Thursday, 24 June 2010


SO I am shifting operations, such as they are, to

it's still a work in progress at the moment but bear with me as I paint the place pink, put up some curtains, throw some scatter cushions around and so forth. I think it will be nice when it's done.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Italy 1 - 1 Paraguay

As one-all draws go that was pretty encouraging. I was expecting something a lot more static, less exciting and generally less positive than that. Recently we have looked old (well, we are), lacking in ideas and grinta, short on fitness and liable to confirm all the worst stereotypes about the Italian style of play. Instead tonight we looked pretty lively, determined and what I want to call propositive but I know it's not a word in English, so let's move swiftly on. Paraguay offered a bit less going forward than I had expected but actual this was one of the most interesting games so far I reckon.

Some player comments: De Rossi was the Danielino of old rather than the imposter he's been for Roma for much of this season; Montolivo played really well, perhaps unexpectedly transferring his club form to the nazionale which he has often struggled to do in the past; Pepe I thought was great, and Marchisio and especially Criscito both made useful contributions. Camoranesi actually made a difference when he came on, so I will admit I was wrong in my feeling that it was a mistake to take him. Once again the forwards were a little disappointing, though not dreadful by any means. Apart from the error (shared with De Rossi) for the goal, Cannavaro looked much better than I'd expected too, and the defence looked fine if not amazing.

In fact I am much happier with this performance than I remotely expected to be, and I think I would take this over the stale and defensive 1-0 I was mostly anticipating. I celebrated by washing the bathroom floor - let's not get too excited, hey?

Friday, 11 June 2010

emotional manipulation

I have just sunk to possibly a new low, an unimagined and unsuspected moment of patheticness: I have just teared up in a Shakira video. Feel free to cancel me from your list of acquaintances, blogs you read, close family members etc.

In mitigation, it wasn't at all Shakira-related, but instead the opening clip of the World Cup song, which shows Grosso taking his penalty. I hate penalties, always have done, transfixed by that can't-watch-must-watch agony, peering through my fingers like a kid watching a horror film.

Actually just seeing the patented and unmistakeable pre-penalty shorts-hitching manouvre of Fabien Barthez gives me a head-rush of nostalgia. Of course we'd seen it in plenty of other contexts, but now for me it means that penalty shoot-out and no other. You know I hate penalties, right? Did I say that yet? Standing in the Circo Massimo on 9 July 2006 I cried when Grosso scored that final penalty (just, like, a few discreet tears, not big snotty sobbing or anything - I'm not a total freak) and this footage / memory apparently retains some kind of embarrassing emotional hold which Shakira can now wheel out 4 years later in a weird corporate-sponsored FIFA video.

This is what football reduces me too.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Cisco Roma 4 - 0 Catanzaro

Much can be forgiven to a team whose fans sing 'The Final Countdown' and the theme from the A-Team as well as a chant set to 'I will survive': (solo per te io canterò, fino al novantesimo minuto griderò.... etc) which I rather liked. On the other hand, losing 4-0 in a play-off final is pretty poor and no amount of nice tunes make up for it.

What football, you may wonder (if you haven't read the post header) could possibly still be going on as late as 6 June? It's the playoffs, obviously, and to be precise the Serie C2 playoff final, first leg, which offered a chance to enjoy the belated arrival of summer sunshine and catch a last game of the season Or to put it another way, to spend the afternoon surrounded by topless men, some of whom were too drunk to stand. So Cisco - Catanzaro at the Stadio Flaminio, then. Several thousand Catanzaresi had come over 600km to be there, as against less than a thousand home supporters. We were in with the Catanzaro fans - convieniently giallorosso - and if you need to know why, a convenient summary is that Cisco Roma are the MK Dons of Italy and should not, therefore, be promoted.

Unfortunately although the fans had travelled in numbers, and with great enthusiasm, the players appeared not to have. Their energy, ability and tactical awareness were perhaps still in a motorway service station the wrong side of Napoli, since they certainly weren't here in Rome. It took Cisco a whole 17 minutes to score, by which point the Catanzaro keeper had already been forced into a couple of decent saves. After 35' it was 3-0 and on the stroke of half-time the Calabresi managed to get a man sent off for good measure. To add insult to injury they'd missed a penalty when it was still 2-0; if they'd taken it to 2-1 perhaps it could still have been turned around. It was not to be: Cisco had a couple of great players - their right-winger and one of their forwards ran rings round the giallorosso defence - and to describe the game as dismal, dreary and disappointing is frankly an insult to dismal, dreary and disappointing things the world over. Ah well.

In the curva things were a little better, at least before half-time. In the second half, which was very much more of the same, the visiting fans grew understandably disheartened and only the 100-strong ultras group were still singing by the end. On a critical note, they need to work on their lyrics, which were weak and detracted from a nice range of tunes. They also have a truly hilarious (and substantially incomprehensible) dialect, only I'm probably not allowed to laugh at it under Italian football's regulations about 'manifestazioni di discriminazione territoriale'.

I can't imagine that even the most optimistic of Catanzaresi - currently sat in a slow train south, or possibly stuck on the notoriously awful Salerno-Reggio Calabria road, an ongoing national scandal - think that they can possibly win promotion now. The fact they've failed to win promotion in no fewer than 5 playoffs in the period 1996-7 to 2008-9 possibly means that they weren't that optimistic in the first place. In fact lots of them were wearing tshirts saying "I hate playoffs". So it looks like Cisco will be going up into C1 (sorry, the Lega Pro 1 - fucking horrible pointless rebranding exercise that is - everyone still says C1 & C2). And that's that, I imagine, for another season. Next Sunday: the beach.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Huntress

I wake slowly and lie in bed wondering why. The half-light coming in through the uncovered window tells me it's still early, before dawn even. Then I identify the reason for my wakefulness: it's the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz in my ear of a mosquito.


I am instantly wide awake. I spring out of bed and turn on the light. I espy my quarry resting nonchalantly on the wall -its delicate legs and tell-tale tiny shadow - just above the head of the sleeping Chelsea Boy, who seems oblivious to the light, the springing or the whine of the insect.

I seize the first weapon which comes to hand. It is a Penguin paperback, one of those colour-coded horizontal grid ones from the inter-war years: orange for general fiction, red for drama, pink for travel, blue for non-fiction and so on. This is green for crime, and to be precise is Agatha Christie's Parker Pyne Investigates, a mediocre collection of short stories which I picked up for €0.50 from a street stall in Piazza Sonnino. Parker Pyne Investigates in hand, I climb stealthily onto the bed and advance carefully towards my prey.

Splat: a swift swipe and it is done. Blood spills forth, possibly mine, possibly Chelsea Boy's, and I think of John Donne's The Flea (1633):

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deny'st me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be;

Cruel and sudden, I have Purpled in the blood of innocence the front cover of Parker Pyne Investigates, to which also adheres a stray leg. My glorious victory is acclaimed with a sort of grunt from the sleeper at my feet. But wait! I am poised, motionless, balanced on the bed. Still the whining zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz continues.


there is another one.

Diana, on her nocturnal hunting expeditions, favoured the bow and arrows as a weapon over the collection of short detective stories and who is to gainsay her choice? However the bow & arrows might not prove wholly useful against the mosquito, so with Parker Pyne Investigates in one hand I equip myself with a can of doubtless highly environmentally unfriendly mosquito spray in the other and prowl about the room. Diana also favoured, we are given to understand, some form of abundant rather impractical white drapery. The modern Diana is better served by cotton pyjamas and an old 'Italia Campioni del Mondo 2006' t-shirt, admittedly a little faded from washing, but less liable to trip one up as one balances on the edge of the bed scanning the room for tiny flying prey at 4.10am. What the modern Diana lacks in glamour she hopes to make up in effectiveness.

The hunt, alas, is slow. It requires patience as well as stealth. At one point the quarry alights on top of Chelsea Boy's slumbering form but I pause, uncertain as to whether he would be more displeased to be awoken by Agatha Christie or a squirt of toxic gas, and miss my chance. But determination, persistence and inflexible will are mine and so too eventually is victory.

sleep is slow in returning, though. Chances are Diana liked a lie-in.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Chievo 0 -2 Roma

My sleep patterns have been fucked lately so when it was no surprise to awake with a start at 5.20am. I lay in bed waiting for the alarm to go off and took advantage of the time to try to mentally prepare myself. Since the Samp game I have been studiedly not deluding myself, and in all honesty I never really believed - on an intellectual level - that we were going to win the league, even when we went top. The heart is disobedient though.

We took the 8.05 Eurostar to Verona (having, to the unvoiced disapproval of ultra friends, actually booked & paid for our tickets). The train was 95% full of romanisti: lots of families with small children and nicely dressed chaps in their 40s and 50s. Not the usual away crowd, in short. This was a rare mass exodus of the fans who usually sit in the expensive seats and watch the away games on the TV. Roma's home gates have been massively up all through the second half of the season, too. The Curva Sud sings 'il tifoso occasionale alla Roma porta male' at them. As the most occasional of away fans I should probably pass no comment here.

The weather in Rome has been dreadful this spring, and had been aggressively raining without pause since Friday, but Verona was bathed in very warm spring sunshine when we arrived. It's a short walk into the city centre from the train station, and the Piazza by the Arena was full of romanisti, mostly sitting in outdoor cafés having belated breakfasts or drinking a quiet beer. The local newspaper, L'Arena, proclaimed: 15,000 Romanisti. Città sotto assedio [City under siege]. Under siege? The citizens of prosperous, right-wing Verona must have been shaking with fear as giallorossi terrifyingly admired their landmarks, aggressively ate ice-creams in the sunshine, and most alarmingly of all, unrestrainedly spent money in their restaurants. Scary stuff. Actually they got the number wrong too, according to most estimates there were 20,000-23,000 away fans present. The ground holds just over 30,000 and was fully sold out, which tells you all you need to know.

So we had our lunch and admired the town, and walked back out of the city centre to the ground. Here's where the story gets less fun. Let's imagine that you're in charge of the stewarding & ground management at the Stadio Bentegodi. For days the papers have been full of stories about the huge numbers of romanisti coming to Verona for the game. Chievo's ticket office tell you that the entire Curva Nord (the away end) is sold out, and in fact the last few tickets for the side stands have also sold on Sunday morning. You know that unprecedented numbers of families will be part of the visiting crowd, and that many of them have never been to your stadium before. You know that it will be relatively hot for the time of year, and that the crowd will be good-humoured but anxious.

How many turnstiles do you open to admit the 20,000+ travelling fans?

a) let's open as many as possible to get the fans easily & safely into the ground, avoiding potential crushes against the inexplicable iron barriers everywhere and minimising the amount of time spent trapped in large metal cages under the mid-day sun, especially given that there are lots of children here. After all, you've read the Taylor report, you know how important it is to manage entry to the ground in a safe & responsible manner.

b) 2

If you chose option B, congratulations, you have a career in Italian stadium management ahead of you.

So getting into the ground was quite remarkably unpleasant and your correspondent nearly had a full-on panic attack, of the hyperventilating kind, and narrowly avoided swooning, like a missish Victorian lady, into the heavily tattooed arms of an irate gentleman pressed uncomfortably close in what can only be described as a giant cage. Lovely times. Note to authorities: if you want to bring families back to football, rather than compulsory ID cards you might care to take a look at your appalling public order arrangements.

So, the game. We won. We lost. The end.

foto from
I am holding up the lower banner, behind the second 'e' in perde!

Great atmosphere in the ground. Sunshine, smoke bombs, flags, singing. Great goals from Vucinic, who has had a super season, and De Rossi, who has not. At half time, with us 2-0 up and Inter still drawing 0-0 with Siena, I had to give myself a stern talking to about hope and realism. Behave, unruly heart. The Italian media like to use phrases like 'Champions at half-time' which mean nothing, but to be 45 minutes from the title... well. After 2008 I had hoped to never feel like this again.

fotos from

A note on the home support: behind their 'North Side' banner the couple of hundred home ultras (should there be, perhaps, inverted commas around that?) supported creditably through most of the game. They put up a striscione proclaiming that for the last 10 years they have 'realised the dreams of this city', giving me frankly a poor impression of the imaginative capacity of the people of Verona. They also put up a banner addressed to their own fans inviting them to gather in 'Piazza Chievo' after the game - who knows, perhaps to celebrate triumphantly staying up for another year? This was greeted with a resounding chorus of 'We'll come too' from the Roma curva - free barbecue, anyone? There's no real aggro between the two sets of fans or particularly strong feelings either way, so when news of Inter's goal came through and they all began cheering and celebrating our general reaction was one of fury and outrage (expressed in the time-honoured medium of whistling, of course). Petty provincial schadenfreude at its most small-time.

So yes, Inter won - of course. I never expected anything else. Our win was for nothing but pride, in the end, but that, I think, we can all have in abundance. Considering our size, our budget, above all the way our season started, we came further than we ever dreamed of doing at the start of the year, and we had a great time along the way. Yesterday was amazing and heartbreaking and exactly what I expected, and now we have to pick ourselves up and wait until next year and do it all over again.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Roma 0 -1 Inter

I really, really, really wanted this. Partly because I fucking hate Inter, partly because of the debacle of Sunday's nights Lazio game, partly because it would be kinda cool to wrap up Coppa Italia no. 10 and be the first team to get the little silver star on our shirts, partly because I have the rather English notion that cups matter. (Oh yeah, and to make sure that unutterably bloody Mourinho doesn't win the treble, something no Italian team has ever done as the media never ceases to breathlessly inform us). But mostly because since we're no longer realistically likely to win the league I was hoping that we would at least win some kind of trophy in recognition of a really phenomenal season.

When we came out of the ground it had started to rain and we walked through the lines of riot police in damp silence. I felt angry, fed up and faintly nauseated. And you know what? not about what happened on the pitch - though that was infuriating, frustrating, and ultimately unsurprising.

No, what ruined my night on Wednesday was something which I haven't seen mentioned anywhere in the press coverage: it was the racist chanting in the Curva Sud. From a few isolated monkey chants here and there, it grew steadily as Balotelli became more and more provoking, right in front of the Sud. I think I won't repeat the comments /chanting from the people directly around me, they made me feel sick enough at the time. The stuff directed at Chivu wasn't much better.

Now I know that Balotelli is a nasty little wanker, and Chivu was out of line and annoying, and I am has happy as the next irate fan to insult them, I just wish that Italian fans weren't stuck in the 19fucking80s where angry people search for the most inflammatory thing they can think of to shout and let rip with no thought for the consequences. It was noticeable that from 'inoffensive' insults, people descended into racism as tempers frayed - as though it was this latent force ready to burst out under sufficient provocation. I hate it, it makes me feel sick & dirty and in the end I stopped caring about losing the cup. I don't have any answers to offer right now, just a kind of nausea & despair.

sorry, btw, if you were hoping for a cheery welcome back post.