I love Football (Go USC!) & Baseball (Go Dodgers!).. I’m an American after all. But I have never been able to sink my heart into Soccer. So having spent all of these years in Italy, I’ve never been to a serious professional Soccer match. I’ve been to the small ones, but never ‘Stadium Sized’ games. That changed yesterday.
I’ll write this article aimed at people that are not up to speed in the world of European Soccer, so I ask those of you that are in the know to be patient with me.
I was invited to go to a match between AS Roma (Rome) and Juventus (Turin). They are the Italian Soccer equivalent of the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, with Juventus being the Yankees. You know, the team that has a huge following all over the country (and the world), not just mainly in their home town. It was held at Rome’s Olympic Stadium.
I was far more focused on the experience than the game itself. After all, I could care less if ‘Totti must die’ or not. Still, I was there with a group of six die hard Juventus fans, who graciously shared a ‘nearly impossible to procure’ ticket to the game. Many envious people felt the ‘golden ticket’ had been wasted on me. That said, for my own personal safety I was a Juventus fan yesterday.
The experience began with the walk up to the stadium. Vendors abound were selling flags, shirts, banners, towels, etc. proclaiming that ‘Juve must die’ and ‘Juve I hate you’, etc. Juve is short for Juventus, in the same way that we say ‘SC’ for ‘USC’. There was no pro-Juventus paraphernalia to be found. In fact, I noted that none of the fans wore anything pro-Juventus. Odd, considering what a huge following they had all over the country.
After a bit, we arrived at security check #1. Then #2, then #3. Then a caged fortress-like area where we inserted our tickets. Then yet another security check. Each person was individually patted down, made to empty their pockets and bags, then checked again, and again at a series of checkpoints. Nothing was allowed in. There were literally thousands of police in full riot gear everywhere you looked, forming lines, ready for the worst. I think I would have an easier time getting into the White House than the Soccer game yesterday.
The moment we walked through the gates, I witnessed people opening their bags and getting shirts, hats, flags, etc. out. All Black and White… Juventus colors. They had been afraid to wear their gear outside of the protection of the ‘Juventus Section’ of the stadium.
As we walked into the stadium, I quickly learned that all of the security was outside. It was pure chaos as we attempted to find our seats… until I learned that seat assignments have no meaning. Everyone just crowded in wherever they could. Aisles, stairs, etc. were all fair play for seats.
As we tried to make our way to a place where we could see the game, I suddenly heard a roar of screaming and felt the pressure of thousands of people pouncing around me, pushing me (and everyone) violently to one direction. As I looked up, completely confused, I saw a chair flying over the big fence into the stands where I was. Thousands of people were rushing away from the area… into me. Then another… and another…. Bottles, small objects, etc. It was mayhem. I noted that everyone on the other side of the fence was wearing Red and Yellow, while those on my side were wearing black and white. I was within 20 feet of the giant divider between Juventus fans and Roma fans. THANK GOD FOR THE MASSIVE BARRIER!
Riot Police stormed the area and calmed things down, after a fashion. We continued to slowly make our way to a better place in the stadium. Pushing and shoving to move foot by foot was the order of the day.
Once we were settled in our chosen location, one thing became utterly clear. I was in that spot for the duration. The stairway was completely blocked by fans and there was no way to move away from my two square feet of stadium floor. I had skipped lunch earlier, thinking I would get a bite at the game. HA! A couple hours earlier I passed up an opportunity to go to the bathroom, thinking I’d just wait until I got to the stadium. HA! Here I was, committed whether I liked it or not.
The game is about to begin. Friends, this is no USC game. This is no Dodgers game. Picture in your mind those three or four crazy diehard fans you see on TV all painted up and screaming at football games… now picture 80,000 of them! The next 90 minutes will determine the future of mankind…. The fate of the world. This is life or death. Oh, I neglected to add that while these are two bitter rivals, this is not a championship game. It is merely the 4th regular season game. Still, if it were not for the riot police and the massive barriers between the opposing fans, people would most certainly die today.
The gladiators take the field and the game begins. I quickly learn that there are two contests going on here. The first is the actual game on the field, and the second is a war of chanting between the fans of each side. I took far more interest in the later. They chant and chant and chant. There is a chant for everything. Oh look! The ball is 3 and a half feet off the ground in the far left hand corner after having bounced off of someone’s left knee! Let’s all do the ‘ball is 3 and a half feet off the ground in the far left hand corner after having bounced off of someone’s left knee’ chant!!!! And while we do it, let’s all 80,000 of us jump up and down to see if the stadium floor can take the force of our weight without collapsing and killing us all. Yeah! That would be fun, wouldn’t it ? Hey! Someone on the field is hurt! Cool, it’s a player from the opposing team… Let’s all do the ‘Devi Morire’ (YOU MUST DIE!) chant! Look, the referee clearly made a bad call! Let’s all do the ‘Arbitro Cornuto’ (Referee, your wife cheats on you) chant! WAIT!!! A player hit the ball with his head and caused it to bounce off the top-right corner of the goal!!! Now we have to the ‘A player just hit the ball with his head and caused it to bounce off the top-right corner of the goal’ chant!! Let’s jump up and down even harder now. Maybe we can collapse the stands THIS TIME!
A GOAL IS SCORED! Where better to find entertainment than the fence dividing the fans. If the Romans scored, hoards of Romans are pounding at the fence, throwing things over it at the Juventus fans, screaming at them with only the bitterest hatred. Juventus fans are quiet and deflated. When Juventus scores, the same holds true in reverse. Of course when it settles down, if we scored we all get to do the ‘We just scored and you evil stupid ignorant jerks have to go home’ chant. I just kept saying to myself ‘People.. it’s only a game’.
Finally the game is over. As it turned out yesterday, the game was a tie at 2 – 2. Rome had been winning, but with only 3 minutes left in the game, Juventus scored to tie it up. To my surprise, this was a massive moral victory for the Juventus fans, so the ‘Romanisti’ left deflated while Juventus fans celebrated. Apparently, Rome was slightly ahead of Juventus in the overall standings, and a tie causes Rome to lose standings, while Juventus gains.
You would think that was a good thing, right? I’m with Juventus fans, so I should be happy for them, of course. However, there is a catch for someone like me that can really care less. Remember the whole violence problem? In order to protect the Juventus fans from the angry Roma fans, the powers that be emptied the stadium of Roma fans and COMPLETELY cleared the neighborhood outside before they let us move from our section of the stadium. We were held captive for a full hour and a half… unable to move, go to the bathroom, anything. So here I am, desperately hungry and in need of a bathroom, holding it while I watched the Romanisti leave. My only thought was why on earth couldn’t I have been with Roma fans????
Finally they let us go, and while I was told there were bathrooms around, I couldn’t find one to save my life. So we exited the stadium. As we left, I watched the hoards of Juventus fans change out of their Black and white gear into non-denominational clothing out of fear. We left the stadium, and out of utter desperation I found a bush. Ahhhhhhhh. A marked benefit of being male.
One more new experience marked off. Now where can I find a Dodger Dog?