To my English mind the archetypal football city is large, working class and has that certain level of grimness needed to stir up the passions. A fashion capital with omnipresent designer boutiques, November sunglasses and cafes that charge you up to ten euros just to sit down in them is tough to fit into my mould, but whichever way you look at it Milan is a cult footballing metropolis.
Strolling the city’s cobbled streets you see that the dueling striped colour schemes of red and black or blue and black take on a stylishness near unimaginable in Bristol or Birmingham. The club shops fit in naturally with neighbouring Gucci stores and are stocked with price tags of similarly wince-inducing levels.
Needless to say such glamour fitted perfectly with the jeans and t-shirt combo (covered now with a jumper, it’s getting chilly) that I will need to be peel off when this bout of travelling concludes and I arrive back in England later this week.
Then there’s the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza (the San Siro to its friends), truly a style icon in its own right.
Our first date was two days before AC Milan’s Serie A match with champions Juventus on Sunday and first impressions of the stadium didn’t match up with its online profile. The San Siro is horizon dominatingly huge, but surrounded by lifeless tarmac its concrete turrets made it look like a giant turtle beached in a car park.
Sunday afternoon soon rolled around and the scene was unrecognisable. Five hours before kick off the asphalt had become covered with burger vans that could more accurately be called prosciutto vans, dozens of stalls decked out in Rossoneri scarves and already hundreds of milling punters sporting the same dress code.
Milan’s falling attendances this season have been well commented on, but Juventus, Italy’s most supported club, were always going to draw a healthier crowd. This, however, was going to make getting a ticket of my own that much harder, and explained my exceptionally early arrival.
At the Curva Nord box office the sold out signs were up. Though not quite a hands-in-the-air personal disaster it did mean I’d need to turn to the touts again. The best I could negotiate (despite all the practice my ability has remained fairly shoddy) was eighty euros, making this one ticket well over double the price of my second most expensive entry. I suppose that’s the cost of being part of a full San Siro.
My overspending self-criticism evaporated on the long and winding wander up the swirling cylinders, and by the time I’d reached the top and taken in my first panoramic view of the place it was clear it had been worth every euro.
The San Siro was a sizable football stadium anyway, and then they stuck another tier on top of three of the sides for Italia ‘90, along with the turrets and the mighty roof. The upper tiers are steep and so high that they were engulfed in unfloodlit shadow and for this night match the touchline hugging stands stretched back as though never ending. As the ground has been regularly expanded and updated in its ninety year history it has developed a rough-edged but captivating genuineness missing from most newly built stadiums.
As the ground gradually filled to its whopping capacity I was surprised at how many among the home areas were proudly decked out in Juve colours- and that the Milanese contingent didn’t seem to mind. But regardless of the demographic makeup, there’s something about being in a crowd of nearly 80,000 that can’t really be beaten.
A look at the points accrued in this season’s Serie A table suggested that the evening’s visitors were twice as good as Milan, but put together a three-pronged attack of the sometimes brilliant but mainly infuriating Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng as well as this year’s chief wunderkind Stephan El Shaawary and there was always the chance that a Rossoneri triumph was possible, if not one you’d bet too much on.
First half you’d have been forgiven for thinking Milan are still the world beaters of old. The old lady’s old maestro Andrea Pirlo was being hassled out of his usual metronomic rhythm and his all-conquering side was backfooted. Worse followed, a debatable Bianconeri handball gave Robinho a spot kick he narrowly squeezed past Buffon and the hosts had an interval lead that was fully warranted.
The in-stadium mix meant that whatever occurred on field there was the morphed sound of mass cheers and mass sneers, but the Rossineri finally got the chance to scream the loudest with their goal and even Milan’s PR people were getting carried away, not just tempting but goading fate by flashing up a live Serie A table for the rest of the match, showing their charges with the three-point haul they had far from secured.
After the break Juve moved up a gear, but only into about third, and though substitute Giovinco moved hearts towards mouthes in skewing a bicycle kick wide Milan were good value for the points, with genuine emotion spilling out from players and supporters during the post final whistle celebrations.
Not a bad way for me to bow out as sadly my eastern European trawl has now come to its conclusion. I can’t pretend to be happy about that, but I have one small matter of consolation. From St. Petersburg to the San Siro there’s nowhere quite like Fratton Park (stop sniggering at the back).
Iain is a football writer currently traveling around the world. Find him on Twitter here.