I consider myself to be a lucky chap. Work takes me abroad a lot and whenever I know I have an away trip coming up, I look for two things: Do I have any free time while I’m there and is there a local team playing at home?
Down the years this search to take in foreign football action has taken me to many different stadia around the world, from such exotic locations as Milan, Hamburg and Vienna to the more dubious ‘delights’ of Brentford, Paisley and Workington.
So far in 2013 I’ve been out of luck on my quest, until now. I knew back in late January that I’d be paying a visit to Italy at the end of February, and when Turin was mentioned as part of the schedule I instantly hit the internet to check the fixture list. Bingo! Sunday 24th February, Juventus are at home to Siena and I have the whole day to myself.
Now, Turin is nice enough, but I’ve been before and as far as the local architecture and tourist attractions go, there’s nothing to tempt me away from a day out at one of Italy’s most famous clubs.
Now all I need to do is get a ticket. My previous experience seeing Serie A football amounts to two trips to the Giuseppe Meazza to see both AC and Inter Milan, so knowing full well I could purchase a ticket online I hit the club website. Ten minutes and 40 Euros later I have my seat secured for what looks like an awesome new ground, hopefully full to the rafters and bouncing, which would be in stark contrast to my visits to the San Siro.
The 41,000 capacity Juventus Stadium was opened in September 2011 on the site of the much-maligned Stadio Delle Alpi, the venue for England’s famous heartbreaking exit from Italia ’90 at the hands of the Germans, and all the pictures and reviews on the internet make it look pretty special. In the build-up to the day of the game, I remain hopeful my expectations are met.
Once matchday arrives, I open my hotel bedroom curtains and note that the weather has taken a decidedly Alpine form. Turin, which lies at the foot of the mountains, hosted the Winter Olympics back in 2006 and after glancing through the window, it’s easy to see they certainly picked a good spot for it. Undeterred, I pull my big coat, woolly hat and gloves from my suitcase. A few snowflakes and an icy wind isn’t going to put me off. I live on the Northumberland coast, it’s like that in June.
At 1 p.m. I jump on the Metro at Porta Susa and get off at Bernini where I catch the tram to the stadium. It only costs me 1.50 Euros for the journey which takes about half an hour in total. Eventually we reach the stadium, with its two giant supports rising from the ground at each end.
As I step off the tram my first plan is to do a complete circuit of the stadium and take a few photos. I study the handily placed map for the entrance I need to go in and find it’s about as far away from the tram stop as is possible to be so I’ve got to walk a fair distance whether I like it or not.
Once I’ve trudged through the snow and past the Juventus team bus, the concession stands and the brass monkeys I decide it’s best to just get into the ground and get a nice cup of warming Bovril or at least the Italian version of Bovril, which is coffee, obviously. I have also made the obligatory purchase of a scarf. Now it doesn’t make me suddenly look all suave like Roberto Mancini but I fit in nicely with the locals as we queue for the first entrance/security checkpoint.
Note to anyone thinking of going to a Serie A game at the likes of Juve or Milan. Take your passport or ID. They will ask for it when you present your ticket at the gate. They will also frisk you before you head for the second Ingresso, which this time is a simple swipe of my ticket’s barcode in the machine which lets me through the turnstile.
So, I’m in the ground in plenty of time and I head straight for that hot beverage and I spot that the Snack Bar does lasagne. Not a pie to be seen. Putting this disappointment behind me I head out to find my seat. I am high up behind one of the corner flags with a spectacular view of the pitch and its surrounds and I am close to the Curva Sud, home of Juve’s Ultras, so I’ve got a good position to observe and savour the atmosphere they create.
The stadium gradually fills to about three-quarters full in time for kick-off. Judging by the amount of people taking photos of the place and of each other I’m by far from being the only day-tripper in attendance, something I had also noted on my visits to the San Siro. Outside of the Curva Sud, how many locals actually went to the game?
The game itself paired Juventus, four points clear at the top of Serie A, with Siena, a team rooted in the relegation zone. The two sides both play in black and white stripes usually and have remarkably similar badges, so the visitors changed to an all red strip for the occasion. They both stroll out into the arena to the strains of Juve’s own generic soft-rock anthem, something it seems is obligatory for all Italian clubs to have.
The game pans out as expected in the first half. Siena, desperate to avoid a whooping likely to damage their hopes of survival, sit back and hope to stifle the superior skill and imagination of their hosts who are ably marshalled by the evergreen Andrea Pirlo. Alongside him is former Manchester United youngster Paul Pogba who is quite a powerhouse when in full stride.
It takes just over half an hour for Juventus to break Siena’s resolve when a fortunate ricochet off the keeper brought them the lead through the ever-willing Stephan Lichtsteiner. It’s just about what they deserve as they’re the only team seemingly looking to score or leave their own half.
If the game itself is tactical and to some degree subdued, the crowd certainly is not. The tifosi are in fine voice and are lifting the spirits on this bitterly cold Sunday afternoon. It is in fact so cold that the assistant referees for both penalty areas are wearing tights. Whatever next?
The atmosphere in the stadium is not entirely spontaneous or unrehearsed. There is a rather enthusiastic fellow stood behind the goal in the Curva Sud with his back to play for most of the 90 minutes who is conducting the crowd as if he is wielding the baton at the Last Night Of The Proms, and to be fair to the guy his is getting quite a tune out of those assembled in the stands.
The second half continues in much the same vain as the first, with Juventus doing most of the pressing and Siena doing nothing much except frustrating their opponents. This looks like paying off until just past the 70 minute mark when Sebastian Giovinco, a player whose style is very similar to that of Michael Owen before he went into semi-retirement several years ago, bagged a second with a smart finish from a tight angle.
This seemed to awaken the visitors from their self-imposed attacking slumber and very briefly they threatened to make a game of it. Gianluigi Buffon made one great save and another Siena effort struck the post before Pogba’s venomous low drive in the last minute capped a convincing if not sparkling display by the Bianconeri.
The final whistle goes and I, like the rest of the ragazzi can dissolve into the streets of Turin happy. I have seen a great new stadium, three goals, bought a swish new scarf and got frostbite in my toes. Would I come again? Definitely. Would it be in February? Not by choice. Is Chris Waddle’s penalty still travelling through the skies over Turin? Probably.
Next stop, Yerevan!