A football match means more when you know someone who supports the opposing team. It gives a little extra importance to the outcome when a friend or family members is pulling for exactly the opposite outcome to yourself. Back in the mid-1990s, games between Pescara and Fiorentina felt like a personal derby match for me.
The reason was a simple twist of fate. I had been writing for Football Italia magazine for a while when they decided to bring out a book as a guide to the season ahead. I was selected - along with TV expert Ray Della Pietra - to co-author its pages. His heart was at the Stadio Adriatico, mine at the Artemio Franchi.
But Calcio can be a cruel mistress. There was talk of bringing out something similar every season but it never happened - leaving that guide to the 1993/94 campaign as the only edition. Frozen in time forever was a season where neither Fiorentina nor Pescara featured in the top flight. The pair of them got relegated the season before - replaced by two from Reggiana, Cremonese, Piacenza and Lecce, take your pick.
We were, however, dedicated in our efforts nonetheless. Virgin Publishing had set a tight deadline to get things done and there were plenty of lengthy phone-calls between myself and Ray to compare notes, discuss progress and generally moan and groan about the editorial process. It was hard work, I remember, but it was good fun too.
We were childish in the pranks we tried to play on our editor. His crime, in our eyes, was that he knew less about football than we did and, at the time, we found that unforgivable. It culminated in trying to get some Italian version of his name into the Serie A all-time scorers list. To his credit, he spotted our ruse.
I think it was fair to say my co-author was more intense about these things than I was. My memory is that he was a real perfectionist and when others fell short of his standards he found it infuriating. I was - and still am - a bit more relaxed about these things and inclined to go with the flow. But how I envied his fiery passion when he was in full flight.
We got the book done - me in Scotland, Ray in London - and it came out in time for the new campaign. I thought being a published author would change my life but, if it did, it wasn’t in the way I had expected. Fame and fortune did not beckon, even if a copy of a volume with your own name on the side is still a matter of some pride. Later, a Japanese version would be published which I still possess - the only words I can read on it are Giancarlo Rinaldi and Ray Della Pietra.
Time passed, of course, and the future editions of the book did not materialise. Channel 4 eventually dropped Italian football and I lost track of Ray. Nonetheless, whenever our teams cross swords, he is still the first person I think of.
Back then, we were both feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. A season in Serie B was a chastening experience for me but he was much more used to lower division football. Whenever I was feeling hard done by for supporting the Viola, a word with Ray usually made me feel quite lucky. Fiorentina are nobody’s idea of habitual winners, but compared with Pescara they seemed like Barcelona.
My team, of course, bounced back in style, winning the division thanks, in part, to a 16-goal haul from a young Argentinian called Gabriel Batistuta who stayed faithful to the club despite their relegation. Ray was not so lucky, Pescara struggled all season and only survived by the skin of their teeth. They did, however, get the better of Fiorentina with a draw and a win in their two second division encounters. They turned out to be a bit of a bogey team.
In Serie A, it has been a different story. In 11 meetings to date there have been eight Viola victories, two draws and just one Pescara triumph - the one which came in Florence in January this year. That might be the result which keeps the Tuscan side out of the Champions League even if it was not enough to save the Dolphins from relegation. When they meet again this weekend I imagine that, somewhere, Ray Della Pietra will be sitting down to watch the game and hope to do the double over Vincenzo Montella’s team. And if they do he might, perhaps, think for a moment about his old Fiorentina-following co-writer.