Well, good things come to those who wait. And bad things, also.
Armed with a lump of anxiety in my stomach and dosed with a couple of shots of Caffé Borghetti I make my way up the concrete steps two at a time. When you step out into the Curva for a big night game like this you are hit by a wave of sound, warmth and colour. Hot with anxious bodies and floodlights, it's like walking into some weird giant red and yellow sauna. For a big game like this, everyone who has a flag will bring it, and the stand is full of movement and colour and huges swathes of satin in every shade of red and yellow and orange and burgundy. I've have been dreading this all day but as soon as I am there I feel better, and the singing settles my stomach, to start with. The place is almost entirely full - we sold 35000 tickets within 2 hours the day they went on sale. Only a few of the €1500 are still empty. Arsenal have brought a decent quantity of fans, and I am informed that from other parts of the ground you could hear them singing; not where I stand, though. Tonight it looked & felt amazing: even the normally quiet fans in the Tribuna Tevere were singing.
Without De Rossi (suspended through his own idiocy), Mexes (flu), Cicinho (right knee made of tissue paper), Panucci (not on Champions' League list through his own idiocy), Perrotta (hadn't been injured for a bit so it's his turn) and Cassetti (been injured so long I can't remember what's wrong) we ended up with Pizarro & Totti both gritting their teeth and playing though not 100% right, and Baptista still somewhat flu-ridden on the bench. When Juan injured himself after just 4 minutes played it seemed par for the course; he managed to stay on the pitch just long enough to score our only goal before limping off.
I can't bear to write about it all; if you care that much you will have watched it. Sometimes, you're enjoyign a game so much that extra time is like a treat; tonight it felt like a cruel and unusual punishment in direct contravention of international human rights legislation. By the second half an acute pain was developing in my stomach and I started to feel light-headed with anxiety. By the end of 120 minutes my legs were also numb, from standing on the uncomfortable plastic seat all night with no room to move around in, and I wasn't quite sure if they might give way before we got to penalties.
Ah yes, the penalties. I should have known. I mean, I could see it coming that we would draw Arsenal, as soon as the various possible permutations of the draw were clear in December. The demands of the narrative arc were such that the maximum of tension, drama and emotion had to be wrung from the occasion - football is somewhere between EastEnders and Dickens, after all, with an element of the Penny Dreadful and a spot of high Shakesperean tragedy thrown in on special occasions. I should have known I would never get away with a mere 90 minutes. Once penalties came, I had no hope whatsoever. They always spell disaster, as far as I am concerned, in spite of those times when they didn't (Berlin 2006, for instance: this is just an aberration in the face of my overwhelming superstitious certainty).
Pizarro was fantastic tonight, and so was (a thing I never expected to be writing) John Arne Riise. "Reezeh" has become a firm favourite in the Sud: Norwegian flags have blossomed across the stand, his name is regularly sung, a group behind me persist in addressing him as "Jonn-eh"and every time he gets the ball 5000 people yell TIRA at him (shoot). Tonight he was great: 'Ammazza Jonn-eh ma è imbarrazante quanto sei forte!' (it's embarrassing how good you are) was my favourite comment. And he was playing at centre-back after Juan came off. Baptista looked flu-ridden; Totti worked hard, held on to the ball well, but is so far from his proper self; Motta was great again; Vucinic faded in and out somewhat, as he is wont to do, and then took the very worst penalty it has ever been my misfortune to see. Like a weak, futile and profoundly embarrassing premature ejaculation, a feeble spurt of the ball which almost ran out of steam before reaching the goal, just trickling limply straight to Almunia (who I suppose becomes the contraceptive in this analogy). Just awful.
I'm not capable of saying how Arsenal played. I can't really tell. It's as much as I could do to think about Roma's game. I can't even recognise most of their players any more; for me, things ended when Henry left, but really it was never the same once Vieira (& and to some extent Bergkamp) weren't there. Above all Vieira. I love a boss-the-midfield, aggressive, brilliant, creative, hot-headed defensive midfielder. De Rossi is a joy to watch, and he always attracts my attention, what ever he's doing; and it used to be Vieira who had that place in my team & my affections. He is so very far from being that player today, mind. Anyway, it's no longer a team I even know; only Wenger remains from that era.
Another thing, UEFA please take note: I am fucking tired of playing English teams. I do not want to play Arsenal again, thanks very much, nor Chelsea, and CERTAINLY not Manchester United. (Of course I also don't want ever to play Liverpool again either, in common with all right-thinking football people, and above all, all romanisti). It's not only that Roma's record against English clubs is piss-poor, though that doesn't help; it's just... if I'd wanted to be subjected to a barrage of media bullshit about the superiority of the Premier League I'd have stayed in England.
maybe tomorrow I will think about putting a photo or two up, maybe not. I have other things I keep meaning to talk about (ultras shenanigans) but not tonight. I feel empty. Like when you've cried yourself hollow, and feel an exhausted nothingness, both bleak and curiously cathartic. I met Chelsea Boy in the regular place outside the ground, by the permanently dry ball-shaped fountain. He knows me well enough that he simply took my hand, and didn't try to speak to me for at least 10 minutes. For which I am very grateful. I'm glad it's all over.