Thanks to all of you for your support and sponsorship of the walk I did with Sir Ian Botham last week for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. We have raised nearly £1500 so far.
As promised I’m auctioning the signed Aston Villa shirt that includes 18 players, Sir Ian Botham and Geoff Thomas (a Leukaemia survivor like me). To make the auction even more unique I’m donating my walk medal.
This is an eBay auction with 100% of the funds going towards Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. You can find photos on the listing page.
Thanks again all and sending all my best wishes,
A Rome trip, to watch football, that cost less than £100. This isn’t your typical culture-fuelled Italy feature. I’m out to prove a point.
Walking through the urban sprawl of the Olympic Village towards the magnificent Stadio Olimpico in Rome, at night, in the rain, doesn’t conjure the magic of Italia ’90. The 1990 World Cup in Italy was a feast of sport and Italian culture. For me, a 15-year-old football fan, the sounds of Pavarotti were alien. But Nessun Dorma still resonates today amongst football and opera fans alike, it unites class and culture. This World Cup captured a nation, nay the world, as an estimated 26 billion viewers watched. Pizza and pasta became cool and 15-year-old boys desperately wanted to be Toto Schillachi, the working class hero who won the Golden Boot with six goals.
Four of Schillachi’s goals were scored at this Olympic Stadium which burns under floodlights in the distance. It’s located in Via del Foro Italico, inside the Foro Italico complex, on the north of the city. Although easily accessible by car or public transport on this occasion we walked. Our overnight accommodation was at the highly rated bed and breakfast A Peace of Rome just 2km from the stadium (see box). The evening pilgrimage along the River Tiber, towards the stadium, with the chattering, excited Roma fans felt like a rite of passage. We were becoming united.
The 72,698 capacity venue hosts both AS Roma and Lazio, they alternate the weeks they play their home games. Tonight AS Roma, i Giallorossi, play Fiorentina in a Serie A league match. Opened in 1937 the stadium has held some of the biggest ever sporting events including the 1960 Olympic games. Whereas our English stadiums maximise profits by commercial offerings the Italians believe this is a place to watch football. So no club-shop, no restaurants or corporate facilities; quite a refreshing change. The concession stands, built into the stadium, reminded me of the way US baseball stadiums serve food: quick, cheap and easy to eat.
Security is tight so remember to carry your passport at all times. Buying tickets is easy from one of the many AS Roma shops in the city, football is still a working class sport so some tickets prices remain low for matches. If you don’t feel confident in purchasing the tickets yourself there are agents who will do this for you, but you will pay more (see box).
The carnival atmosphere hits as you walk up the stadium steps and gaze upon the green of the pitch. It is hard to convey the spectacle that plays out, the majesty of the stadium and all those worshipping within stirs the soul. Fellow supporters were welcoming, despite warnings by the uninitiated of how dangerous it could be. Songs sung, in stuttering pigeon-Italian, were helped by their repetitiveness. Fireworks exploded and the place filled with a nervous energy that overloaded the senses. The seats high in the Curva Nord afford a wonderful view and a splendid atmosphere. Seats on the side are more expensive, but very quiet, and the Curva Sud is normally sold out with frenzied season ticket holders.
A riveting five goal thriller resulted in a 3-2 win for Roma. The walk back to the hotel was much more relaxed and full of happy Romans giddy from the win. The streets offered mobile food-stands selling pizza, wine, beer and other snacks. It was very hard to resist and I’m glad we didn’t. Unlike an English match day this was refined and relaxed and done as only the Italians could do it, with class.
This trip to watch Italian football, calcio, was inspired by the high cost of the English game. With a £100 budget an Easyjet flight from Bristol to Rome Ciampino, one night at A Peace of Rome and match tickets were booked. As the football consumes the evening the rest of the trip is free to explore the Eternal City. I introduced my travelling companion, who was visiting Rome for the first time, to the Vatican City, St Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum.
You will be hard pressed to find a better antithesis to the sights and sounds of Italy, Rome in particular. But this is a part of Roman life as anything else. Experience it. Wherever you are in Italy, after you’ve shopped, seen the sights, eaten, drank and relaxed why don’t you check the fixture list? Even those of you who wouldn’t give football a second look should think twice. For the Italians it really isn’t just a way of life, it’s far more important than that.
Match tickets can be purchased from a wide variety of internet ticket agencies. For a more personal approach try Pete at www.romalazio.co.uk who will personally meet you in Rome and hand over your tickets. You can also buy tickets at one of the many AS Roma shops in the city but remember you will need identification.
Where To Stay
A Peace of Rome, Bed and Breakfast
Situated on the first floor of a 19th Century palace, the recently restored apartment is located close to St. Peters Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. A Peace Of Rome is consistently voted the best B+B in Rome. The owners are very friendly and the prices very reasonable. Top tip: turn right out of the front door and go in the first coffee shop you find, Café Sciascia, it is one of the best in Rome.
Further Reading: A Season With Verona by Tim Parks. The author travels the length of Italy supporting Hellas Verona and discovering this hidden Italian football culture.
An article, recently written, for the now defunct Norwich City fanzine Kick It Off.
Once upon a time there was a goalkeeper who played for Manchester United called Gary Bailey and he was magnificent. My 9-year-old self was completely obsessed with this footballing God and to a certain extent the team he played for. It helped that be bore an uncanny resemblance to Charlie “The Cat” Carter who played for Melchester Rovers. I was an avid Roy of the Rovers fan and Charlie was their star man between the sticks. You could say I was slightly obsessed with goalkeepers.
As you would expect I had no connection to the Manchester area whatsoever and being 1985 this was way before Man Utd Inc. No, my love of the club was down to their magical number one. I collected Panini stickers and always ensured the United team was completed first. I watched them on TV and I was bought Manchester United gloves and hat for Christmas, primarily to keep me warm. It is still fair to say my commitment to the Red Devils was greater than the majority of their supporters.
I’d just started the new Panini album which covered the 1985/86 season with big stickers and excellent shinies. Not like the poor excuse for a sticker album they produce nowadays. No this was a man-sized album and I remember taking it to school in a separate bag, not the only one I might add. Playtime become a battleground of swapping; poker face on, “got, got, got, got, got, need, neeeeed”. Then trying to convince a fellow 9-year-old that three Peter Shreeves were easily worth a Norman Whiteside. Just why were there so many Peter Shreeves?
This was a golden time when transfer activity could happen at any moment, no more countdown or inflated prices. “Big” Ron Atkinson could do his business whenever he liked and transfer rumours trickled into the playground, quite unlike the current tidal wave of football news. I can’t remember who told me, perhaps they didn’t, perhaps I dreamt it, perhaps I’d read that Gary Bailey was born in Ipswich (which he was) and got confused. But Gary Bailey was being signed by Norwich. If I’d have had a clue I would have simply dismissed this as untrue. Bailey was being recognised by England and with a World Cup coming up why would he move to Division 2 Norwich? My 9-year-old brain didn’t care, if Bailey was off to Norwich then so was I, or was it Ipswich? They were both in the same division and sounded so similar. Thankfully my Granddad spent a very long weekend putting me straight, yes I was that close to being a binner. So Norwich it was.
The first place to start was my sticker album, sadly all division 2 clubs were afforded back then was a team shot and a half-size shiny club badge. I remember spending hours pouring over the team shot looking for familiar players, there were none. I read the club info over and over again worrying about the ground capacity which was under review and I belatedly celebrated the Milk Cup win the previous year, gloriously relegated at the same time. I revered Ken Brown for bringing my idol to Norwich and felt rather smug that I was the only Norwich supporter in Worcestershire as far as I knew. No turning back now.
It soon occurred to me that Gary Bailey was still playing for Manchester United. This was not part of the plan. It was too late. I was hooked on the Canaries much to the disdain of my Dad who knew at some point he was going to have to trek across the country with me to the promised land. I partly blame him. If he’d have encouraged me to support Blackpool like him this would have never happened. Sure I’d still be supporting a perennial underachiever but at least when people asked me why I supported Blackpool I didn’t give them the most embarrassing reason in World football. Why do I support Norwich? Because I loved Gary Bailey.