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.
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 lamiaroma.it
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 lamiaroma.it
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.