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

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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!

On the seventh day of TBIR Christmas – The best atmosphere


Let’s face it, none of us want to watch football in the sterile environment that sums up the experience that is far too common in England these days. The all seater stadium, lack of signing, banners and organised fan displays is the complete opposite to the marketing blurb that tells us that the Premier League is the best in the world. Apart from a few instances such as Crystal Palace’s Holmesdale Enders, the atmosphere in our grounds is not comparable with most of our European rivals.

In the past twelve months we have wandered far and wide across the world, sampling some of the best and most hostile atmospheres. Whilst there are plenty more examples of red hot atmospheres, these are the ones that we personally experienced. Last year the clear winners were Legia Warsaw and the wall of noise they put up every week at the Pepsi Arena. But the club and the ultras have fallen out this year, leading to a boycott of the home games. But we have found three teams/matches where you simply cannot be beaten.

3rd best atmosphere – St Pauli fans
8113694560_4c8d8ef2fd_bAmazingly we had never experienced a St Pauli game home or away until this year when we went and saw them play at Paderborn. Despite the game being at lunchtime on a Sunday, and a fair distance away from Hamburg, they sold out their end three times over. The noise they produced through the whole ninety minutes was outstanding, especially as the temperature in the ground probably topped 90 degrees. Whilst the St Pauli fans like to think of themselves as alternative, their support was nothing short of Premier League.

2nd best atmosphere – Roma v Lazio
6810266862_db85df58a3_bThis was a real difficult one to choose. Our top two were neck and neck in terms of passion, noise and colour. But our one disappointment for the Rome derby was the stadium wasn’t full. Both Curve’s were rammed though, and it was very difficult to know which end to look at when they were in full flow. Pyrotechnics galore, banners poking fun at the opposition and of course flags. Lots and lots of flags. Book your flights now, it is unmissable.

To get more flavour from the game head on over to our Flickr page.

The best atmosphere in 2012 – Partizan v Red Star Belgrade
7152833997_69c50a948d_bMore and more people are venturing to Serbia to experience this game, which is up there with the most atmospheric in the world. Despite the stadium being 99% open air, the noise is unbelievable, the banners huge and the flares, well, have a look for yourself. Even standing in the side stand you are engulfed in smoke as old me join in with the youngsters in lighting up to full effect. Despite Partizan already crowned as champions, Red Star didn’t want to be out done here and towards the end of the game started setting fire to the seats. Oh, and tickets cost about a pound if you are lucky enough to get one.

Want some more? Have a look at these snaps then.

Livin’ la Vida Loca


On the TBIR private jet on the way over to Rome,  Danny and I tried to draw up the best derbies in Europe. Between us we have covered quite a few. The Copenhagen derby (three times at both venues), the Stockholm derby, the Spakenburg derby in Holland and even the El Grande Island Classico (Canvey Island v Concord Rangers), but outside of Istanbul, is the Rome derby the most “atmospheric”? We said “yes” because otherwise we were heading off to the Stadio Olimpico for no real reason.

In the past the game has had drama, controversy, clowns and championships. It was first contested back in 1929 and since then AS Roma have led the way with 63 wins to Lazio’s 46. In 1979 a Lazio fan was killed by a flare fired from the Roma section at the far end of the stadium and in 2004 the game had to be abandoned after the leaders of the Roma Ultras groups walked unopposed onto the pitch and approached Francesco Totti to tell him to walk off after a rumour spread that the riot police had killed a fan. Violence then escalated onto the streets outside the stadium.

Few players make the move across the city which them either being a blue or a claret. The rivalry comes from the moral right to be the one true team to represent the city, as well as how the clubs were originally formed. To us mere English fans Roma means Top Totti, Cafu, Gabriel Batistuta and Christian Panucci. Lazio is Pepe Signori, Ravanelli, Alessandro Nesta, Gazza and Paolo Di Canio.

Both teams have been through the mill in terms of off the field antics. Back in 1980 SS Lazio were relegated, along with AC Milan after being implicated in a betting scandal. Match-fixing also cost the club dear in 2006 when they were implicated in the Calciopoli scandal that saw Juventus relegated and Lazio excluded from European competition. Long time club owner Sergio Cragnotti arrived at the club in 1992 and initially funded some massive transfers (£18m for Veron, £19 for Vieri & £35m for Crespo). But when his Cirio food empire collapsed, so did the club’s fortune. Continue reading

Affamato come un lupo


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. Continue reading