so today a mate of mine invited me out to Trigoria. That's the AS Roma training centre, headquarters, registered seat etc etc. The equivalent, on a much smaller scale, of what Milan have at Milanello. Or Arsenal at London Colney. Or Man U at Carrington. Anyway.
You go south to EUR, Mussolini's exhibition city built for Expo 42, a large and bustling residential and office district, and leave on the via Laurentina towards the suburb of, surprisingly, Laurentino. After Laurentino you hit the open countryside, rolling green fields studded occasionally with crumbling ancient remains, a few pieces of Imperial acqueduct and half an old medieval watchtower. Trigoria is an ugly modern village some 10 minutes on the Vespa out of town. You continue south almost to the end of the village, past signs advertising scomesse ippiche (betting on horse races), builders' merchants, pizzerias, ironmongers, showgirls, furniture warehouses. There is a scent of the countryside, fresh spring blossom intersperses the inevitable mediterranean pines, the undulating landscape is full of sheep grazing placidly under a brilliant blue sky, a fresh breeze counteracts the warmth of the spring sunshine. Opposite the turning for the Roma headquarters a farm spreads chaotically across a low hillside, neat rows of beehives to one side and a field of cabbages to the other.
As you turn off the road towards the training centre, the first hint of what is there comes from the continuous encircling wall which hides the complex from prying eyes and which is completely covered in pro-Roma graffiti. There are all the normal slogans, there are dialect exhortations, and then in a more feminine script there is 'MEXES TI AMO.' You round the corner to a large set of automatic iron gates, painted dark green. The porter wears a suit, his jacket pocket embroidered with the club crest.
Half a dozen teenagers are hanging around outside, some with Roma scarves or baseball caps, waiting and hoping for a glimpse of the players leaving training. A small gaggle of motorini shows how they have arrived out here in the country. As we park the vespa, two over made up girls leave, trailing reluctantly away to their car to head back into town, disappointed no doubt. Another three arrive moments later. A boy in a satin bomber jacket answers his phone: "Ahò ma', so' a scuola, che c'è?" [hey mum I'm at school, what's up?] whilst his mates snigger in the background.
In we go, having a magic pass in the form of an appointment with someone from the press office. The pouty girls stare sullenly at us with silent resentment. Ha. The shady treefilled car park is full of ridiculous cars. To one side there is a lavish media centre, home of the inhouse TV (the imaginatively entitled Roma Channel) and press suites, as well as the press officer my mate has to meet. A long 2 story building runs behind, with an outdoor gallery running its length. Off this walkway open double glass doors - to the players' bedrooms. The Italian tradition of the 'retiro' (retreat) is still in play - though Roma and a few other clubs have been experimenting with abolishing it this season. So each player has a permanent room of their own here in the ground, where they spend the night before home games, and can rest after training or before a physio appointment. On the other side are offices, gyms, treatment rooms, and behind it lie the extensive training pitches, all overlooked by the bar and canteen. Can we go for a coffee, asks my mate hopefully? Terribly sorry, not this time, the press officer is in a hurry. Damn. From the bar, my mate whispers to me, you can watch the training sessions.
So we're not there long and I don't get to glimpse any of the players or Spalletti. My mate is all apologies, maybe another time, he says. But I'm quite happy, it's a glorious warm sunny day and I'm childishly excited by the whole experience. Not enough to want to dedicate my mornings to hanging around outside in the lane, mind.