Thursday, September 14, 2006

A.S.Roma v Livorno 09.09.06

We jumped on the Metro to a place I forget, began with F. Flamini? From there, we got the No.2 Tram about four stops, and then we walk across the Tiber to the Olimpico. Jogging some of the way, as kick-off approaches. We go in Gate 25 and I get searched immediately. Momentarily, I have to remove my hat, my shades, and the scarf completely obscuring my face. It's all sweet though, naturally, so we make for the stairs, and as we rise to the top, the whole spectacle is right there in front of me. To the left, the infamous Curva Sud: ablaze with shoulder-to-shoulder showboating, as roman candles smoke, flags wave, and voices chant, blear and BANG! There's the loudest explosion I've ever heard, and the voice on the loudhailer is overpowered by the tannoy, as the teams are read out. With the eighth or ninth Roma player announced, the connection crackles, but the fans cheer their number all the same. Finally, it kicks back in, just in time for the custom call and answer...

Tannoy: "Francesco-" Fans: "Totti!"

We find our seats, and there's space around us, so I relax in half and take a couple of photographs that illustrate the look on Frankie's face perfectly: stunned. The teams walk out, and the drama is abetted by confetti, until they gather round the centre circle for a minute's applause for the late Giacinto Facchetti.

I'd say the first half was a non-event, but that would be bollocks. There wasn't much football played, but everything else was sensational. The Livorno fans, less than 200 in number in a stadium three quarters full of 50,000, start hurling objects at the Roma pack gathered in the Curva Nord. It looks like chaos, and it is, there's another explosion, and suddenly a fire - maybe from a petrol bomb - when the stewards surge, followed moments later by a Carabinieri charge. The hooligans retreat, the mood sours, but people start to settle down and get to grips wth the action.

Totti plays in the hole, but he's the last forward to track back. Simone Perotta and Di Rossi boss midfield, and I like the feet of the number 7. Livorno give as good as they get, and their right-winger is slickest of all; but the teams both look in early-season form, and my eyes rise to some glorious statue I can see through the roof of the stadium, high up on the hill to the West.

Boy dude with a coolbox appears, and I get a couple of beers and a cornetto. The noise level is insane, and it's unrelenting until the closing moments of the half. The Curva Sud leads the way, and there's a character about their song sheet, with vast and technical ditties intertwined with some curious hollering, whistling, and cat calling. Every now and then, with a misplaced pass or a thigh-high scythe, either a hundred jump on the referee's back or someone down the front thwacks their paper against their knee in frustration. It's all very emotional, and at this point I make a telephone call. Alas, I've no idea if I was heard because it was so much of an aural attack.

During the break, I start chatting to Leonardo in the next row. Three minutes later, he offers me something I shouldn't reveal on a public forum, and by the start of the second half, I'm chilled to the bone, with a fresh beer and a new voice in my ear. Roma play beautifully for a 15-minute spell, and Di Rossi scores a cracker from 25-yards out. There's lots of other excitement too, with some near misses, overhead kicks, and great dummies on show. Really, it was sophisticated football. There was even a naughty elbow.

Roma make the first of three subs, swapping number 7 for a lively right winger, and the new kid comes on and shoots with his first touch; the ball breaks and it's 2-0. In between, Totti missed a penalty, and all the time the rhythm from the stands is rah-rah-rah, while I'm now perched on the lip of my seat. Awestruck: every sense standing to atten-Z. Mancini, the Brasilian, who'd previously been disappointing, comes onto a game, and he devastates the left back with his trickery and pace. It could have been four, but we settle for coming back, and I'm delighted about that.

More explosions follow, and there's a beauty to proceedings, a sheer theatre, a dignity to the mayhem, ala gioco bello. Golazio: Amen.

Graeme Jamieson

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