Match fixing, doping, prostitutes and Silvio Berlusconi – just your average week in calcio. Italian football is dogged by controversy. But this weekend wasn’t just about Serie A and one of the biggest rivalries in Europe. It wasn’t even about B, C or even D. Oh no. We were going right to the heart of Italian football. In his excellent book, The Dark Heart of Italy, Tobias Jones comments that the Italian words for history and story are the same – storia. And that is what we aimed to find here in Rome – a story, starting in the Eccellenza Lazio, the regional league of the province and ending up in the modern-day Coliseum watching Derby Delle Capitale – The Eternal Derby.
By we I mean Danny Last (of course Danny Last – EFW may be no more but that doesn’t mean to say the fun of the away day in Europe has stopped too) and the legend that is Adam Lloyd. His rise from the control room at the Madejski Stadium to his villa overlooking the hills of Rome is pure Boys-Own stuff, but here he was welcoming the English adventurers into his new home with a plate of tortellini and a Peroni if you please. Champione.
Our plan of action for Big Match Eve (BME) was a wander around Grottaferrata (the city of books and Swinging capital of Rome allegedly), a glass of Frascati in Frascati and an afternoon of sightseeing around the capital with a splash of some retail therapy in the AS Roma store thrown in for some measure (Tottie soap for Mrs Last, Roma hand cream for CMF). Amazingly just two weeks previous Rome had shivered as temperatures plummeted and snow had fallen. This is a real rarity in the city and caused many a style-conscious Italian to stay at home for fear of people thinking it was dandruff settling on his shoulders. Yet here we were in shirt sleeves enjoying the sunshine whilst wandering the sights of one of the best cities on Earth.
After taking in the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and various other ancients wonders we headed back to the countryside for the biggest meal in the history of TBIR, involving just a mere five courses, two bottles of red and a Grappa to end it all off. Our host, the love child of Gareth Chilcott and Willie Thorne, wished us well at the end of the evening with a genial “Fuck Off” and we went on our merry way back to Chez Lloyd (not to be confused with Cher Lloyd), peering in the windows of all the villas on the way to see if it was the home of the Roman Swingers Association. Alas it wasn’t.
Matchday arrived and Adam brought in our presents. BME had given way to BMD (Big Match Day) and that was only marginally behind Christmas in terms of gift giving in the region of Lazio. Our presents were Roma Magic Boxes. Not only did we have some of the best seats in the house for the game, but we also now had our own Roma umbrella, Roma rucksack, strange Roma headband and a Roma scarf. Before the big game we had a Plan. Our Plan (herewith called “The Plan”) was to head out to the countryside and take in a regional game as L’antipasto before the AS Roma v SS Lazio Il primo. And could there be a better place in the world to have the starter than a place where some of the big Italian nobs hang out sipping white wine – Frascati, just a 15 minute stroll down the road.
A football team named after a wine has never won a major honour in football. FACT. Well, apart from Bordeaux..and Porto (but that’s just punch gone wrong)…and Lambrini United. Lupa Frascati were one day hoping to break that duck. They had twice won the Eccellenza Group B, the most recent being in 2007 and gained promotion to Serie D. But their stay in the fourth level of Italian football had been brief. Last season they finished runners-up again in the league and coming into the game against rivals from just 3 miles down the road, San Cesareo, they were again in secondo posizione. Easy home win then? Not quite as the visitors were al pimo posto meaning this was the game of the season.
Frascati were a club on a mission. Taking their club colours from AS Roma, they had also added the Lupa name (meaning Wolf) to reflect their bond with i Lupi after they bought the licence to play in the league from the defunct Cisco Calcio in 2004, who then reformed as AS Cisco Lodigiani, then Cisco Roma (where they signed Paolo Di Canio) and finally Atletic Roma before falling into that black hole of Italian Calcio licences in 2011. As with most things Italian, simple it isn’t.
Whilst we were in town, The Plan was for Danny to see the Ethiopian Museum of Cardinal Guglielmo Massaia, whilst Adam wanted to visit the sights from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold. Me, well you know me. I was happy as Larry just seeing the building where the Frascati Tokamk Upgrade was house. After all, if you are going to see a device which uses a magnetic field to confine a plasma in the shape of a torus, then this was a Tokamak you don’t want to miss.
Stadio Comunale VIII Settembre was our destination for the festivities and part one of The Plan. We hoped that as the town was twinned with Maidenhead there was be, *cough*, gentlemen’s entertainment provided. Maidenhead United’s York Road is not just famous for being the world’s oldest continuously used football ground but it is also the only one I can think of (or visited) that has a strip club on its doorstep (The Honey Pot). First look at the pictures of the ground in Frascati showed a couple of impressive villas overlooking the arena that Silvio’s legendary parties would have been very at home in.
We arrived at the gates of the ground with 30 minutes to kick off. The away fans from just down the road in San Cesareo were just arriving. Sunglasses – tick, scarves – tick, banners – tick. Tight jeans – tick. Your typical Italian football fans uniform. They piled into the ground which was pumping out some of the loudest techno music known to man and quite out of character for the stunning location we found ourselves in.
Despite some rallying banners around the town centre encouraging all of the locals to come to the arena and “do battle”, it was a surreal atmosphere. Middle age men with their impeccably dressed stunning lady friends and a few youngsters made up the home crowd, sitting high up on the terrace. A few policemen, obviously winding down towards retirement patrolled the sparse crowd.
The teams emerged into the sunshine and there was a small display of flag waving from the away fans, whilst some polite applause from the home supporters. Sleepy was a word I would use to describe the scene. But looks can be so deceptive.
Lupa Frascati 4 San Cesareo 0 – Stadion VIII Septembre – Sunday 4th March 2012
After a few minutes of feeling each other out, the game exploded into life. A ball over the top of the San Cesareo defence reached a Frascati player who looked clearly offside. Play continued and he was hauled to the ground. Clear penalty and the red card for the defender was unavoidable. There was just two minutes on the clock and all of a sudden the league leaders looked in tatters. It took a good five minutes for the offender to leave the pitch, slouching all the way to the dressing rooms via kicking a cone, an advertising board and then throwing his shirt to the ground. Penalty dispatched, one nil. Crowd go mental.
All of a sudden some of these middle age placid fans went ballistic. They charged at each other, with the fence and a fat old policeman keeping them apart. You got the feeling that these were people who knew each other, perhaps working together and this was an outpouring of emotion and frustration, similar to the scene in Football Factory when Danny Dyer and Tamir Hussain have a scrap at a kids Sunday League game. Police re-enforcements were called and a second officer arrived, wearing trousers far too big and no Batman-style utility belt. Calm was restored and a mobile phone was passed through the fence and whoever was on the other end (bets were on someone’s Mum telling them to behave) put them in order.
Whilst all of this was going on, play still hadn’t restarted. It had all kicked off on the touch-line and both benches were now at each others throats. Or being in Italy they were actually making lots of noise and gesticulating but there wasn’t any violence. Gladrags rather than handbags. The result, however, was a sending off for the San Cesareo coach. Not a good start.
It was hard to focus on the game with the sun shining, the picturesque setting and more importantly the fans goading each other. The crowd had calmed down and the extra policeman wandered back to his seat to continue his Sunday snooze. Then came the second goal as Frascati took advantage of some poor defending and the ball was smashed in, almost getting stuck in the stantion in a Brooking-esque moment. The man running the refreshment shed at the top of the terrace suddenly burst into life, galloping down the steps to join in the player celebrations at pitch side. Out of puff he slowly climbed back up, and met our bewildered eyes. “Questo è il mio figlio!” which Siri translated as “That’s my son” to explain his actions.
The second goal didn’t bring any comfort to the away team and a second member of the bench was ordered off, but not before having a further row with the substitutes. Quite an extraordinary half of football. It would have been perfect to have stayed longer, but we had a date with 60,000 Romans to keep.
More pictures from a morning of fun in the sun can be found here.