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So, Why Torino?

December 25, 2018

Torino logoGood question. Long story. Short answer.

Having signed up for what I thought would be just a year in the ‘real’ Italian capital, I had a checklist of must-do activities and must-visit places. It turns out that I underestimated my stay sevenfold (so far), and many of these tasks are still staring accusingly at me from the list.

They included taking in an Italian football match, apparently perversely since I’d always found continental football indescribably boring. Can’t see the attraction of Barcelona, to be honest – all that short passing and fussy movement, usually going nowhere. In fact the very term ‘European football’ fills me with a sense of existential weariness, born of dreary UEFA television nights in the 70s and 80s where some Belgian gang takes on a bunch of Austrian no-hopers, invariably in the murky light of a half-empty stadium, backed by an unrelenting accompaniment of claxons and fireworks, and both sides gain a valuable point by virtue of failing to score. The audience is hemmed in by high fencing.

But going to a Serie A (or even Serie B) game would be more a cultural than a sporting experience. I would be an honorary footballing anthropologist, observing some of the different ‘behaviours’ of Italian crowds compared with English.

A bit of background here. Ten years of supporting Mansfield Town home and away before giving up on them had left me with a rather peevish sense that I’d paid my debt to society, and now deserved some solid success. Making the play-offs of League Two (otherwise known as the fourth division) didn’t count as solid or any other type of success. So for English purposes I switched my affections to Manchester United and, while not getting as emotionally involved as with the Stags, generally wanted them to win and was annoyed when they didn’t.

Here in Turin the options are clearer – it’s Juventus or Torino. OK, some people support the odd Milan team or Napoli, but these are eccentrics in a city divided into two. It should have been an obvious choice, but after my decade as a Stagsman I was instinctively inclined to the underdog. There were practical reasons too. Torino’s Stadio Olimpico is just a few minutes from the city centre, it’s easier to get to, no problem buying a ticket, and cheaper too, especially since they were in Serie B when I arrived.

There was a history, too. I hadn’t done any research at the time, but later learned that the ‘Grande Torino’ team of the late 1940s – reputedly the best in the world – won Serie A five times in a row, provided ten elevenths of the Italian national team and was tragically wiped out in an air crash just outside the city, a disaster that still resonates with the population of Turin today.

Getting a ticket was a bit different from turning up at Field Mill on a Saturday afternoon with ten minutes to spare, waving £8 at the turnstile-keeper and taking your pick of seats. Italian bureaucracy (more of this another time) involves providing just about every personal detail you possess, passport, address, the lot. And then displaying it all again on the day if you took the precaution of buying your ticket in advance. As it happened, I needn’t have bothered with the advance purchase bit. When I arrived about half an hour before kick-off, the stadium was more or less attractively empty.

The ground is a step up from Field Mill, definitely, but is blighted by that oval seating arrangement which, like the old Stamford Bridge of the 60s, places the most dedicated fans at opposite ends farthest away from the action, separated from the pitch by a decommissioned race-track. Something to do with the Olympics, I think.

When I made the decision to go to this game, I didn’t even know Torino’s position in the league. I found a Serie A table, but they weren’t there. Must be some mistake. But no, a visit to the club’s website clearly showed them sitting comfortably at the top of Serie B. In a way, this was a relief, as I was more likely to see a victory and, this being April, something was probably at stake.

I knew none of the players but enjoyed the announcement of the squad at ten to three. The away team (on this occasion the not-very-mighty Gubbio) are given a surly, rapid, surname-only introduction. By contrast, when it’s time to announce Il Toro, the announcer suddenly brightens up (actually, make that ‘goes crazy’) announcing players’ first names only for the crowd to yell the rest. The biggest cheers came for our number six Angelo Ogbonna (a rare Serie B Italian international) and local hero, number nine Rolando Bianchi. The accompanying pictures were helpful, with ancient coach Giampiero Ventura looking like a cross between my old Mansfield gaffer Andy King and a bloodhound. (Try to ignore the genealogical implications of that union.) I was intrigued to see what Juan Ignacio Surraco and Cristian Pasquato could do, and felt that the name Francesco Benussi carried a bit more of a ring to it than his erstwhile Mansfield counterpart between the posts Kevin Pilkington. Anyway, let the action begin.

Ogbonna was immediately impressive as centre-back, reminding me, with his effortless style, poise on the ball and plentiful time, of Bobby Moore – the way he always looked up and around, instead of down, and the stylish ease with which he dispatched the ball. Bianchi had been short of goals recently and missed a sitter right in front of me but, willed on by the crowd, bagged a brace (football cliché alert – that’s two goals). Surraco and Pasquato answered my question by both scoring, the remaining two goals in a 6-0 drubbing (clicheville again) coming from Mirko Antenucci.

I congratulated myself on my wise investment of 15 euros, and decided to go again. Slight problem. Without yet realising it, I was hooked. ‘Again’ was Reggina. 1-0 to us. You see, now it’s ‘us’. And again. 2-1 against Crotone. And again. 3-1 versus Padova. Yet again. We trounced (ouch!) Sassuolo 3-0. Which brings us to the final game of the season. And for the first time I couldn’t buy that easy-to-get, dead-cheap, oh-so-convenient ticket. The game was sold out, and I had to watch in a pub. 2-0 against Modena and we’re up. I didn’t even know about the parade through the city so didn’t turn up. Determined never to miss out again I decided to invest in a season ticket for our return to Serie A. Should be simple. In Italy? Well, that’s another story.

So that’s why. Actually it was quite a long answer, wasn’t it?

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