Welcome to Fat Town

Let me take you back to 26 June 1990.  England are one minute away from a penalty shoot out in the 2nd Round of the FIFA World Cup against Belgium.  Gascoigne floats in a free-kick from the left hand side which appears to be drifting over everyone’s head.  Everyone?  No, because at the back post is 24-year-old Aston Villa midfielder David Platt, on the field as a replacement for Steve McMahon and making one of his first appearances for the national side followed the flight of the ball perfectly and volleyed the ball home.  It could be argued that that one moment set Platt onto be one of the first footballing millionaires.  Less than 12 months after that goal Platt was on his way to Serie A side Bari for a whopping £5.5 million.

Three years later…Graham Taylor’s reign as England manager is coming to an inglorious end. His last game in charge is against San Marino. Bookies are stopping taking odds on an England win, despite Taylor’s reign and the failure of the team to reach the 1994 World Cup finals in the USA. Whilst it is possible that England could still qualify for the finals, it would take miracles elsewhere. The ask on them is simple – win by seven clear goals.

San Marino kicked off and hoofed the ball hopefully into the right-hand quadrant. Stuart Pearce picked the ball up and under no pressure at all played the ball back to David Seaman. Unfortunately, Davide Gualtieri had guessed this is what the experienced full back would do and nipped in and planted the ball past the Arsenal keeper. Just over 8 seconds were on the clock – the fastest goal in international history and still the greatest moment in San Marino’s history.

Relevance? Because those memorable nights had been played out on our TV screens live from Bologna’s Stadio Renate Dall’Ara. Fat Town, as it is often referred to in Italian culture, is known for its hearty food was our second destination for the day of Serie A football. After the magic in Reggio Emilia we had headed back down to the most important city in North Italy. Bar Turin. And Milan, of course. Not forgetting Venice mind, and Genoa now I think about it. Well, one of the most important cities anyway.

11074746774_0ecec4611f_bThe almost completely open-air stadium would have been a beautiful venue back in June 1990, but in late November twenty-three years later, it promised to be bloody cold. Still, with Internazionale the visitors, we hoped the atmosphere created by the Tifosi Bulgarelli would keep us warm and entertained. Despite winning the Italian title on seven occasions, and being the most successful Italian team outside of Milan, Turin or Rome, recent times have been very tough on the Rossoblù.

Only one thing is more important to Italians than football, and that is food. So before the game we made sure we blended in with the locals by heading to an old-school Italian restaurant (aka one that didn’t serve Spaghetti Bolognese – a dish created for those bloody tourists) and ate our own body weight in local cold meats, cheeses, pasta (Squid ink tortellini filled with truffle carbonara as you have asked), washed down with a couple of beers. But no ordinary beer. Oh, no. Being one of the centres of style in the country, Bologna serve their bottles of beer in a clear plastic handbag, filled with ice.

11080351776_d7c064029e_bAdam had managed to remember his pedometer and as we washed down our feast with a double espresso, he told me that the 37 minute walk to the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara would burn off around 1,000 calories, or approximately half of the pasta I had just wolfed down. So we set off, hot footing it through the historic centre of Bologna, dodging locals on scooters and gelato-wielding tourists. Fortunately the Italian footballing mentality isn’t to pitch up at the turnstiles five minutes before kick off and we breezed into the stadium and started the monumental climb up to the top of the Curva Ospiti. Ah yes, that was the slight detail I had omitted to tell Adam. I’m sure 90 minutes of acrid flare smoke, bouncing around like a loon was exactly what he was looking forward to on his Sunday night.

The Dall’Ara is essentially an open-air athletics stadium, with basic small plastic seats sitting directly on the concrete steps. It was certainly never built for comfort, or even with 25,000 or so spectators in mind but it certainly delivered joy in the bucket-full. We appeared to have taken a wrong turn somewhere on our way up into the Curve and ended up slap-bang in the middle of the Vecchia Guardia, one of the Tifosi groups. What to do in such circumstances? Simple, jump around, clap your hands and shout abuse at the referee.

Bologna 1 Internazionale 1 – Stadio Renato Dall’Ara – Sunday 24th November 2013
In the grand scheme of things, this could be a very valuable point for Bologna.  The point actually took them out of the relegation zone although Inter will rue the two points they dropped, and the opportunity to go back into the top three.  Inter had over 60% of the possession, 23 shots to Bologna’s 9 and a staggering 15 corners, but it took a dubious goal by Brazilian full-back Jonathan to bring them back into the game just after half time.  Prior to this Bologna strolled around the pitch holding a one-goal lead thanks to Kone’s 12th minute goal, like a boy who has just discovered their elder brother’s porn stash.

11074755264_c1fd16f656_bIn truth we saw very little of the game.  In between taking a million pictures of fans holding flares and looking a bit “Danny Dyerish”, trying to blend in by jumping around like loons and discovering they served real beer in the bar by the Ultras entrance there wasn’t a lot of time for ball watching.  This was what continental football was all about – and what is missing from our own game.  Yes, the stadium was poor for fans.  Yes, the fans in Italy are treated more like criminals with the security, fences and moats around the pitch and yes, the fans seemed completely oblivious to what was happening off the pitch but even with 20,000 empty seats in an open air stadium, the atmosphere was cracking. Deep down (or for some of us a little closer to the surface) we are all jealous of such atmosphere.  There wasn’t one policeman in the stadium, nor did we see any hint of trouble, despite Inter having around a quarter of the stadium for their fans.

11074804883_8ff63e89d6_bNeither team would have been satisfied with the point at full time, although both sets of fans wandered into the night relatively happy.  We piled onto the buses waiting outside the ground, rather than the “brisk” 40 minute walk back into town.  On the stroke of midnight we were back in the hotel bar for a nightcap.  It had been a long, enjoyable, day getting re-acquainted with Serie A.  Adam’s pedometer informed us we had walked over 10 miles in the day, perfectly balancing out of excesses although in truth you can never get enough of Bologna, whether it be food, drink or calcio.

Gentlemen, to bed.  For we rise at dawn for Rome.

More pictures from the game can be found here.

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