So given the amount of polemic I want to divide my post on Roma-Man Utd into two parts, one on the match itself and one on the other stuff, since the issues are relatively defined.
Of course this raises the question: can you go and have a great time at a match knowing that elsewhere people are having the crap beaten out of them? Well, no, I guess. I mean, if I'd known, I would have been distressed and anxious and concerned. But since I had no idea til I got home that things had been like that it didn't impinge at all at the time, which is what I'm writing about in this post.
I dreamed about Roma the night before and when I woke up that morning my first thought was about the match. I tried to work but to no avail, I spent the whole day in a state of childish anticipation and couldn't concentrate on anything. Partly because it's the quarter finals of the European Cup and Roma hasn't been there ever in the new format or since the tragedy of '84 in the larger sense, partly because it's Man Utd. When Arsenal were more in my heart, Man U was always a big game… but when it's an overseas game it's a whole different ball game. Just like Milan don't frighten me as a Roma fan the way they might have done as an Arsenal fan. Unfamiliarity breeds alarm. And also, begrudgingly, I have to accept that Man U are Man U… they genuinely are one of the two or three biggest sides in the world, and much as I hate to say it, they matter like Arsenal still don't. And it's the quarter finals of the European Cup. And it's Man Utd. And it's the quarter finals of the European Cup. And fuck me but it's exciting. Already by half past two I can't breathe properly. Go on laugh I don't care.
Gates usually open around 2 hrs before kick-off, on Wednesday a little earlier even than that. I arrived at the Olimpico at bit before 19h, and the stadium was already about as full as it is for a regular home game. I'd met some Man U lads in town earlier and also on the tram up from Piazza Flaminio to Pizza Mancini to get to the stadium. The atmosphere was full of excitement and a tension born, for us, from the massive importance of the match in AS Roma's history. Walking through the Foro Italico in the gathering dusk, past the obelisk – currently shrouded in scaffolding for restoration – you could already hear the Curva Sud singing. Or possibly bellowing. My God what a noise.
E forza Roma facci' un gol, lo griderò,
e dal profondo del mio cuor - dai Roma dai,
e non ti lasceremo mai,
forza Roma dai,
non mollare mai.
[And "come on Roma score a goal" I shout, and from the depth of my heart "come on Roma," we'll never leave you, come on Roma, never give up.]
And when I get into the stadium, the Curva Sud feels like a totally new place I've never stepped into before and it feels like home and it feels like everything you ever could possibly want from a football crowd and already two hours before kick off the concrete under my feet is wobbling. I've never seen it so full, never heard it so loud, never heard so much noise so early before kick off, it's like a derby but without the rituals and with much more significance. And already before 19h the Curva is too full for me to be able to reach the mate I'm supposed to be meeting up with, we have an incomprehensible and inaudible phone conversation and finally agree to meet afterwards.
And the players come out to warm up and the reception is like they're all Pelé, and Man Utd come out to warm up and the whistling is so incredibly loud that I think my ears are going to bleed, my hearing does that wobbly thing that happens when too loud a noise is sustained over a period of time, and we jump up and down and sing and by the time they finally play Venditti's anthem 'Roma Roma Roma' over the PA – some 10 minutes before kick-off, since in the CL they 'have' to play that anthem you always hear on the telly – I'm already beginning to feel hoarse from singing and shouting and a little dizzy from the sustained intensity of emotion. And the whole stadium is singing, for once, and there are flags and banners even in the other stands, and new flags here in the Sud made specially for the occasion, and it's all beautiful and amazing. And when the Ultras Romani, up to my left, unveil their pre-match choreography with hundreds and hundreds of sparklers all around their giant painted banner I very nearly cry. Yes, yes I am a gigantic child.
So the match itself: we score first, a Taddei header in from Mancini's cross, Scholes is sent off for two stupid yellow cards, we concede – a beautiful goal on the counter from Rooney created by the extraordinarily good Cristiano Ronaldo – we go a bit quiet for 2 minutes, Spalletti brings Mirko Vucinic on for Wilhelmsson and he goes and scores after 4 minutes, also created by Mancini, and it's like Christmas in New York in the snow with a new lover and a case of champagne. Taddei is excellent throughout, Chivu stellar in defence, Wilhemsson works hard, Totti is a bit quiet but dies his job, Mancini likewise, no-one fucks up, we aren't really at our best but we do a good job. And I have hope for the second leg – limited, of course, since at home they're a formidable prospect… but there's always hope. And if we play like we did at Lyon… Well. Only time will tell. Man U looked… capable of much more than they deliver, let's say. Ever time Ronaldo has the ball I'm scared, but they never put it together properly. And yes, as lots of people have said, we should have done better, should have stitched it up with another goal or two, should have made more of our numerical advantage… but I can't have any kind of regret or complaint really since the experience itself for me in the Curva Sud was almost unmitigatedly wonderful. The match was exciting and fast and attacking and it was a night of almost unparalleled intensity of emotion, the kind which makes you happy just to be alive.
Of course most of you don't really care about that, you want to hear about fighting, police brutality, cultural stereotyping, knife wounds to the buttock, drunken brawling, blood and gore. Typical. Part II follows, fear not.