How I broke my European football weekend cherry

We all remember our first time don’t we?  We all look back now with fondness on that first time, the thrill of seeing it all for the first time after years of just looking at pictures in magazines, or dare I say it on the internet.  Those mistakes we made, the feeling of when things appeared to be going well but really we were doing it all wrong and doing it with someone who had never done it before as well.  Losing our cherry together….Still with me?  Want me to share my first time?  OK then, here goes.

We are talking European football right?  There will be no confessions of any other sort here thank you very much.  It would be unfair to talk about THAT first time in such a public way, especially as she is now a Hollywood star (that’s got you thinking hasn’t it!).  I know some of you are still virgins in not having watched a game abroad, wondering from afar how you can do it.  But I hope on these pages, and those of Danny Last’s European Football Weekends and Huddo Hudson’s Gannin’ Away amongst others will have wetted your appetite.

For someone who has travelled so much it may surprise you to know that my first ever European match was in January 2000.  There had been a few near misses – weekends away where there was no football on, or it had been moved for TV purposes but this weekend was a birthday treat from CMF and specifically for watching a game.  The destination ? Milan.  The game? AC Milan versus Lecce.

The internet wasn’t as advanced as it was today – in fact the website of AC Milan eleven years ago had only just added English content.  There was no way of buying tickets online so it was with some trepidation that we flew to Milan on a very chilly Saturday morning.  Our plan was to find the AC Milan store, buy our tickets there thus giving us virtually all day Sunday to sight see.  Great plan, but not for the first time we were thwarted by the ridiculous beaurocracy of Italy.  When we eventually found the store we were told that I should have faxed (faxed???) my bank details to them in advance as they could not accept my foreign credit card.  They wouldn’t even tell me how many tickets were available, and that our only avenue was to get tickets from the ticket office at the ground.

So we headed off via the Metro to the ground.  We walked from Lotto Metro station along Viale Frederico Caprilli alongside the horse racing track.  After nearly a mile the stadium suddenly appears.  I stopped in awe at the structure.  In front of me was one of the greatest football grounds in the world, almost in touching distance.  CMF had also stopped.  What I should have added earlier was she was 6 months pregnant at the time, and my route march pace along the road had left her sitting on a bench some 200 yards back.  I looked round and saw a kindly Italian gentlemen was chatting too her.  How nice, I thought, that he was obviously sensing her discomfort and asking if she was ok.  Wrong.  He was actually asking how much for a blow job.  It seemed we had been walking down Milan’s curb crawling district where girls sat on the benches awaiting custom.  As he couldn’t meet her asking price he moved on, as she did at double speed (and about time!).

Of course, this being Italy,  the ticket office was closed.  It was only 3pm on a Saturday after all.  However, there were many helpful gentlemen hanging around the San Siro and not just to offer cash for favours for a six months pregnant woman.  They had some bargains on tickets for the sold out game tomorrow, they said.  Sorry?  Sold out?  But this was my big birthday present.  It couldn’t be sold out.  But don’t worry, he said as he had two spare tickets.  Yes, just two, the last two in the whole stadium.  And in the days before Euro he only wanted 350,000 Lira (about £150) for the two “gold dust” tickets.  2011 Stuart would have laughed in his face and walked away, but this was 2000 Stuart.  The European football virgin Stuart and he handed over 350,000 Lira in exchange for two tickets.

Fast forward twenty four hours and we had done Milan.  We’d been up to the the roof of the Duomo, the magnificent cathedral.  We’d shopped in some of the posh shops.  We’d eaten pasta and pizza, and of course we had braved an Italian taxi ride.  All essentials for a trip to Italy.  And now it was time for the Calcio.

We headed down to the ground early, wanting to sample some of the tifosi action that we had only seen before on Channel 4’s superb Football Italia.  We negotiated the basic search at the turnstiles, although the stewards took checking that CMF was pregnant to extreme levels with a few gropes (Well, they are Italian darling, no need to do a Diana Ross).  We then started the long trek up to the top tier where our tickets were on one of the long slopes which wrap around the stadium’s exterior.

We stepped out into stadium bowl and stopped to see three quarters of the group empty, but one section of the middle tier packed with fans decked in red and black.  It was an hour before kick off but the fans were in full voice.  It was unbelievable to watch, especially when the Milan players came out to start warming up.  Our “top of the range” seats turned out to be no more than bits of plastic bolted onto concrete steps, and no seat backs.  And it soon became obvious that the “last two seats in the house” actually meant “two of the last seats in the Orange Section, Upper Tier, Section A, Row 32, Seats 200 – 210.  How did he see me coming?

And as for the game itself?  Well, relegation candidates Lecce came and did a number on the great AC Milan.  Their centre forward, Cristiano Lucarelli, playing on his own up front scored twice and if it wasn’t for a rare strike from the boy Paolo Maldini would have gone back to the deep south with all three points.  From our vantage point we could see the Milan machine purring.  Bierhoff and Shevchenko, Alessandro, Leonardo and Boban in midfield and a defence marshalled by Serginho and Maldini.  I had to pinch myself that I was really watching this in the flesh.

So in the end it had proven easy.  So easy in fact that two weeks later we were sitting in the lower tier of the North stand in the Estadio Santiago Bernabau watching Real Madrid beat Bilbao.  The rest, some 200 plus games overseas, is history (or geography) as they say!

If you are an European football weekend virgin then fear not.  Help is at hand.  You can email me or Danny on the address at the top of this page, or go to the bible of European football logistics, Budget Airline Football. Don’t be scared – we are here to help you through this milestone in your life.

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