different world for us self-professed football hipsters: a world of ultras, flares, huge flags, banners and incredible looking stadiums; a competitive league with the best players from all over the world spread across it; now it feels dated and is undeniably dominated by one team.
Unfortunately the visit of Napoli during our planned stay meant we had to rule out a trip to Juventus Stadium as tickets were scarce and therefore highly expensive; however the potential for a trip to the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza, to give it its official title, evoked memories of the legendary Arrigo Sacchi managed team that combined the brilliant Dutch trio of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard; with home-grown talent such as the imperious Baresi and the hugely talented Maldini.
Our first full day in Turin saw us undertake an extensive walking tour in which it felt like we visited just about every single one of the city’s piazzas, before heading off to indulge in my wife’s ‘favourite’ holiday activity of watching Arsenal in an Irish bar. To our immense relief, after repeating a familiar trick of conceding an equalizer to a sloppy penalty, the Gunners managed to seal all 3 points; thanks in no small part to super-sub Olivier Giroud- prompting the missus to reiterate to the American Gooner we got chatting to, that she was only joking when she said that his best position was on the bench!
After an excellent dinner which involved generous shavings of the local delicacy of truffles on our pasta and meat dishes; we decided to take in the second half of Juve – Napoli in a sports bar. To say it was something of a culture shock would be understating it; while it was fair to say that pretty much every seat was taken, it wasn’t exactly crowded and the bar areas were largely empty as, unlike the majority of football-following nations on earth, the Italians seem to buy one drink for the duration of the match, I am sure some of them were even sharing a drink amongst their group! The atmosphere was one of interested enthusiasm rather than the raucousness that we are used to in the UK; or anywhere else in the world we have watched a big football match in a bar.
The league leaders and champions of five seasons in a row did the job; almost inevitably it was the expensively acquired former Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain that settled matters after Callejon had cancelled out Bonnuci’s opener. Rather nauseatingly he adopted the modern footballer trend of refusing to celebrate to show his ‘respect’ for his former club.
Sunday morning saw an early start and a train trip to Milan to have a look around the city before heading up on the metro to ‘Il Tempio del Calcio’ (literally the temple of football). The ground itself is set in a remote suburb to the west of the city; with little around it in terms of bars and restaurants, the area outside the ground is well supplied by food, beer and souvenir merchandise suppliers and actually feels a bit like a fan fest.
From the outside the stadium still looks ultra-modern, the distinctive features being the concrete towers at each corner of the ground and the roof supported by its protruding red metal girders.
Once inside, after surviving the vagaries of the distinctly Italian approach to fluid queuing, the ground itself had more of a lived-in feel and much like grounds such as the Bernabeu and Camp Nou; you could almost feel the history emanating from its very structure.
Rather disappointingly but hardly unexpectedly, Milan’s poor form over recent seasons and the low level of the visitors Pescara, meant that the place wasn’t even half full; however the presence of 100’s of children from youth football clubs and the best efforts of the ultras on the legendary Curva Sud, meant that we enjoyed at least some form of atmosphere.
The game itself was entertaining enough, although perhaps lacking a little bit in quality in comparison to our La Liga trips and the game the previous evening. It was ultimately decided by a Bonaventura free kick that went under the wall; although Pescara did have two goals ruled out.
As we headed back to Turin we reflected on the realisation of a long-held football ambition; and a match that we will probably remember as much for the experience of the event and the stadium as the quality of the match. Still if given the opportunity again, I doubt either us would even contemplate passing it up.