Milan in trasferta - Understanding the culture of Calcio
Did you know that Bob Marley’s only concert in Italy was held at San Siro? As part of the 1980 Uprising Tour, the Reggae legend performed at AC Milan stadium for a sold-out crowd of 120,000. A favorite of mine, the great Pino Daniele, who I had the fortune to meet at the Italian Consulate in New York City, had the privilege of being the opening act for that show. I mentioned this because I am a firm believer that you must understand the culture and have a knowledge of history to fully capture the essence of your club and the league. Bob Marley’s son, Ziggy, stated it clearly in his song “Tomorrow People” when he chants “Don’t Know your past, don’t know your future”. For this simple reason I set to myself the goal of visiting as many stadiums as I could not only in Serie A, but also abroad, as a way to appreciate, comprehend and even accept other teams, the rivalries and their history.
Would it make sense for us, as AC Milan passionate fans, to hop on a train for 90 minutes, from Milan to Genoa for the simple reason of watching a Sampdoria-Inter match? Well I did just that, and believe me when I say that the nerazzurri fans cries of «È arrivato Weah, è arrivato Weah, e Baresi è di nuovo papà!» still ring in my ears as I had to travel in the same train wagon with them. Another anecdote about that trip in 1995 happened a couple of weeks before that train ride when I was walking around the Luigi Ferraris stadium of Genoa trying to set up my Press Credential for the Sampdoria match and the only place that was opened was the the one at the Genoa Club where a group of fans were playing cards. If you could only imagine their faces when I asked where the Sampdoria office was. The card game stopped, there was absolute silence and angry stares, it was like a scene taken out of a Western movie. The truth is that being in the Marassi neighborhood was a fantastic experience and it enriched my knowledge of Italian calcio.
I could mention other moments, like when I was kicked out of a Roman store only because I was wearing AC Milan socks or the day when they took me to a Trattoria in Turin where I was challenged to a questions duel against a juventino. It was a bianconero place where even the dog was wearing a team scarf that day. At the end of the challenge (which ended in a tie) he cooked a delicious risotto for me and we enjoyed drinking wine until the sun came up.
And there I was on another pilgrimage, in March of 1998, when I made the trip from Milano to Brescia with the purpose of attending the AC Milan-Brescia game corresponding to the 25th round of the 1997-98 season. The Stadio Mario Rigamonti is simply astonishing, with shockingly low stands, possibly built that way to let you admire the beauty of the Pre-Alps mountain range. The stadio is named in honor of Mario Rigamonti the Grande Torino player who died with the rest of the team in the tragedy of Superga.
But let’s talk about AC Milan - the club’s DT was Fabio Capello and the starting lineup had team legends such as Maldini, Costacurta, Desailly, Donadoni, Boban, Kluivert and Weah.
There are some unforgettable moments from that game, first of all the beautiful welcome that the local fans gave to their ex player Maurizio Ganz, who approached the curva to receive flowers from the fans. There was also a name that would result to be familiar in the future, and that is Andrea Pirlo, a member of Brescia who delighted the attendants with fantastic passes and free kicks, including the one that created a game tying header in the 75th minute from Girolamo Bizarri. Even though it was a tie, I must say that enjoying a double from George Weah was like a ‘Bucket List’ check mark. In that same year, George Weah won the Ballon d'Or, and to date, he’s the only African player to ever win the prestigious trophy. But here is the funny part; we were watching the game enjoying a beautiful sunny afternoon, thinking that most of the fans were supporting Milan, because of the many red and black jerseys worn by the local fans. For this reason, when Weah tied the score at one goal a side, we decided to jump in joy, only to see that we were the only ones to do so in that particular section of the stadium. The reason for the large number of AC Milan jerseys was simple, the Bresciani were showing the colors in appreciation of their favorite “Big” team of Lombardia, but in reality the team of their heart was Brescia. That was an embarrassing moment but it was part of my Calcio culture learning experience.