Rome if you want to

Day two of the Calcio Italia adventure, and after the two games yesterday we headed south on the ultra-swish new high-speed train line through Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. A previous seven hour train journey up and over the Apennines, running down the spine of Italy now cuts through the hills and has reduced the travel time from Bologna to Rome to just over 2 hours. We hardly had time to make full use of the free wi-fi, champagne and salty snacks (peanuts) before we were easing into Roma Termini.

11075317203_89770600d0_bInitially our plan had been to enjoy a leisurely long lunch in Travestere, a few drinks and perhaps even a bit of sight-seeing. But then Adam got a call. Or should I say, the call. He’d struck up a relationship a few games ago in the Stadio Olimpico with a chap running up and down the front of the Tribuna Tevere waving a huge flag, professing the support of the Marcello Passerini from the AS Roma United Kingdom group. Marcello, a Joe Pesci lookalike, had manage to arrange some live airtime with Sky Italia as part of their build up to the game versus Cagliari, and Adam, with his fine eye for a picture, was part of their plans for global Roma domination – well at least in Social Media circles in the UK.

So our new plan was to meet Marcello outside the ground at 4pm…..that would be nearly FIVE hours before kick off. I’d never been at a ground that early – well apart from once in Bilbao when I turned up 24 hours early. So our relaxing lunch turned into a quick snack at a stand-up trattatoria before we jumped in a taxi for the stadium. It appeared that the tram drivers also fancied a night watching the game on TV so they had gone on strike meaning that even at 4pm, traffic around the stadium was building up.

11075326103_6cc2bc63a5_bOur meeting place was outside the Stadio dei Marmi, the amazing arena surrounded by 59 statues of (almost) naked athletes. It was here that Sky Italia set up their matchday nerve centre and it would be here that Adam and Marcello would be interviewed by Angelo Mangiante, Sky Italia’s equivalent of Geoff Shreeves and Chris Kamara all rolled into one, but with a much nicer tan. Us Englishmen had fallen into the trap set by Romans. When they say meet at 4pm, what they really mean is meet at some point between 4.20pm and 4.45pm. Whilst we were waiting a number of rather attractive young ladies appeared, went into a small hut, and came out minutes later with a big smile on their faces. We were intrigued. Finally, the door opened and out came a tall, smartly dressed young chap. “That’s Kevin Strootman”, Adam said, and I simply nodded, none the wiser. I secretly Googled the name and found out that Mr.Strootman was in fact a Dutch international and a key part of the successful start to the Roma season, who should have been tucking into his plate of pre-match pasta rather than flirting in a car park with hostesses (of the VIP hospitality kind.

“Adam.  I din’t think that is Kevin Strootman” I suggested.  Adam was having none of it and engaged him in conversation.  His Dutch accent certainly seemed very Italian, and he had appeared to have had a tattoo on his hand.  Hmm.  But our heated debate was interrupted by the arrival of Marcello, who briefed us both (yep, somehow I had now been roped into the interview) on what we should and shouldn’t say.  We couldn’t help but giggle.  Marcello, who worked for BT in Reading, was doing a media debrief with two Directors of Communication.

After walking from pillar to post, stopping to have the smallest coffee in the world and freezing our butts off waiting for our moment, the gates opened and we were ushered into the ground.  Angelo’s English wasn’t that good, but that didn’t worry him as he fired questions at us live on Italian TV.  However, his final question threw me.

“Are you nervous?” Assuming he meant about being on live TV I answered, “No, not at all.  I’ve been in this situation many times before.”  My answer got a strange look from Angelo, as well as the lady back in the studio.  Of course, what Angelo meant was, “As a loyal Roma fan, was I nervous that Juventus had now caught up with Roma and were now above them in the table?” Simple mistake  I think.

11074921016_cb8cb6c71f_bThe first of the media duties over we headed into the fans village and were immediately pushed in front of another camera, this time for Roma Channel.  Once again, with the auto cue cards from Marcello, we handled the questions in English and Italian.  A simple rule I learnt very quickly was that you cannot do much wrong when being interviewed on TV by just saying “Totti” in different tones of voice.  I could see she was suitably impressed.  Of course she was.

It was nearly match time.  We had the choice of around 10,000 seats in the Tribune Tevere so like Goldilocks we tried a few, both right at the top of the stand, and down at the bottom before settling on one in the middle just in time to see the Curva Sud explode into sound, colour and smoke to welcome the two teams.

AS Roma 0 Cagliari 0 – Stadio Olimpico – Monday 25th November 2013
Once again, the gambling man would have been foolish bet against AS Roma who were 7/4 to beat the Sardinians.  I mean who would have thought that after ten consecutive wins that i Giallorossi would then only manage draws against Sassuolo and Torino.  This game was a banker home win, despite the absence of a certain Mr. Totti.  But football is unpredictable and that’s why we love it.  Despite nineteen shots, nineteen corners and over sixty percent of the possession, Roma failed to score for the first time this season.  As the fans trooped off into the cold Roman night at full-time, the point will have felt like defeat, especially as Juventus had gone top of the league after their win 24 hours previously in Livorno.

11075156416_9642fc8210_bIt was certainly a dilemma whether to watch the game or the Curva Sud. Roma started with all of the intent they have shown in the first ten games, with ex-Arsenal flop Gervinho pulling the strings in a front three that had scored goals for fun so far this season.  But there seemed to be something missing. A spark.  A Totti.  Without their talisman the home side often looked confused about how to break down a stubborn defence.

It wasn’t a night for watching a frustrating goal less draw.  In fact it was bloody freezing.  Despite throwing all they had at the Sardinians, the best they could muster was a late Gervinho header which hit the post.  The frustration was clear to see on the face and the actions of coach Mister Garcia, as he was announced to the crowd.  With fifteen minutes to go the coach was sent to the stands and with his departure went any inspiration and motivation the team had to find a winner.

11075152534_3d53241577_bOur final challenge of the evening was to get back to Casa Lloyd in the hills of Frascati.  Unfortunately, taking a lesson from their French cousins, the tram drivers had gone on strike.  There isn’t any other public transport options back from the Stadio Olimpico, and faced with a walk of a couple of miles, we jumped on a bus, which went nowhere.  Actually, that wasn’t true.  It tried to head north so that it could do a sharp right and then head south, but it got caught in a swarm of scooters and Smart cards.  Finally we reached Flamino metro at 11.35pm.  The last metro had departed, or so we thought.  The Roma fans weren’t going to let the small matter of a closed metro or no trains stop them getting home.  Faced with hundreds of annoyed football fans with no way of getting home, a train was found and we were soon on our way.

A very early start was the reward for a couple of days of excellent footballing escapades.  Somewhere in the past few years I had fallen out of love with Italian football.  I blame James Richardson for giving up on his Saturday morning cafe culture.  But after this weekend the amore was beating in my heart once more.

More pictures from the evening can be found here.

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