Friday, 4 January 2013

Maratona & Elsewhere #3: 'Buon Natale, gobbo maiale!'

 Torino 2-0 Chievo 22.12.12

An interesting difference between England and Italy regarding football is Christmas. In England, people are getting ready to be with their loved ones and avoid their families for the festive period; in Italy (in Serie A, at any rate) it’s the last game for two weeks, maybe three if your team has an away game the first week in January (as ours has).

So there was an air of diminuendo, not of crescendo. There was a smaller crowd, perhaps because of Christmas shopping and a reluctance to revisit the previous week’s shambles against Milan. And, as these are hard times, the panettone was shared, not thrown.  

But Christmas, like football, does not always bring people together. They are both tribal, commercial activities, often with an element of blind faith, and there will be tribes-within-tribes ('Judean People’s Front?!').

And so the Maratona was split into two tribes. Two groups singing against each other. Singing the same songs. But at different times. Definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. But the divided Maratona did come together, at the beginning of the game, to serenade Presidente Cairo. 'We have to win to stay in (Serie) A' – to the players - quickly mutated into 'We have to spend to stay in A' for Cairo’s benefit. Normal service was resumed shortly thereafter, with singing of the traditional hymns 'Cairo, vattene!' and 'Presidente pezzo di merda!'.

The first half was a demonstration of the inherent simplicity of the so-called beautiful game: if you cross the ball into the penalty area and/or shoot on target, you stand a chance of scoring. Thereby we were 2-0 up within the first half hour. There was a lot of the usual sideways stuff (I thought Rodriguez was Xavi at one stage, and I’m sure we’d win the scudetto if the goals were either end of the halfway line), but we showed attacking intent twice and were rewarded for it.

For the second half my colleagues and I moved from the second level of the Maratona to the first. But everyone there was standing on their seat: it is usually a woman who is the first to do this, simply so she can see over the man in front of her, which forces the person behind her to do the same, and a chain reaction occurs. Since my loss of balance during the Bari game last season (and subsequent hospital visit and week off work - details available upon request) I have been a bit more aware of my physical well-being in crowds, thought this was a recipe for trouble, and moved around to a spot nearer the corner flag where I could sit safely and view the game.

From my new vantage point, the Maratona sounded as if in a bubble. The Olimpico is an athletics stadium, not a football stadium, which detracts from the experience for supporters and players alike, and is not Torino’s spiritual home. It’s a matter that has to be addressed in the medium-to-long term.  

This, however, is not the place for a detailed account of the history of the Stadio Filadelfia (home of Il Grande Torino) and the Olimpico, which was originally the Stadio Benito Mussolini, and the home of the gobbi. I would advise the gentle reader to look elsewhere should he or she wish to research this topic in greater depth.

The second half? Gillet was il gattone with a flying save in the 50th minute (yes, of course cats can fly - see the Tom & Jerry cartoon entitled 'The Flying Cat'), there was a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from simply watching the scoreboard to see other results going in our favour, and there was a generous ovation for Gianluca Sansone’s afternoon’s work when he was substituted.

We were less generous in our reception for his replacement, Sgrigna. Well, he got the bird, to put it in layman’s terms. I later discovered that he chose to sulk and not to salute the crowd after the game, and will be on his way out of the club in the transfer window, with Hellas Verona his most likely destination. Should this transpire, he won’t be likely to receive a warm welcome if our paths cross again in future.

But on 76 minutes, a certain David Di Michele appeared on the touchline as a Chievo replacement. West Ham fans may remember the name, as he spent the 2008-9 season at the Boleyn Ground on loan.

Since becoming Granata I have heard our supporters on numerous occasions chanting 'UCCIDETELI!' ('Kill them!') as an exhortation to our players. This time, however, it was 'UCCIDETELO!' (Kill HIM!). There is a lot more to this than meets the untrained eye. The player joined Torino in July 2007, was fined and banned for four months for match-fixing three weeks later before even playing a game, and was thus seen as damaged goods. Matters came to a head at his birthday party in 2010, when there was an altercation with a group of Ultras and he and six other players were subsequently shipped out of the club. To say he isn’t popular with the Granata tifosi is something of an understatement.

The game drew to a close without alarm, and so 2012 ended on a cautiously optimistic note, with a chorus of 'Buon Natale, gobbo maiale!' ('Merry Christmas, hunchback pig!'), three points and a healthy-enough 13th place in the Classifica. Clearly, there is much work still to do, and many eyes will be on Cairo, Ventura and Petrachi (the Sporting Director) regarding the acquisition of reinforcements in January. Fingers crossed and loins girded for 2013.

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