One plan for this season was to get to a Man City game in the Champions League, as well as picking a good match, I wanted to also visit a nice city as my girlfriend Gabriela would be joining me for this European foray. The draw threw up the less than awe inspiring combination of Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb and Atalanta. No offence to the others but on finding out Atalanta were playing their European games at The San Siro this year the choice was made. An iconic stadium famous throughout the world and now on the endangered list. Plans for a new stadium in Milan for the start of the 2022/23 season meant time was of the essence to watch a game in this historic theatre of football.
Match tickets were purchased through a friend for £40 each but sadly, we were not so flexible with flights so planned to arrive just before the game, £166 return. Ready to go. Or so I thought, a couple of weeks before the game a surprise exam for Gabz meant unfortunately I would go it alone for the game and she would arrive the next day. Not ideal but the show must go on.
Once settled in my hotel a quick flick through Instagram told me an old school friend was here in Milan so a quick message and 30 mins later I was outside my hotel chatting away with Tom Ralph, catching up for the first time in over 10 years we carried on exactly where we left off and headed towards the stadium. The beauty of social media.
On exiting the metro station, you are greeted with the site witnessed a thousand times playing FIFA and watching two of Europe’s great teams battle it out over the years. In high spirits and an hour early, we decided to head straight in but randomly the gate wasn’t yet open. After being sent on a wild goose chase out of the stadium grounds and back in through the car park we were met by a rather heavy police presence armed with shields and batons. With no hint of trouble or aggravation it seemed folly to not just let us in. However, in the wisdom of the Italian security they held us there, women and children too, the pressure building and tensions starting to rise at the inappropriate and unnecessary herding. After a needlessly long wait they started filtering in the fans, by which point a couple of ladies were in hysterics due to the congestion and tension, not a pleasant sight but thankfully the drama ended there and in we went.
Despite our timely arrival at the ground we found our spot just in time for kick off. Unfortunately, due to such a large stadium and the home fans not being too local, a mere 34,326 spectators didn’t really fill the 80,000 seats too well. There was however still a great atmosphere in the stadium with the Atalanta Ultras behind the goal doing their utmost to drive their team on to what was now a highly unlikely attempt at qualification from the group stage.
City started the brighter as expected having swept Atlanta away 5-1 just weeks earlier back in Manchester. Sterling put City in to a deserved early lead after some typically flowing football from the group leaders. The tie should have been put beyond Atalanta but Gabi Jesus (£2.43) managed to execute one of the lamest penalties I’ve ever seen and roll the ball comfortably wide from 12 yards, why they don’t just give all penalties to Kevin De Bruyne (£5.40) – one of the finest strikers of a ball in world football – I’ll never know.
The first half penalty miss encouraged the fans and that hope filtered through to the pitch as a rejuvenated Atalanta equalised after a thumping header from Mario Pasalic (£0.64) on 49 minutes exploiting City’s defensive vulnerability. Chances fell to both sides as the game approached the final ten minutes, cue the nervy Claudio Bravo (£0.25) flying in to do what he does best and produce another hapless howler. Running 30 yards out of goal to take down the oncoming Josip Ilicic (£1.00), he rightly received his marching orders and finally left the field after a 6-minute VAR delay. With Ederson substituted at Half time this left the moment every football fan adores, an outfield player in net. Riyad Mahrez (£2.30) made way for the enthusiastic Kyle Walker (£0.56), now donning the Pink goalkeeper top. His first action was to fumble then eventually gather the resulting Fee Kick to great cheers from the City faithful. The Nerazzurri failed to make the most of their advantage and the game finished all square with Walker leaving the pitch to chants of “England’s Number one” from the City fans.
One day later than planned Gabz arrived following her successful exam. Due to the continued rain, we opted for a quiet evening trying out some local dishes followed by a few beers in the much famed Navigli area. Given the disappointing Milanese weather we didn’t witness the area in the finest light and sadly it didn’t quite live up to the high hopes we had.
Friday was the day dedicated to tourism and making the most of what Milan itself had to offer, the delayed start to the holiday had scuppered an initial idea to travel an hour on the train to take in the delights of Sassuolo vs Bologna, realistically this would have involved staying over so the 3-1 thriller had to be sacrificed, instead we spent the afternoon sampling the delights of Milan.
Duomo di Milano is one of the most beautiful buildings you will ever set your eyes on and is by far and away the jewel in the crown. As with many classic cathedrals it took a mere 600 years to construct but now dominates Milan’s main piazza (Italian for square, not a misspelling of Pizza) right in the centre of the city. From the same spot with a glance to the left we were greeted by the stunning shopping arcade, The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. A short stroll away was the final landmark on our little tour, the Castello Sforzesco, another unique building from the 15th century set right in the heart of the city, again highlighting the immense history and beautiful Milanese architecture.
As always when Saturday comes, it is the day reserved for football. Before heading to the stadium we headed back to the Navigli area which hadn’t met our expectations earlier in the week. However, this time in the bright sunshine we walked a little further and suddenly it was clear why it was so popular. Both sides of the canal were lined with bars, restaurants and gift shops creating a picturesque setting, so it was here we relaxed for a couple of hours enjoying some beers and not so delightful Lime Risotto.
A nice afternoon in the fresh winter sun was a lovely way to pass the time but we were ready for the real action so we headed to the San Siro for the second visit of the trip. Today’s match pitted the visitors Verona against high flying hosts Inter Milan (30 Euros each). Inter chasing their first Scudetto since Jose Mourinho lifted the trophy some 10 years ago. Getting into the stadium required ID matching your ticket so thankfully I had taken a photo of my passport weeks earlier otherwise it would have been then worst start possible to the evening. After a healthy climb, we found our seats up in the Gods and settled down to a much fuller stadium with 66,000 other fans.
Having witnessed Man United fans criticising Romelu Lukaku for the last few years, it was interesting to see Inter fans showing the same disapproval at a poor first touch or wrong choice of pass, this despite the fact he was banging in the goals to keep up their challenge to stop Juventus winning a 9th consecutive Serie A title. 19 minutes in the lively atmosphere took a turn when Valerio Verre (£0.27) drilled his penalty straight down the middle after Verona were dubiously awarded a penalty for a foul by Handanovic (£0.40).
Despite Inter pressure the score remained the same at half time, at this scoreline the fans became even more animated and when we are talking about Italian fans who seem animated describing what they had for tea, this was a sight to behold. Chance after chance went begging until the 65th minute when Matias Vecino (£0.34) rose to head home the cross from Valentin Lazaro (£0.85). By this point it was attack against defence as Verona were more than happy to settle for a point away at the title challengers. The volume around the stadium continued to increase in line with the pressure on the pitch, every missed opportunity was met with jeers and anger and Antonio Conte turned to his bench. The great hope of the future, 17 year old Sebastiano Esposito was brought on 81 minutes in and one minute later the game reached its highlight.
Another bright hope for Italy’s future, Nicolo Barella (£1.40) picked the ball up on the left wing and edged his marker closer to the goal before a quick burst of pace inside created the smallest of spaces for him to unleash a world class curled effort into the top corner leaving the keeper with absolutely no chance. Incredible scenes on the pitch and in the stands as 80 minutes of tension was released, the sheer beauty of football captured right there in one moment. What better result than 66,000 people going home happy after an epic end to a game in which Inter had a phenomenal 38 attempts at goal, the third highest in Serie A since recording began.
After the game we saw the most entertaining anti crowd congestion technique I’ve ever seen at the Metro station and then it was back to Navigli to enjoy the atmosphere and try the Italian tradition of Aperitivo, particularly common in Milan, it is essentially a happy hour (or 5) of buy a drink and all you can eat during that time for less than a tenner. A perfect choice for dinner before a few drinks along the canal.
However, the football drama wasn’t quite over yet as Gabz was able to tune in on Youtube to her beloved team in the Paulista Derby – Palmeiras x Corinthians, ranked as one of the fiercest rivalries in the world by the Footballderbies.com (having just discovered this site it lists the world’s greatest derbies on current assessment, certainly a site I will be using to plan future trips). As the face suggests the result was not to our liking and my adoptive Palmeiras only managed to salvage a late draw which pretty much ended their fading hopes of retaining the Brasileirao they had won in 2018.
The next morning, we headed off to Milan Bergamo airport, obviously a 1-hour bus ride from Milan being a Ryanair flight, a picturesque journey taking in the snow-capped Orebie mountain range brought an end to another enjoyable trip including my first taste of Italian football and yet another famous venue. Ciao for now.