It took me a while to write this post as I have been moving around Europe quite frequently. The purpose of the post is twofold: (1) to share my experience of going to see Inter; and (2) recording many of the fine details so that in years to come the memory will not fade with time. I hope that it will make interesting reading and that you will not find it too tedious.
Black and Blue Pride: Inter, the Curva Nord and two Brothers
Wednesday, 11 October 2006
I had been on the road with my brother for five weeks. During that time, he had booked hotels and aeroplane tickets at short notice, organised hire cars, ferry tickets, and train tickets. In Greece he stated that it would be a miracle if I got to see Inter play and that I was probably going to leave the organising to him and in Firenze, after a tiring day of travel in which we had been getting on each other’s nerves he sarcastically asked if I had made any enquiries with regards to getting tickets for a match.
Pissed off, I went and spoke to the hotel owner as I had heard that some hotels organised tickets for matches. She was unable to help and when I asked if she knew of a Banca di Milano that was close by she told me branches of that bank could only be found in and around Milan. Although my better judgement told me to not say anything, I told her that I had seen one in Rome a few days before (passed a branch on the way to Fontana di Trevi but it was closed) to which she simply shrugged her shoulders.
I then used the hotel’s internet access to get onto Inter.it. For years I had been checking if tickets could be booked online but the service was only available in Italian. To my surprise, an English version was up and running and I thought that it was now down to me and there were no excuses for not being able to organise tickets. I carefully worked my way through the pages in which you can look at the stadium and check the view from any given section. After selecting our seats I had to enter my payment details. Most of it was straightforward but I went and spoke to the hotel owner and asked for help on details I did not understand. As we walked from the front service desk to the computer she was quite enthusiastic but when she saw that I was booking tickets for Inter her demeanour changed and her ‘helpful’ advice came in the form of short and sharp answers. I quietly laughed to myself. Maybe she supported Fiorentina and was still upset that we had beaten them in Florence earlier in the week. 160 Euros later I had booked our tickets: Sunday, 16 September 2006 at 8:30pm, we had a date at the Meazza with the Nerazzurri!
In the two days leading up to the match I was worried about making sure we got from Firenze to Milano and that we found our hotel and dropped off our bags with time to spare. Walking through the streets of Firenze I discovered a Banca di Milano that was a short distance from the hotel and cursed the owner as I would have preferred to go to the stadium with tickets in hand as opposed to picking them up from the Internet Box Office. Surprisingly, it was not until the evening before the match that I was excited about going to the game and could be found jumping around the streets of Florence and continually asking my brother if he was looking forward to the match.
Better to be safe than sorry
The day had finally arrived: after sixteen years of supporting Inter from the distant shores of Australia, my brother and I caught a midday train and went to Milan. On the way, I thought about the team and wondered about the formation Mancini would field and the players he would select to start the match. At intervals I read John Foot’s Calcio: A History of Italian Football and interrupted my brother who was listening to his Pod to let him read amusing parts of the novel on Inter and let him know that we were going to the first home match of the season.
We arrived in Milan at approximately 3:45pm. Initially, we planned to walk to the hotel as it did not appear to be very far from Milano Centrale but we scrapped that idea after walking around for fifteen minutes and not being able to find the street names that were on our map. We took a taxi to the hotel, dropped off our bags and then grabbed a quick bite to eat before getting on the underground to go to the stadium.
The ride to Lotto station went smoothly and within fifteen minutes we were walking to the Meazza. On the way I noticed a great deal of anti-Juventus graffiti that was written across the street on a wall that stretched for several kilometers in the direction of the stadium. Some of it I read with a smile and other parts made me wish I had a better understanding of Italian.
When the Meazza loomed into view I stopped to take a look and asked my brother for the camera. Not knowing much about football, I told him that he was going to be watching a match in one of Europe’s biggest stadiums. I can also remember saying that it looked quite ominous and unfriendly but that it hardly mattered as it was our home ground.
My plan to arrive at the stadium went too well. We arrived at 5:00pm, three and a half hours before kick-off. The receipt from Inter.it stated that tickets could be collected at the Internet Box Office two hours before kickoff, at 6:30pm. We had to wait around for an hour and a half before the Box Office opened. I had a feeling that my brother wanted to say something but he did not complain and as we waited we agreed that it would have been a waste to reserve the tickets, travel from Firenze and then for whatever reason miss kick-off or the match altogether. As the saying goes: “It is better to be safe than sorry”.
Waiting at the Box Office outside Gates 4 and 5 we watched the Nerazzurri faithful arrive at the stadium. My brother seemed a bit uneasy. At first the Carabinieri arrived followed soon after by riot police with batons and shields. After seeing large numbers of riot police he asked: “What have you brought me to? A war zone?” I was not worried as I had read countless complaints about Italian football not being safe for families and chaotic events at stadiums. Such complaints and stadium safety did not bother me: we were going to see Inter!
Instead of focusing on security at the stadium, I watched my fellow supporters. From my observations, it appeared Materazzi was one of the most popular shirts being worn by fans. I expected to see many more Javier Zanetti shirts but to my surprise, the next most popular shirt was Ibrahimovic followed by Figo. With regards to Ibrahimovic, I wondered how that was so given that he had only just arrived from Juventus and had not yet played a season for us. I could not help but think that the Inter’s supporters were too generous. What ever happened to letting a player earn the respect of his supporters rather than simply giving it to him upon arrival?
At approximately 6:45pm, the Box Office opened and my brother and I were first in line. With tickets in hand we headed to the Orange Sector gate. At approximately 7:20pm the gates opened and we were allowed into the stadium. After passing two ticket checkpoints we found our seats in Stand 119 with the help of some friendly stewards who were talkative and curious to know where we were from. After photographing the stewards, the view from our seats the Curva Nord and the rest of the stadium I sat back to soak up the build-up to the match.
The build-up to the match was great fun. It has to be said that I was in disbelief to actually be in the Meazza. Sitting close to the Curva Nord, I kept a close eye on their preparations for the match and watched as our supporters gathered and hung their banners from the railing. I also watched the small group of Sampdoria supporters at the other end who had made the trip from Genoa.
La Gazzetta dello Sport was placed on every seat around us. I kept my brothers and my own copy as there was a large IO SONO INTER badge printed on the back page which I wanted to take home as a souvenir. While the crowd was slowly building, an elderly man came over and knocked on the glass petition that separated our sections. Looking straight at me he smiled and pointed towards a copy of La Gazzetta. I looked around at the stewards and they were not very interested so I got up and passed a copy under the petition. The man smiled said grazie and walked off. I then went back to my seat and about forty minutes before kick-off, Pazza Inter was blasted throughout the stadium. Having downloaded the song on my computer at home, I sung and bopped along as my brother watched me in disbelief, wondering how I knew the lyrics.
A short time later I man came past selling drinks, ice-cream, potato chips and match guides. I purchased a guide that was wrapped in plastic and had a small IO SONO INTER badge. Another man then came over to the petition and asked for a giornale. Once again I got up and passed a copy under the petition. He smiled, gave me the thumbs up and walked off. That scene was repeated several times before kick-off. At one stage, my brother asked me to stop as many of the seats around us were missing copies of La Gazzetta. I told him that I could not let my fellow Interisti down and by the time the match kicked off, we had passed at least ten copies under the petition.
Approximately thirty minutes before kick-off, our players came out to warm-up. Before starting, Materazzi gave us all a clap. I took several photographs and carefully watched to try and get a hint as to our starting eleven and Mancini’s preferred formation. It was also my first opportunity to see our new signings in action as I was unfamiliar with Maicon and Gonzalez and was yet to see Dacourt, Vieira and Zlatan wearing the black and blue of Inter.
During the warm-up, our supporters in the Curva tested their vocals. When we first heard them, my brother and I turned to each other and smiled. Although the Curva was not full, the noise generated was electric and powerful and I found myself eagerly anticipating kick-off so I could see my team and the Curva in action. Sampdoria’s supporters tried to respond to the vocal test but they had nothing and a short time later a large firecracker, similar to a bomb, went off at the Sampdoria end. My brother jumped out of his seat and said: “What the fukc was that?” I laughed and told him not to worry as it was only a firecracker. Ten minutes before kick-off, Pazza Inter was played and as I looked down towards the traveling fans to see what they were doing, I noticed that the little group had turned into a large traveling contingent. A few minutes after Pazza Inter finished the Nerazzurri were out on the field, ready for kick-off.
The match had a special start as photographs of Giacinto Facchetti came up on the large screen. Simultaneously everyone rose to their feet and both sets of players gathered on the centre circle to remember him. I was torn between wanting to photograph the occasion and paying my respects but in the end I opted for the latter and left the camera on the seat next to me. The applause was moving as the Meazza clapped for a gentleman, a great sportsman, a club President and an Inter Legend.
The opening exchanges were quite tense. For the first ten minutes, Sampdoria had possession whilst Inter struggled with routine clearances and misplaced passes. Inter looked nervous whereby Materazzi was required to charge down a shot by Francesco Flachi and there was a communication breakdown between Maicon and Cordoba that led to Cesar having to pull off a one-on-one save. As the half progressed, Inter found their rhythm and dominated possession. Around the twenty minute mark, Sampdoria’s keeper, Castellazzi, pulled off a fantastic double save from Zlatan and Maicon and a short time later also saved a low drive from Stankovic. Towards the end of the first half Inter missed two opportunities to take the lead. The first chance came from a cross that was nodded on by Ibrahimovic and resulted in a shot from Crespo that was saved by Castellazzi. The second chance came from a cheeky Ibrahimovic backheel that found Crespo in the box but the Argentine mistimed his shot and failed to strike the ball.
During the half-time break I did not move from my seat. I sat back and watched my fellow Interisti, wondering if some of them took going to the stadium for granted. I felt happy and optimistic as Inter had dominated play and the majority of chances had fallen to us. The signs were good for the second half and I thought that sooner or later a goal would come.
With regards to the Curva, their first half performance was awesome. There were moments during the game that I was not focusing on what was happening on the pitch as I was watching and listening to them sing. It was obvious the locals were also impressed as there many occasions when they were watching the Curva as closely as someone that was at the Meazza for the first time. Lastly, I also managed to photograph an Inter sweetie that was sitting a few seats down and had come to the game with what appeared to be her father and brother.
Within a minute of the restart Inter nearly took the lead through Crespo and a few seconds later the ball was at the other end with the referee awarding Sampdoria a penalty from which they scored.
A hush fell over the Meazza but conceding a goal seemed to work wonders as the team suddenly came to life. Within the space of ten minutes Ibrahimovic had a number of headed chances that went close and Captain Zanetti tried to fire-up his players with a venomous shot that was saved by the keeper. With half an hour remaining Mancini substituted Gonzalez for Figo and his introduction to the game was felt almost straight away when he narrowly headed wide a Stankovic cross.
By this stage of the match I feared the worst. It was very frustrating as Sampdoria had stopped playing in Inter’s defensive half and the Nerazzurri continued to create and miss chances. When Figo mis-kicked and got the ball tangled between his legs from eight yards out I had the feeling that it was not going to be our day. With approximately twenty minutes left Vieira received a cross from Ibrahimovic and spectacularly volleyed into the net but the goal was supposedly offside. From where I was sitting, the offside looked harsh and the home crowd was becoming very restless. I thought Mancini was slow to react and change things around as Adriano was introduced with only fifteen minutes remaining. Sampdoria tried to slow the game and waste time. As a result they were deafeningly whistled by the Nerazzurri faithful.
With ten minutes left, Inter equalised from what I thought was a Cordoba header but was really a Bonanni own goal. The Curva, sensing another famous comeback started singing at the top of their lungs whilst the team battled for every ball in an attempt to score the winning goal. From the time Adriano entered the field he appeared hungry to get involved and lively when on the ball. In extra time he rose above a defender and scored from a header but once again the goal was ruled offside. A short time later the final whistle was blown and the match was over.
After the Game
I had mixed feelings when everyone got up to leave and started filing out of the stadium. Inter were denied a penalty and had what appeared to be two legitimate goals ruled out for offside. I was disappointed with the result as the Nerazzurri dominated play, created many opportunities but failed to finish and win the game. I was also counting on hearing Pazza Inter at the end of the game but a draw did not allow me that pleasure.
Heading out of the Stadium I stopped and asked a couple of stewards for directions to the Inter Shop where I was told they had sold out of Scudetto winning shirts. I had waited to purchase a couple of shirts with names, numbers and badges to take home to Australia but I was too late. Perhaps I should have gone prior to the game but I did not want to miss the build-up to the match or leave my brother on his own. He must have sensed my disappointment and said that the experience of seeing Inter play was far more valuable than taking shirts home.
With the stress of the day dissipating and my last meal being in the afternoon, I realised that I was hungry. My brother and I got something to eat and as we walked towards Lotto Station I was thinking about the dropped points. Despite the stadium having emptied and our supporters being well on their way to going home, I could hear Sampdoria’s fans singing inside the Meazza as they waited to be escorted by police on to buses. They had succeeded in causing an upset by denying Inter three points. Although I was happy to have seen Inter play, I was sad the experience had come to an end. With the singing of Sampdoria’s fans echoing through the night I quietly wished that my return to Milan to watch a victorious Inter would come again soon.