I really enjoyed writing my recent feature on the experience I had in Croatia with their passionate soccer fans. The readers of TJRsports seemed to enjoy it too, and if you missed it you can find it here - http://tjrsports.com/articles/match-day-experience-in-croatia-footballs-loudest-crowd
In following up this feature, I am going to present my experience of following football in Italy, a passionate footballing country which has won world cups and boasts famous club teams such as AC Milan and Juventus. It has produced some of the worlds greatest ever footaballers too, Paolo Maldini, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero to name but a few.
My first ever time in Italy was somewhat of a whirlwind bordering on crazy. I was a university student, wreckless with money to burn. Getting in at 4am after a wild night, me and my buddy did the sensible thing and went online to book a holiday. I have no idea how I had such energy back in those days, but we found the cheapest flights available (which were London to Milan) and later that day we flew to Milan Italy. I think we got some sleep on the train to London.
Heading to Milan, I knew I wanted to visit the San Siro, or as it is formally known the Giuseppe Meazza; the home of Serie A legends AC Milan and Inter Milan. In Britain, Italian football had always been big, with games being shown on one of the main free British channels back in the day (ironically British games were only available on expensive satellite). So Italian football is really what I grew up on, and I always had huge respect and love for AC Milan, their team being the best in the world at that time, winning European Cups and the Italian League much in the same way Barcelona has done in recent years.
Arriving in Milan me and my buddy were pleased to see that an AC Milan game was on, a league game against Fiorentina, another big club. Even better, compared to English games the tickerts were a steal at just Ten euros.
On the night of the game we took the subway out to the San Siro, the train packed with passionate fans singing and dressed in the red and the black of Milan. As they call it, the rossoneri. The San Siro itself is massive, one of the biggest and best stadiums in Europe. It is distinctive, huge spiral tower staircases on the outside and red scaffolding on top of the huge stands. As you approach the stadium you get a feel for the heated rivalry Milan have with Northern neighbours Juventus, graffiti stating various obscenities to the Juve fans. There was also a great bit of graffiti blasting the Liverpool fans, Milan having recently won the European Cup over Liverpool.
The stadium sits 80,000 and the crowds were massive, loud and passionate. Inside the view was pretty good, and the ‘curva sud’ the south stand was were the ‘ultra’ fans sat. Even before the game these fans were blasting off flares, billows of smoke and red giving a stunning atmosphere to their loud chants. There was hundreds of banners and the whole thing felt amazing as the stadium filled with 80,000 people in red and black stripes.
The match itself was very good. I was seeing some of my favourite players, including Gennaro Gattuso who scored a cracking long range goal and then ran the length of the pitch to celebrate with the Curva Sud fans. Gattuso was aggressive and mean, and I liked that. I was also privileged to see Paolo Maldini playing, one of the best defenders to ever play the game. The Milan club captain had started with Milan in 1984 and as a one club man he wouldn’t retire until 2009. Along the way he won 7 League titles and 5 Champions League. Probably the most legendary player I have ever seen in the flesh. The whole evening was exhilarating.
The next day I visited the stadium again for the san siro tour. Firstly, we got to tour the San Siro museum and appreciate the grand history of AC Milan and Inter. Then into the stadium itself it was as impressive empty, shimmering in the blue sky and sun of a hot Italian day. In the dressing room I sat in Maldini’s chair and it felt great. As the tour ended I bought Maldini’s famous number 3 shirt and I wear it with pride to his very day.
I had created an emotional connection with AC Milan. In various ways I seemed to end up in Milan a fair bit over the next few years, and I always made a point of visiting the stadium even though a game was not on. It was like a pilgrimage to the cathedral of football. I picked up a Gattuso shirt, the aggressive Italian becoming a firm AC legend.
Eventually I ended up back for another match in 2010, travelling with my brother and some buddys. The match was even more significant as David Beckham, our England hero, was now playing for Milan. The game itself wasn’t great, but the fans were as loud and as passionate as ever. Beckham played very well, his passing some of the best play I have ever seen. And then it happened. A moment of huge drama, Beckham tore his Achilles tendon. As Englishmen we watched on devastated for an emotional Beckham who knew this injury would scupper his bid to make the 2010 England World cup team. It was dramatic and emotional. Still, it was another great night at the San Siro, just being part of the atmosphere ensured that. And the next day I still bought a Milan shirt with Beckham on the back. The guy was well loved at Milan and is forever and England legend.
AC Milan, one of the most famous clubs in the world. The San Siro, an 80,000 seater cauldron of passion. Although not as loud or crazy as the Hajduk Croatian fans, Milan offers a special and emotional experience which is unrivalled in European football. Being part of the red and black history and tradition of the San Siro is special.
G.J Herbert is a British features writer who has worked in content writing for business and been published in regional titles and nationally in The Sun newspaper. For his sports coverage follow him at https://twitter.com/gjhsports