Five things from….England 1 Italy 2


photo (2)It was all going so well. The ridiculous FA rule changes mean that this is the last major football tournament I can place bets on. Because of my role at Lewes, I am deemed by our governing body that I will have inside knowledge on games like this and so could put undue influence on the players. Absolute laughable. Anyway, the main event and thankfully we can turn over to BBC and have to try and understand what on earth the pundits were saying. Poyet and Fabio were fine – it’s the other two buffoons I can’t understand. Fortunately, there was no shortage of English or Italian beer in the fridge so this one would be a close call.

1. Socks – an early win for Italy on this one with a stylish blue and white number. Nike have really let the side down with their offerings this year and deserve nil points for imagination or effort for the tournament. As adidas say, #allinornothing.

2. Band – Shhhh…do you hear that? Exactly. No “official” England band…thank goodness. Having had to sit/stand next to their out of tune songs on a number of overseas away trips I can feel the relief from thousands of miles away. They’ve been following England for well over a decade, funded by sponsorship yet their repertoire of songs only got as far as “Come on England”, the theme to the Great Escape and of course their Italian favourite, The Self Preservation Society.

photo (1)3. Oops – Sterling shoots, the ball hits the stanchion holding the net back, the crowd on one side of the stadium cheers….we all laugh as we can see it didn’t go in. But someone in BBC towers didn’t and changes the score in the top left hand corner to ENG 1 ITA 0….we all saw it so no denying it.

4. Phil Neville – it’s 11pm…people have been drinking for a few hours and they need something to keep them awake. Surely the BBC Sport producers must have done an audition with Neville? What he says is all true and knowledgeable but there is absolutely no passion in his voice. Even the shipping forecast is more exciting than his co-commentary, although not quite in the Townsend league. Surely at half- time Gary would have rung him and told him in a brotherly way to add some “oooooooohs”. The nation is slipping into a deep sleep. I’ve not seen so much criticism for a presenter since Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood presented the Brits Live.

5. Gary Lewin – not the first time I’ve seen a physio injured – our Lewes physio Nathalie fainted on the pitch last season – but a bizarre injury for him to suffer. I worked under Gary’s tutelage a decade ago for six months and he is a top chap who has worked under Hoddle, Eriksson, Capello and now Hodgson in five World Cups. A sad end to his tournament.  Perhaps the Chelsea physio is conveniently holidaying in Rio?

Beer World Cup result

A close call but ultimately England’s win was down to three different Fuller’s beers (Pride, Honey Dew and ESB) against just the one Italian brand, Moretti.

England 3 Italy 1

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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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Sou sou Sassuolo


Fifteen years ago we were all Serie A crazy.  Thanks to the James Richardson fronted, Channel 4 programme “Gazetta” every Saturday morning millions used to tune in to hear the latest gossip from James as he sat coolly at a table in a Piazza somewhere in Italy, sipping a Cappuccino (but only before 11am of course).  24 hours later even more people watched the live game which was the best game of the season, every week.  This was a time before live football from around the globe saturated our TV screens and thus this was something new, exciting, and even fearful.  This was what it was like when Cheese & Onion became the second flavour of crisp to be launched after decades of Ready Salted.

We lapped up the games, quickly learning who the teams, the players and of course the stadiums were.  We marvelled at the pyrotechnics of their fans and wondered what had gone wrong with our own game.  Everyone wanted to have a bit of that, and us adventurous Brits slowly wised up to the fact that visiting Italy was easy, cheap and the Best Weekend Ever.

Italy was the destination for my first ever European Football Weekend.  Two days in Milan, with a trip to the San Siro to watch Maldini, Baresi and Van Basten struggle to beat Lecce.  I was hooked and there wasn’t a month that went passed where I didn’t hop over to Italia for a bit of Sunday afternoon Calcio.  A morning arrival into Milan Linate, train down to Bologna, up to Como or even if I was hungry, Parma.  Football, food and a few Peroni’s before I headed back in time for storytime for the little Fullers.

11080410554_99ae6cd72e_bBut nothing lasts forever and as Jimbo disappeared from our screens and Sky Sports took over the world, Serie A slipped down the popularity stakes behind La Liga, Bundesliga and even Scottish football in TV coverage terms. Our weekend footballing treats took us further afield and Italy became a distant memory.

I have no reason why I was now sitting on a cross-country train running through the Northern Italian countryside.  I can’t even Danny Last – he was 700 miles away sitting on his sofa.  I could blame my travelling partner, Adam Lloyd, but that would be unfair.  It was my fault.  I saw the opportunity for a two-day, three game Serie A extravaganza.  Our destination for the first leg of the Italian Tripod was the city of Reggio Emilia, forty miles north-east of Bologna.

The Mapei Stadium – Città del Tricolore, to give it its full name, is described by our good friends at Wikipedia, as “multi-purpose”, which is the functional phrase for “completely lacking in character, atmosphere or facilities for spectators”. I hoped to be proved wrong but my experience of similar stadiums in Italy in Piacenza, Bergamo (Atalanta), Modena and Ancona hadn’t been good.  In fact I always wonder how these small clubs can justify charging ticket prices for ordinary games.  Ten years ago I paid over 100 Euro for a seat at Brescia v Bari because it was raining and the seat was one of the few under cover.  Even the Premier league clubs today rarely offer tickets over £90.   Unfortunately, with few stadiums privately owned in Italy, clubs need to get as much revenue as possible in on the gate because commercial opportunities are so limited. Continue reading

Italian stallions held by the Super Eagles


Being the city that London is, and with its wide variety of nationalities contained therein, it’s not much of a surprise any more that more internationals are being played here and you can be guaranteed that when one of these takes place, the Daggers Diary team will be there.

Last month, Dagenham Dan and I traipsed across London to watch Australia v Canada at Craven Cottage. While others were watching England beat Poland at Wembley, we were getting cold down by the Thames watching the green and gold easily defeat a spirited but inferior Canadian team.

IMAG1125This month, the good people at Fulham have attracted Italy to the Cottage, for a friendly international against Nigeria. While Italy qualified for the World Cup in September (winning their group by six points), Nigeria secured their place at the weekend, becoming the first African team to qualify for Brazil by beating Ethiopia 4-1 on aggregate. For both, the start of the World Cup on June 12th starts to loom large on the horizon, although the draw on December 6th will be the most immediate thing to worry about.

For both (and indeed, all) teams taking part next summer, this will be one of the last opportunities to have a look at their team before the month of wall to wall football kicks off. With one international date in March, and then probably two just before the tournament, any player wanting to make an impression on the coach of their national team doesn’t have that long left. It may even be that players will be going to the World Cup with no international experience at all. While that may not be a bad thing, a quick look at England’s defeat to Chile last Friday shows that it isn’t always desirable. Continue reading

On the verge of greatness


With England about to take on the 2nd worst international team on the globe, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane on one of my first overseas trips to watch football.

On the 20th November 2002, I came within seconds of witnessing footballing history. I was in the tiny principality of San Marino, sitting on the edge of the Apennine Mountains in northern Italy, watching the world’s oldest sovereign state play one of the newest, Latvia, and there was just a minute left on the clock when a San Marino corner appeared to be handled in the area by a Latvia player. The score was nil-nil and had the penalty been given it would have meant a first ever win for the country after some fifty internationals. Alas it was not to be. Latvia attacked, a free kick was awarded and from the resulting kick the ball was erroneously diverted into his own net by a San Marino player for the only goal of the game. There was 13 seconds left of injury time. Played 53, lost 52, drawn 1 read their record now according to the records.

Ten years ago I came up with a bright idea, or at least I thought it was. I wanted to travel to Europe’s smallest footballing nations, in order, until I saw one of them win. The likes of Malta, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and San Marino rarely get an opportunity for a win so I figured this could be a long journey. And so this was why I was sitting in the makeshift press area of the Stadio Olimpico in Serravalle along with a reported crowd of six hundred. I say reported because there certainly wasn’t anywhere near 100 in the first half but as soon as word spread that “this could be the night”, the locals literally walked here.

This was the third “leg” of my trip and so far I had seen two heavy defeats for the underdogs, firstly in Vaduz as Liechtenstein had been spanked by Portugal, and then Malta had been humbled by Denmark. I arrived in Rimini with hope in my heart and Euro in my pocket. Rimini likes to think it is the Cannes or Marbella of Italy. But on a cold morning in November it just looked like Skegness on a bad day (is there a good day in Skeggy?). Even the most ardent Italian Lothario looked like Sid James in Carry on Girls and there was no sign of the famous Italian supermodels in their teenie-weenie itsy-bitsy swimwear. Fortunately I was not staying long and my carriage awaited me. Well, a local bus that whisked me through the Italian countryside and up, up and further up until we broke the clouds at the border with San Marino, a little less than 10 miles from the Italian Coast.

Back in 2002 not everyone had the internet to research places. And by not everyone I mean I didn’t at work, and at home I had to pay £19 per month for dial up charges for my 64Kbps Compuserve product. This was the dark days before the dawn of the internet we know and love today. We all remember looking at those “entertainment” sites where pictures took an hour to load and then just when it got to a good bit, someone would come in the room, or the telephone connection would fail. Looking back now and trying to describe what it used to be like to the kids seems so unreal. Twitter was something birds did, YouTube was something Alan Brazil used to say, Facebook was a make up catalogue and Googling was reserved for using binoculars near the nudist beach at Brighton.

So I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in San Marino. I had looked for a guide book before the trip without luck. I certainly didn’t expect such a mountainous place. The bus continued to climb upwards, towards the highest point of the enclave, the 750metre Monte Titano. On the way up to the city of San Marino (population 4,493) we passed the Stadio Olimpico. It was too good an offer to miss. I hoped off the bus and had a wander into the ground.

It was certainly a grand title for basically an athletics ground with one covered stand. I tried to recall when the Olympics had been held in San Marino but couldn’t for the life of me remember when. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in the lower reaches of the Ryman League. Work was continuing on the other side of the ground where a second stand was being built. Apparently UEFA had decreed that to gain their 2 star status to continue to host International games they needed to have a capacity of at least 1,000. I queued up for the official tour, and ninety seconds later it was all over. A visit to the gift shop saw me come away with a car sticker.  Everyone who went to the shop got a car sticker.  They were free and the only item in stock. I could hardly be more excited for the big game. Continue reading

On the eleventh day of TBIR Christmas – The Best football Weekend away


Now this may shock you, but we are quite partial to a weekend away once in a while, taking in some local culture, fine foods and wine and even, dare I say it, a football match or two.  No really, we never plan to go anywhere where there is football on – it is complete coincidence that some of the biggest games just happen to be on when we are there for a book festival or art show.

Nah, sod that.  Weekends away are designed for football.  Pure and simple.  It may be the crappiest city in the world, with the worst weather, most awful food and no beer but if it has a football match full of flares, chanting and basically all the things we cannot get at home then it’s great to us.  Well, OK, perhaps not one without any beer then.

In 2012 we ventured far and wide again, but three trips stood out above all others, and these were our winners last year.  So without further ado I give you the top three weekend destinations of 2012:-

3rd place – Belgrade
7006731234_ab9f21046a_bLet’s go to Belgrade and take in the Partizan v Red Star derby he said.  Just like that.  No ifs or buts.  And before you knew it Danny, Kenny Legg, Andy Hudson and I were waking up on the overnight train from Zagreb in Serbia.  What followed was an outstanding weekend.  Four games in two days, including one of the most volatile atmospheres I have ever seen and an exchange rate that made us all Dinar millionaires.  Add in some stunning scenery (both architecturally and otherwise), some amazing history and temperatures in the high 30’s and it was a tip-top weekend.

2nd place – Rome
6956370771_ff6205b731_bGranted we have the inside track on Rome thanks to the legend that is Adam Lloyd.  High up in the hills of Frascatti Mr Lloyd plots world domination, but on his days off he likes nothing better than a trip to the Stadio Olimpico.  He was only too pleased to act as our chauffeur, tour guide and hostess for a weekend that was heavy on the culture, very heavy on the stomach but very pleasing on the eye when it came to the Eternal Derby.  Rome is a brilliant city full stop.  But add in some stunning countryside around Rome, a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium and La Dolce Vita and you have a weekend that should be on every football fans itinerary at least once a season.

Best weekend away – Düsseldorf
8113648940_5f9e96bff7_bWe all love German football – that’s a given.  The food, the drink, the atmosphere, the tickets that cost less than an Emirates Burger, the club slippers.  It’s the whole package.  But in 2012 we discovered Düsseldorf.  Discovered?  Well, OK thanks to Kenny Legg’s secret mission with the British Government, we were invited.  What a place.  Fantastic drinking culture that starts in the High Street no less at 10am on a Saturday, a dozen stadiums holding 30,000 plus within an hour’s (luxury) train ride away and enough sausages to keep even the most ardent meat-eater at bay.  We loved it so much we went twice, and are going again in February.  If you are lucky enough to go then we can thoroughly recommend an afternoon at the Esprit Arena.  50,000 lucky souls in one of the most modern stadiums in Europe AND they serve Alt beer.  It is a must!