Tales From Italy

Roma vs. Chelsea : 4 November 2008.

Part One.

Greetings From Rome. Just time to post a few things before we soon set off by cab for the Villa Borghese – all of the official coaches are shuttling us up from this park area to Stadio Olimpico from 5pm onwards… Actually, just before I logged on, we had a ridiculously intense rain shower, with deafening thunderclaps echoing around the city streets. Let’s hope we don’t get too soaked tonight. I have my VINCI PER NOI banner with me, but doubt if I will take it to the game – too concerned that the police will steal it. It has been a nice and realaxing time. The weather yesterday was phenominal – we took a nice leisurely stroll down to The Coloseum – weather in the ’70s, blue skies…then a saunter around a few shops, then a lovely meal on Via Sestini in the evening. I am here with Alan and Gary – but Bob from California is staying in the same hotel as us…he is here with his wife…and enjoying every minute of it. The weather was worse today…grey skies, but at least not cold. We did a bus tour from 11am to 3pm – delayed by two hours as the bus driver hit not one, but two, cars within the first 30 minutes. Typical Italy. We hardly saw any Chelsea yesterday – maybe 10 the entire day…the troops are gathering though…we had a beer near the main train station at 3.30pm and we were joined by about twenty Chelsea towards the end. Chelsea – the players and management – are staying at the Waldorf, across from the Vatican, apparently. Hell – it’s raining again. Best go back upstairs, sort out my matchday clobber and arrange to meet Bob and the boys. Hopefully, a great game and a victory report to follow later…

Part Two. A great trip – apart from the football – but when has Chelsea ever only been about the football? Back at the hotel for a quiet hour before we catch the airport express from Termini. Not much to be pleased about from last night…I have just purchased the pink Gazetta sports paper and they gave the best marks to Frank and JT…both with a 6. It is so typical for the Italians to not get over-excited with their player rankings…I have been following Italian football for the best part of thirty years and you hardly ever see a 9, let alone a 10…virtually a perfect performance. Whereas, in the UK, you often find 9s and 10s all over the place. The Italians – for once – quite conservative and pragmatic. My top mark went to Frank – always involved. Thought Alex was OK. But Roma’s attacks seemed to flow a lot better. No, I’ll leave the match reports to others. Seriously – it HAS been a good trip, and one which I will hopefully type up in greater depth tomorrow, probably quite late on. We reckon only about 1,200 Chelsea came out…always lovely to see a few familiar faces though. Following Chelsea away in Europe is like going en masse with some weird family every few months…all the odd aunts and uncles, the boistourous kids, the characters…we don’t always get on, but we always look after each other. One of the first faces we saw out here, down by The Coloseum, was Lovejoy – and after a very full and comical build up to this living and breathing Chelsea legend, Bob eventually got to meet him at the game last night. We’ll let Bob comment on all that! The weather has been great again today – blue skies and sunny weather…we had a mooch about the area by the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain…and I had the most luxurious chocolate ice cream ever. Dipped into a nice clothes shop on the walk back up to our hotel – and all three of us have picked up some cracking bargains, which will be worn as soon as possible at Chelsea with any luck. In closing this second section, with a nod to the events in America, let’s just say that at least one Blue Team had a successful result yesterday.

Part Three. Is anyone still reading this? So – my three days in Rome…what else to say? Firstly, some background – this was about my eighth trip to The Eternal City. First visited in 1986, Inter-Railing, slept at the train station…the things you do when you are young, eh? I travelled extensively on the European train network between 1985 and 1990 – my wanderlust years – but I can’t ever remember being so excited about visiting a new city as that first arrival in Rome on a summer evening in 1986. I can still remember standing in the train corridor, peering out of a window, the cypress trees and the tower blocks, glimpses of ruins here and there. I only stayed about twenty hours that first time…Coloseum, Vatican, Olympic Stadium…I knew my priorities alright! So fast forward twenty two years. Gary, Alan and myself caught the 7am Easyjet from LGW and were soon booking in to the hotel near the Termini station…not a very salubrious part of town in past years…the homeless and the helpless used it as a base…drug addicts, trannies, prostitutes. It seemed a bit better in 2008. Despite warnings of severe storms, the weather on Monday and also Wednesday was sublime…temperatures of around 70 degrees. On Monday lunchtime, we walked down to The Coloseum, the number one location in my book. We stopped off at a café in a piazza and had a couple of very expensive sandwiches ad beers apiece. We fell in love with virtually every woman we saw. Black still seems to be the colour in Italy. We noted black leather boots being worn by many of the signorini. Oh my goodness. The Italians dress with such style. I said to the boys – “no girls wearing tracksuits, trainers and a complete absence of the colour pink.” They can teach us all a lesson. Virtually the first person we saw from the Chelsea family – right outside The Coloseum – was Lovejoy, with his “girlfriend” ( cough, cough ) on tow. Of all the people. He recommended that we visit the restaurant I have mentioned – on Via Sestina, between Piazza Barbarini and the Spanish Steps – it was owned by a Pavarotti lookalike. Alan and Gary popped into The Coloseum – I had visited it in 1990, so just stayed outside, watching the sights wobble past. The Coloseum is right in the heart of the historic epicentre of the city, adjacent to the Forum and the Circus Maximus. I just sat and daydreamed. “Rome – it’ll be nice when it’s finished.” We returned back to the hotel, showered, met up with Bob and his wife – then caught a cab down to Barberini at 7.30pm. We immediately spotted said Luciano lookalike outside his restaurant, enticing punters in. The restaurant was cozy and crowded…we were ushered into a little room, through the kitchen, right underneath rows of wine bottles. The waiters were ebullient and charming. Luciano was wearing a Burberry hat, so I christened him “Chavarotti.” We had a lovely meal – pasta, pizza, Peroni – and Alan regaled Mr and Mrs Bob with humorous Chelsea anecdotes, most involving Lovejoy. Great times. I first met Bob in Palo Alto in 2007 – who would have thought his fifth ever Chelsea game would be in Rome? After the meal, we met up with Rob down by the Trevi Fountain, then spent a few minutes trying to locate a cheap bar. There were hardly any Chelsea around to be honest. Two other lads – Andy and Davey – joined us…as the night wore on, the Chelsea stories got funnier, then serious, past games were recounted…but the focus was on us, the fans, rather than the players. This is typical. Davey said he had been outside St. Peter’s with two friends…when, with perfect timing, a geezer in a Spurs shirt walked by…”has the pope told you to fuck off mate?” they shouted. The beer was bloody expensive, though…maybe just as well…at least we weren’t hungover the next morning. We got a cab home. Big Al had bought some grapes and was reclining on his bed eating them. He only needed a toga to resemble a modern day Caeser. “When in Rome.” Up at 9am and a breakfast in the hotel. We decided to take a double-decker bus tour for 18 euros…this was great, but we were delayed by 90 minutes when our coach hit two vehicles. Just typical. There was pure street theatre on the second one – the young driver of the BMW was full of Latin gestures and not wishing to back down because he was with his, lovely, girlfriend. It took ages to resolve. “This place wasn’t built in a day you know.” We went past all the main sights. It was a grey day, but still warm. I saw a lot of Rome I hadn’t previously seen. We had a light meal, then met up with Bob at the hotel. I posted “Part One.” The heavens had well and truly opened. Incredible sight – and sound. We got a cab to an area of parkland to the immediate north of the centre called Villa Borghese. Around 15 coaches were waiting for us. We arrived there at 6pm, but didn’t leave for the stadium until about 7.45pm. The rain was still falling – we heard rumours of a pitch inspection. A tense time. Met a few faces. Eventually, the coaches set off and, with police van sirens wailing and motorbikes zigging in and out, we set off through the wet Roman streets for the Stadio Olympico to the north of the city. We passed through two long tunnels…we were taken way north of the stadium, then into a secure area behind the Curva Nord ( the Lazio end. ) On my only other previous visit to Rome for a game, in 1999, we had played Lazio and had been allocated the other end. Still the rain fell. At last Bob was able to meet Lovejoy, who was holding court outside the entrance to the seats. I took a few nice shots of us all, with the glow of the floodlights behind and above. I was told to sit down by two chaps behind me as the game began. Ho hum. We only had about 1,200 present, but I recognised loads of faces. I began texting a few folk. Thought our support – in terms of the singing – was poor. Saw Cathy and Dog arrive. With about twenty minutes gone, around 50 of the firm arrived en masse and around five had bloodied faces, the victims of a police onslaught. The sight of these chaps, in their fifties a lot of them, bloodied and bruised, cast a dark shadow for a few moments. They weren’t paying too much attention to the game. Thought the boys had a lot of the ball in the first half – we had a few corners, eh? But there was no cutting edge. I was sat with Bob and I could feel his frustration. Unlike the Lazio game in 1999, there wasn’t much of a re-game show from the ultras in the Curva Sud. A few stray firecrackers, with billowing smoke. A cheesey club anthem on the PA. A banner which said “F*ck The Queen.” Terrible marking and Panucci, of all people, scored. We then imploded and were as poor as I can remember for quite a while. But I was disappointed with the lack of support from us in our high section on the NW curve. Our performance, like the night, was a damp squib ( whatever a squib is…) I was hoping for a pulsating game for Bob, with both sets of fans in good voice. Even after the catastrophic third goal, the Roma fans weren’t exactly bringing the house down. The JT goal, the Deco sending off – the game going away from us. We played the last ten minutes with only two at the back. My two “friends” behind hadn’t uttered a word of support the entire game, had talked about rugby, motor racing, work and cameras throughout…and left with 20 minutes to go. Why do these idiots bother? We were kept in for a full hour and forty minutes at the end of the game. Roma kindly played us the 2007-2008 season DVD while we were waiting, minus the sound. There was a fleeting, haunting image of Mourinho on the screen, high above rows and rows of royal blue seats…a surreal sight. Back to Termini on a convoy again. The 1,000 Chelsea fans fled into the night. We made a half-hearted attempt to find a bar to ease our spirits, but gave up. Bed at 1am. The last day was spent eating more glorious food – a wonderful ice cream – chilling out, wandering the busy city centre streets. We ended up in a great shop on the Via Nazionale and we all came away with bargains. I bought a couple of super-light cotton CP Company shirts for 70 euros each…just the ticket. We heard Bob had raided the very same shop earlier…he was by now en route to Barcelona, the next city on his mini tour of Europe. I posted “Part Two” in the hotel foyer and we then caught the airport train just as the sun was setting over the seven hills.

“Arrivederci Roma.”

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