When the fixture list came out last August I was pleased to see that we were at home for the last game of the season, for a change. I don't think that back in August any of us were quite expecting that when that day came we would have nothing to play for because we had already confirmed a spot in the UEFA Cup. Sorry, the Europa League. Bleurgh. As it happened, it was only Torino who had anything to play for yesterday: they needed to better Bologna's result in order to stay up, a tallish order since Bologna were at home to Catania, an easier prospect than Roma at the Olimpico even in this benighted season.
Through one cause or another - protests, illness, Lodigiani - I have been a bit distracted recently with regards to Roma. As I arrived at the ground it somehow felt like ages since I'd been there. Shiny new signs were much in evidence, remnants of Wednesday night's shenanigans: a superfluity of coloured noticeboards directed us to the entrances to each stand, while new instructions on how to use the turnstiles had been stuck up. My United-supporting friends who were here last week inform me that the system had broken down substantially on the night of the final, not least due to the large numbers of fans who had bought tickets through legitimate outlets only to find on the gate that they had been reported stolen and hence blocked. Even those with no ticket problems had some issues with the electronic system, which was perhaps not quite up to coping with the complexities it was being asked to perform - pictures of each ticketholder were supposed to pop up on a screen inside the ground as they presented their card. No such difficulties at the turnstile for us, of course, and the little green arrow duly flashed up on the LED screen for the last time this season.
The climate of uncertainty which hangs over Roma's future has grown ever greater in recent weeks. In particular, the bank Unicredit (to whom Italpetroli owe the trifling sum of €280 million) have at long last broken their silence and announced that they want urgent movement from the company: the December 2008 repayment instalment has not been made, the June 2009 sum is due imminently and there is no evidence of how the Sensis are going to meet it. With the bank's public statement, the pressure on the Sensis to sell Roma is greatly increased; to many of the fans who have been calling for Rosella's head ever since the Fiorentina game, this is a welcome sign. The fact remains that while investors ponder, investigate, discuss, inquire and consider - and vultures circle - no concrete offer for the club has ever been made, either now or last summer.
For Roma ultras the thorny and divisive question of ownership is only one of many issues to be addressed. In common with every organized tifoseria in the land, the Curva Sud is implacably opposed to the proposed introduction of the "tessera del tifoso" - a fan's ID card which is due to be brought in this summer. So far only Milan have signed up for the scheme which turns fans into customers: a rechargeable payment card "loyalty scheme" without which away tickets can't be bought, and which will be issued only once checks have been made on the identity and record of each individual. Past offences will therefore live on - even after the terms of any sentence or ban may have expired, you will be unable to obtain the tessera del tifoso so any punishment, just or otherwise, will effectively be inextinguishable. But Maroni is keen to extend his scheme; it would be hard to make it obligatory by law, but easy to seriously penalise any club which doesn't sign up to the scheme (eg if only fans with the tessera can attend certain games... opt out, lose out econmically.) Collect points! get discounts! be placated in a consumerist paradise which obscures the erosion of your civil rights!
A large scale coreografia had been arranged for this game, to mark the end of the season, to remind us what we're all supposed to be there for, and to address these concerns. Of the big groups in the Sud, only the Ultras Romani opted out, with a banner on their spot proclaiming "Lavori in Corso" [work in progress]. Their close links with the current administration have left them isolated in the face of the current climate in the Curva, which is more united now than for a number of years. The theme was a return to childlike enjoyment, "Rivogliamo il calcio di una volta" proclaimed the striscione which (entirely by chance) I got to hold until my arms ached. The central painted banner showed kids playing in under the Roman skyline against a giallorosso sky:
A close up on the central picture:
The day was also marked by lots of striscioni and chants for Agostino di Bartolomei, on the fifteenth anniversary of his tragic suicide: 30 May 1994. Ago captained Roma to the '82-'83 scudetto and for many older fans remains their true captain, above and beyond Totti. He died alone and hard-up; many people blamed Roma for failing to offer him any support or the continuing role with the club which he so desperately wanted and which might perhaps have helped to save him from his loneliness and depression. Ago shot himself ten years to the day after Roma's loss on penalties to Liverpool in the '84 European Cup final here in Rome.
The match itself got off to a lively and unexpected start with Torino taking the lead in a bizarre fashion after 9 minutes of play. Unfortunately for the (impressive) Toro fans present, Bologna swiftly established a lead over Catania and held on to it throughout, so there was never much hope of salvation. As for us, our only concrete goal was once more Totti related: starting the game with 177 Serie A goals, tenth in the all-time goalscorer's chart, he was just one behind Giampiero Boniperti on 178. Boniperti's distinction is that all 178 of his Serie A goals, between 1946 & 1961, were scored for Juventus (he would later go on to be president of the bianconeri before turning up as a MEP for Forza Italia in the 1990s). Once Totti hits 179 he will become the player to have scored most Serie A goals for a single club. Of course, for me the 179 goal target irresistibly brings to mind this:
Ah, happy days... 13 September 1997. I was not quite 18 years old, about to start university; Arsenal were beating Bolton at Highbury and Ian Wright was prematurely celebrating beating Cliff Bastin in a memorable fashion. Totti didn't manage it yesterday: just the one goal (a penalty) to equal Boniperti's record. His Ian Wright homage will have to wait for next season.
So it ended 3-2, Torino's two goals and sterling goalkeeping from Matteo Sereni making little difference in the face of Bologna's convincing win over Catania. All over for another year. I have some end of season musings, and some more things to say about Sunday for that matter, but this post is already quite long so I might stop here.