The internet is full of all sorts of advice as to what makes for a long and happy marriage. Somewhere on a very long list of the reasons why I love being married to Charlotte (besides the fact that she is beautiful, intelligent, talented, a fantastic mum to our two kids, and the best friend that anyone could ever wish to have; besides all that…) would be the fact that she is prepared to put up with my love of football.
And so it was that on the Saturday after we arrived in Rome, following our all-too-brief stop over in Perugia, we found ourselves on a bus heading along the Tiber away from our hotel in Trastavere towards the Stadio Olimpico for the opening game of the Serie A season between the hosts, AS Roma and the visitors from Fiorentina. Early season games are always a nice way of easing you back into the habit of football after the close season. The weather tends to be a bit warmer (or very warm if you’re attending a game in Rome); the atmosphere is a bit less fraught (fans and players alike are full of optimism and none of the tensions that come with battling for honours or desperately seeking to avoid relegation have yet set in); and the whole occasion seems to be just that little bit more light-hearted. Walking through the Olympic Park towards the stadium, there was a palpable sense of hope amongst the almost exclusively Roma fans around us.
It has to be said that the approach to the Stadio Olimpico is a lot more culturally rewarding than the walk up to any other sporting arena that I’ve ever attended, although the crush to clear the initial turnstile and security check was all too familiar! Arriving at our designated entrance, tickets in hand, our first stop was the food and drink counter to stock up the local delicacies ahead of kick off.
Suitably provisioned, we made our way to our seats to soak up some pre-match atmosphere. Interestingly, carrying our food and drink to our seats immediately marked us as strangers in a strange land – nobody else had taken anything into the arena! Not to be intimidated, we made our way to our allocated places, doing our best to spread the love that is tomato ketchup, mustard and cold Italian beer onto as many of our neighbours (and Charlotte’s white top!) as possible. Miraculously, we weren’t forcibly removed from the ground (probably thanks to the early season optimism of the Roma faithful – see earlier), and we settled in.
A couple of things struck me immediately about the Stadio Olimpico. First – the presence of a running track (covered up, admittedly) around the playing surface means that the pitch feels a long way from the fans; and second – it doesn’t actually feel that big as capital city stadia go (although in fact its capacity is around 72,000!). What was truly amazing though, was the atmosphere that was generated just before the teams came out onto the pitch when the near capacity home support joined in the anthem “Roma, Roma”. The grainy picture and dodgy sound quality of the video here:
doesn’t really do it justice, but at least provides a hint of the emotion and passion that was generated.
The game itself was something of a damp squib compared to the fireworks in the crowd that preceded the kick-off. Fiorentina’s intent to flood the midfield, stifle Roma’s attacking flair, and head back north with a point, was undone in the first quarter of the game as Nainggolan slotted home from the edge of the area to give the home side a deserved lead. The remainder of the first half was pretty much all one-way traffic, with Roma battering at the door but unable to find the crucial second goal. A couple of substitutions for Fiorentina, and a Roma side that came out for the second half seemingly a bit bored with the ease with which they’d bossed the first period, led to something of a renaissance (geddit?!) for the Florence side at the start of the second period, and for twenty minutes it looked as though they might find a way back into the game. However,once they’d created and spurned several good chances, the Fiorentina team seemed resigned to their fate, and in fact it was Gervinho who doubled Roma’s advantage with virtually the last kick of the game.
Having made our way – via a very busy bus – back to Trastavere, there was time to sit outside the bar at a pavement table watching the bright young things out and about in Rome, with the aid of a couple of very large Mojitos before we wound our way back to the hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning.
If watching football was like this all the time, I might even be able to persuade Charlotte to come along more often!