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.
Image via freedigitalphotos.net
The guttural roar rattling the toilet wall leaves no room for doubt. It erupts, explodes and then gradually dissipates into prolonged applause. An announcement - also muffled by bricks and mortar - is greeted by a second wave of cheers. And then, THAT look, from son to father.
“We’ve missed a goal, haven’t we Dad?”
There is a familiar emotional as well as aural pattern to proceedings. Initially, always, there is anger and frustration at missing seeing your team score. Then, sometimes, a coming to terms with the fact that the match situation meant the strike was of little consequence. And, finally, a wry smile and a collective paternal and filial rolling of the eyes as if to say: “How many is that we’ve missed this season?”.
Nobody provides this information in the guide to taking your boy or girl to the football. It is a most grave omission. For the pre-match or half-time administration of a Fruit Shoot - or other child-acceptable beverage - always results in a bladder-related emergency at some point later in the match. It is virtually guaranteed to be a key moment in the clash.
An away cup strike in Edinburgh, a deadlock-breaker at Palmerston, the fifth in a goal rampage - I have missed them all this season. There have been a couple of narrow escapes too - ahead of a cup final penalty shoot-out and just as the league trophy presentation was about to begin. For the former we went for the agonising “I think I can hold on” option, for the latter we produced a pit-stop the Ferrari crew would have been proud of.
The people around us in the crowd always have a chuckle as we shuffle out of our seats. Some have taken to encouraging us to make a trip to the pie stand or the toilets if goals are proving hard to come by. A souvenir DVD of the incidents we have missed has also been suggested.
I have also tried to cut down any liquid consumption in the build-up and during the match. No matter how much my parched-mouth son protests, I refuse to buckle to his pleas for a thirst-quenching mouthful to drink. Offers of a carton of juice from friends and family are waved away like a farmer trying to scare crows away from his crops.
And yet, on reflection, the rewards outweigh the risks. Never before have I had such gaps in my intake of the action during a football season and yet I cannot remember enjoying a season so much. I can still feel soppy, sentimental tears welling in my eyes when I think of the words my son told me at the end of this, his first year following our local team. “I like watching football,” he told me, before adding, “but only with you, Dad.”
That makes missing a goal or two seem like a price well worth paying. There will come a time, probably, when his father’s company will be the last thing he seeks on a Saturday afternoon. So, in the meantime, I’m going to savour even those strikes I only heard and never saw.
Maybe there was a full moon over the San Siro on Sunday night. Some kind of collective madness seemed to sweep across both Milan and Roma and their respective supporters. On a weekend which had been full of mellow and melancholy farewells, they gave it a frenetic and frustrating finale.
Whatever the reason, the bozos were out in force inside the stadium. Giallorossi supporters were warned for racist jeers towards Mario Balotelli which later saw the match suspended. Then the home fans got in on the act by flashing a laser pen in the eyes of Bodgan Lobont. Clearly bringing at least half a brain is not yet an entrance requirement at Serie A matches.
Read more at Football Italia
Few fans present in the Stadio Luigi Ferraris had seen such a result before. It had been more than three decades since their favourites had managed to win a home Serie A match against Inter. But, in May 1991, Genoa ended that long-running hoodoo in swashbuckling style.
It was a case of the upstart side against the established elite. Just a couple of seasons earlier, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Inter side with its colony of German internationals (they already had Lothar Matthaus and Andy Brehme and would add Jurgen Klinsmann later) had won the Scudetto with a record-breaking points total. At the same time, the boys from the Marassi had been scrapping their way out of Serie B.
By 1991, however, there was a case for saying Serie A was about as wide open as it has ever been. Maradona’s Napoli were reigning champions, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan had been conquering Europe, Sampdoria were a major force with Vialli and Mancini. Sides like Parma and Torino, too, had serious European ambitions. It was a cut-throat time for Calcio.
Inter had given it their best shot to have a crack at the title, standing toe-to-toe with Samp for much of the season. But the round of matches before their trip to Genoa had seen them lose 2-0 to Doria, effectively ending their Scudetto aspirations. They also had the distraction of an upcoming return leg of their UEFA Cup final with Roma. With Osvaldo Bagnoli’s men determined to grab a European place of their own, there was plenty of incentive for victory. Few could have predicted just how emphatic it would turn out to be.
Trapattoni was unable or unwilling to risk a full strength team for the match. Stalwart defender Beppe Bergomi, aerial target man Aldo Serena and German full-back Andy Brehme were all missing for the match. And things would only get worse as the game progressed.
A knock to Beppe Baresi forced him to leave the fray too and be replaced by Paolo Stringara. Still the visitors’ defence held strong for most of the first half, with most of the danger to Walter Zenga’s goal coming from free-kicks by lethal Brazilian Branco. Eventually, however, they were undone by two of Genoa’s midfield motor-men.
Gennaro Ruotolo picked up the ball and ran on to a return pass from Mario Bortolazzi to slice open the Inter back line. He produced a sweet, low finish to break the deadlock in the 38th minute. It was a vital turn of events which the boys in blue and black never looked like turning round.
The home side looked the more hungry and it was to be little-and-large strike duo of Czech Tomas Skuhravy and Uruguayan Pato Aguilera who completed the rout. In the 76th minute it was a drifting cross from the South American which his European counterpart looped over Zenga with a perfect header. Then, late in the game, it was Skuhravy who went flying in the penalty box with Aguilera duly converting the spot kick.
Post-match, Trapattoni looked disappointed but not too downhearted. He knew his club had other priorities for the season and were playing a side which had more reason to push for the points.
“We were up against an opponent who gave us nothing,” he said. “We had some key players missing, even if that’s no excuse. But Bergomi, Serena and Brehme are not the kind of players you can replace easily and some of the players coming in were not in top condition. By the end, a few of our players looked tired too.”
“The level of motivation was different,” agreed Genoa’s towering skipper Gianluca Signorini. “For us, playing Inter is always an extra boost and our concentration was total. We played a perfect game today.” It is sad to think that a little more than a decade after celebrating such a great season, their influential captain would succumb to Lou Gehrig’s disease aged just 42.
Genoa Coach Bagnoli reckoned he had got his tactics about right. “We knew Inter were strong - although without Serena they lost something at free-kicks,” he said. “But with Fausto Pizzi in the team we thought they would try to outmanoeuvre us.
“But the moment we got the ball we had to break quickly,” he added. “We could not allow them to break with the kind of players they have like Nicola Berti, Lothar Matthaus and the likes. We were very concentrated, we were in good form and we got the first goal which helped us out too.”
The result would help to clinch historic UEFA Cup qualification for Genoa at the end of the season while Inter would go into the same competition as holders after seeing off Roma. The Nerazzurri’s defence of that crown would not go particularly well with early elimination to Boavista. The Rossoblu, however, went all the way to the semi-final before missing out to Ajax who would also conquer Torino in the final.
As for the jinx-breaking victory over Inter, it did not really herald a golden age at home to the Milanese giants for the Grifone. They have won a couple more clashes - in 1993 and 1994 - but since then they have suffered four defeats and a draw in the fixture. If past history is anything to go by, they might have to wait until 2027 for another home win to come along.
Read more classic Serie A games in 20 Great Italian Games.
“When an Italian tells me it’s pasta on the plate, I check under the sauce to make sure. They are the inventors of the smokescreen.”
“They come out with the ‘English are so strong, we’re terrible in the air, we can’t do this, we can’t do that’. Then they beat you 3-0.”
Thus spake Sir Alex Ferguson in his assessment of Italian football. It is a judgement based on experience of taking on Serie A sides numerous times during his reign at Old Trafford. They may appear, at first glance, to be a bit insulting. But if you push the sauce to one side - to pinch his own analogy - there is surely a Parmesan-like sprinkling of respect.
That’s because it took him some time to get a handle on how to beat sides from the peninsula. Now that his managerial career is drawing to a close, the statistics show he eventually got to grips with the challenge. But, at least at the outset, it was definitely a struggle.
It was Marcello Lippi’s Juventus who gave him his first harsh lessons in how Serie A sides operate. Between a cigar and a glass of red wine or two the silver-haired tactician from Viareggio beat the Red Devils home and away in the group stage of the 1996/97 Champions League. The following year the English side won 3-2 at Old Trafford against the Bianconeri but lost the group game in Italy thanks to that man who was “born offside”, Pippo Inzaghi.
It would be the 1998/99 edition which would really see the Scotsman graduate with honours in terms of seeing off Italian opponents. Inter were eliminated 3-1 on aggregate at the quarter final stage before his old adversary, La Vecchia Signora, stood on his path to the final. That semi-final produced two matches which underlined the feeling - which proved to be true - that United’s name was on the cup.
A 1-1 draw in Manchester - courtesy of current Juve manager Antonio Conte and the eternal Ryan Giggs - gave the Bianconeri the advantage. When Inzaghi struck twice in the opening dozen minutes of the return match it should have been game over. Instead, Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole turned the tie on its head. From that point on, any psychological advantage Serie A sides had previously enjoyed had been entirely banished.
Fiorentina enjoyed a famous win over the English side in 1999 thanks to Gabriel Batistuta and Abel Balbo but were vanquished 3-1 at Old Trafford after a Batigol beauty had given the Viola the lead. But home and away wins over Juve in 2003 underlined just how much the club had progressed. At least until a new adversary emerged.
Another bon viveur, Carlo Ancelotti, proved a tough nut to crack with his Milan side. Hernan Crespo gave the Rossoneri home and away wins over Sir Alex’s side in the Champions League in 2005. Things were more expansive a couple of years later when the Milanese giants overturned a 3-2 deficit in the semi-final first leg with a 3-0 triumph at the San Siro courtesy of Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Alberto Gilardino. Prior to that game, however, the Manchester side had dished out their heaviest ever hammering to an Italian side with the 7-1 destruction of Roma.
As the fortunes of Serie A have slumped in Europe, Manchester United have stayed strong. They defeated and drew with Roma in the 2007/08 Champions League group games and then beat them home and away in the quarter-finals. A year later, Inter were their second round victims after a goalless draw in Milan and 2-0 home victory.
The last chapter in the Fergie versus the Italians story came three years ago and it emphasised how far he had come. Milan were defeated 3-2 on their own turf and then dismantled 4-0 at Old Trafford. If he had once had trouble getting at his pasta, he could now pretty much dine on the Italian delicacy whenever he pleased.
To read more about classic Italian matches download 20 Great Italian Games via Amazon.
Only in Italy, perhaps, could they even argue over basic arithmetic. On all official calculators the answer shows as 29 but, for those encased in black and white, it reads as 31. Regardless of which running total you prefer, there was no arguing that the collective skills of Juventus added up to worthy winners of yet another Scudetto this season.
It was clinched with a low-key display in a party atmosphere. Struggling Palermo caused the Bianconeri only sporadic problems while the home side went through the motions knowing that even a draw would clinch their crown. It was fitting, however, that a campaign hero like Arturo Vidal should ensure the celebrations were sealed with a win.
Read more at Football Italia http://www.football-italia.net/33891/juventus-stroll-home
It is 64 years ago tomorrow (4 May) since the disaster which claimed the lives of a legendary Serie A side. The day before, they played their last match ever…
There is still something poignant about reading that report on 90 minutes of football. It was only a friendly, and it ended in rare defeat for one of the greatest sides in the history of the Italian game. Less than 24 hours after the final whistle, they would all be lost forever.
On 3 May 1949, Torino were in Portugal for a tribute match to Benfica hero Francisco “Xico” Ferreira. His path had crossed with Granata skipper Valentino Mazzola - and much of the rest of the Toro team - when the two national teams had met in Genoa earlier in the year. The Azzurri came from behind to win that clash by four goals to one. It was there that the plan was hatched to play the club friendly which would have such tragic consequences.
Toro were well on their way to a fifth league title in a row when the Benfica match took place. A goalless draw with closest rivals Inter at the weekend left them with a reassuring four-point lead with four games remaining. It would be their youth team, however, which would complete those fixtures.
The final game the Grande Torino side played turned out to be, by all accounts, quite a spectacle. A good crowd turned out to see the best Italian football had to offer and also honour their own champions. They were treated to both a festival of goals and a splash of controversy.
Image via ilgrandetorino.net
Torino started the game with 10 minutes of what reporters described as “classic Granata football” in which they regularly threatened the opposition goal. Interplay between former Venezia men Ezio Loik and Valentino Mazzola gave the latter the chance to strike. He drew the home goalkeeper out but sent his shot narrowly wide. It was an uncharacteristic miss from one of Serie A’s most prolific scorers.
It was only delaying the inevitable, however. When ex-Triestina midfielder Giuseppe Grezar broke up a Benfica attack he was quick to feed right-winger Romeo Menti who in turn played the ball to striker Guglielmo Gabetto who touched it on to Franco Ossola. From close range, the left winger could not miss the target. There were just eight minutes gone.
Gradually, however, the Portuguese side began to get to grips with the pace and precision of Toro’s play. Valerio Bacigalupo was called upon to make a first save after 10 minutes and then the important Gabetto picked up a knock, limiting his contribution. Midway through the first half, the home team levelled through Melao.
Perhaps Gabetto should have been substituted sooner but, on the half hour mark, he made way for French-Italian Emile Bongiorni. The Italian side tried to push forward but was caught on the counter-attack. A Corona cross was met by an Arsenio header and Benfica had the lead for the first time. “It is not hard to imagine the enthusiasm of the crowd for this goal - which was beautiful in its simplicity,” commented one match report.
Torino were not the kind of team to accept defeat easily, a quality which has become part of the Granata DNA. On 37 minutes, Bongiorni levelled once more after a series of passes with Menti. It should have been a platform to get back into the game, but they slipped behind again in a matter of moments. Defensive indecision allowed Melao to nip in to strike his second.
Valentino Mazzola via sportige.com
The visitors replaced experienced ex-Pro Vercelli midfielder Eusebio Castigliano with 21-year-old Rubens Fadini in a bid to give more youthful zest to their play but the game began to get bogged down. The best chance to equalise fell to Mazzola but the captain - who had suffered an injury in the weekend draw with Inter - was clearly not quite at the top of his game. He spurned another opportunity and the match then took a late final twist.
Just three minutes from time, Rogerio clinched the tie with a goal which Toro defenders claimed was clearly offside. Franco Baresi-style they put their arms up to claim it should not have stood but the referee ignored their calls. At 4-2 it looked like end of story.
But, a moment later, Mazzola was felled in the penalty box and the Granata had a chance to close the gap. Menti - with more than 80 Serie A goals to his name by that point - made no mistake from the spot and there was a last charge to attempt to get a draw. It would be to no avail, however, and that penalty would be the last goal this great team would ever score.
“In friendly games like this it is the performance which counts more than the result and, in that regard, Torino were not found wanting,” wrote La Stampa. “At the post-match meal the sincere compliments of the Benfica officials echoed the applause given many times during the game. The first 10 minutes of wonderful play, Bacigalupo’s great saves and other passages of play showed the class of this team.”
It was the following day that Torino set off on their journey home. They had a league title defence to complete and many of the players were also cornerstones of the Italy side which was due to try to retain its World Cup crown in Brazil the following year. It was an appointment which fate had decided they would be unable to keep.
The plane carrying the Grande Torino side home crashed into the Basilica on the Superga hill near Turin with the loss of everyone on board. Players, officials, journalists and crew all died as bad weather and low cloud made visibility poor. The club and country was stunned by the death of some of its most talented footballers. The applause had barely subsided from the final time they had graced the field of play.
The Italian game is something more than just a game, it’s like your favorite show with ups and downs and emotional roller coasters. It has it’s villains and heroes and all the drama you could ask for in a sport. So that’s why when passionate Viola fan Giancarlo Rinaldi’s latest e-book, “20 Great Italian Games” came out on Amazon, I just had to buy it and learn more about the beautiful history of Italy’s game. Thankfully Mr Rinaldi was kind enough to let me ask him some questions about his book for the website and here is what he had to say.
Read more at Get Football News.