Home > Random Rovers thoughts, Travel > League of Ireland opening weekend – the view from Italy

League of Ireland opening weekend – the view from Italy

By the time February and March comes around for League of Ireland fans, we are rested and ready for the action of the new season, welcoming the return of football with relish. There is that sense of expectation, excitement and promise about the new season.

So on the first weekend of the season I was looking forward to watching Shamrock Rovers in their season opener against Drogheda. But instead of being in Hunky Dorys Park, I was in Milan following the game on Twitter and through extratime.ie match updates. Maybe I’m not getting much sympathy here though!

The previous Monday my boss had dropped by my desk and asked a leading question or two. “Do you like Italian food?” Yes, I replied, wondering where this was going. “Do you like Italian food in Italy?” I had a good idea where this was leading to and it wasn’t up the M1 to Drogheda on Friday but a trip to the airport and beyond.

So the end of week was spent working out of our company’s Milan office and having to follow the Drogheda v Rovers game online when my day’s work was done. I had naturally looked up the football fixture list to see if there was some live football I could see in Milan. However, with Milan away and Inter home but late on Sunday night, I took a trip to Turin on Saturday.

In the afternoon I took the number 15 tram towards Superga, the hill that rises above Turin to the north east. On a clear day you can see right across Turin but not today. Whilst it is unseasonably warm for early March at 18 degrees, there is also a haze that prevents me from seeing even the cathedral in the city centre that hosts the famous Shroud of Turin.

It isn’t just the view I’ve come up to try and see or the Basilica of Superga completed in 1731 but it is to pay homage to the death of il Grande Torino team. In 1949, this team was lost to the mountain when the plane carrying the team crashed into Superga when it was shrouded in low cloud. All 31 people on board were killed. Torino were reining Italian champions, having won four league titles in a row. Incredibly 10 Torino players started for the Italian national team in a game against Hungary the previous season.

Behind the Basilica, there is a simple monument to the team with the names of the Campioni d’Italia listed. Beside it is a photo of the team in their famous maroon jerseys and fans have placed on the monument a few mementoes. Sadly Torino as a club never seemed to recover from the loss of this famous team and since this tragedy have one only one further Serie A title.

It is hard not to think of similar sporting air crash tragedies like the infamous 1958 Munich air disaster or the loss in 1993 of the Zambian football team (the team talked about much recently following Zambia’s capture of the 2012 African Cup of Nations). It is so hard to fathom the loss of a complete team from incidents such as these.

That evening I head out to see Juventus, a team that at times has dominated Italian football as Torino did in the 1940s. They are playing in their new stadium completed last season on the site of their old 67,000 capacity stadium. First impressions are that it is small but that is no real surprise as it is only a 41,000 capacity arena and it is not quite full on the night. The aim of the new arena for Juve was to get a compact stadium unlike the unloved old Delli Alpi stadium. Gone is the running track and stands stepped back from the pitch. Instead there is a tight stadium with tiers close to the pitch rising steeply up from close to the sidelines.

Purchased online, €30 has got me a ticket in the second tier in the Curva Nord. The roof above has four elegant curved toblerone steel roof trusses around the perimeter. Four column ties mean that it is not quite an uninstructed view for some in the ground but there are great sight lines from where I am in the top tier. Pictures of Juventus legends adorn the stadium exterior and interior including one of current Ireland manager and former Juve coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

Juventus, who are unbeaten in the league this season, are looking get a win to keep pace with Milan who won 4-0 earlier in the day. The small pocket of Chievo fans down below me to my right make themselves heard. They give it the “Juve Juve vafanculo” chant that seemed to offend the Juve fans when the Shamrock Rovers fans sung it at them when the clubs played in Europe in 2010!

The home side open the scoring after 17 minutes. Andrea Pirlo floats a free-in evading everyone but the post. The luck is with the bianconeri though as the ball bounces out to the unmarked Paulo De Ceglie who heads home unmarked. Chievo don’t really trouble Gianluigi Buffon’s goal in the second half. They force a couple of set pieces but it looks like they can’t break down the Juve defence marshalled by Giorgio Chiellini. Or so it seems until the team from Verona score on the break with fifteen minutes remaining. The ball comes to Boukary Drame outside the box and the Senegalese player’s shot is deflected into the net off a Juve defender for the equaliser.

To find the winner, manager Antonio Conte brings on Alessandro Del Piero, a player it seems who isn’t far off the age of that famous shroud housed in the Duomo. Juventus press forward during the five minutes of injury time and Pirlo gets a right foot shot away from 25 yards. The Chievo ‘keeper Sorrentino, who has got plenty of verbal abuse all night, dives full length to palm away Pirlo’s powerful shot. It is another draw for Juve, their 12th in 25 league games.

The home crowd voice their disapproval with a chorus of boos at the end. The Chievo players run to their supporters at the north-east end of the ground to celebrate. Jerseys are thrown into the away crowd as the crowd empties in the home end. I don’t understand Italian but I can comprehend the tone of the conversations on the tram back into Turin city centre. Two points dropped was the message I picked up anyway. Time to head home for me; some domestic football awaits back in Ireland!

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