Tales From Two Nights In Turin

Juventus vs. Chelsea : 20 November 2012.

The church bells of my local village church struck three o’clock and a few minutes later I was away on my latest European adventure with Chelsea Football Club. I had been awake since 1.30am, but only had a couple of hours’ sleep to my name.

At three o’clock in the morning all is quiet. Thankfully, the roads were dry and the sky was clear of rain. I soon texted a small gaggle of friends on the west coast of America – the only ones that were still awake…

“Giacomo Kerouac.”

Up on Salisbury Plain, near Shrewton, I passed an owl, sitting still in the middle of the road. It reminded me of the owl that I drove past up on the Mendip Hills on my way to Bristol Airport for the game with Barcelona last season. I hoped for a similar result. I was evidently grabbing at straws and looking for any good fortune. Make no mistake; Juventus away was a stern test for our faltering team. It was the game of the season thus far. A draw would be fantastic. A win would be phenomenal.

I covered the 125 miles to Gatwick in two hours. The roads had remained dry and clear of traffic. On the journey, there was time for me to filter through all of the previous European trips that I had enjoyed during the past eighteen years. This second trip to Juve would be my twenty-fourth such trip with Chelsea. I quickly ranked the top five trips (Munich 2012, Barcelona 2012, Stockholm 1998, Turin 2009 and Seville 1998 ) and then thought about worst trips. To be honest, apart from a couple, all have been fantastic and I didn’t bother ranking the worst ones. Of those twenty four excursions, I had been to Spain six times, Germany five times and the Turin trip would be my fifth to Italy.

There were a few familiar faces on the 0700 Easyjet flight to Milan Malpensa. I thankfully managed an hour of sleep. Every hour counts.

We landed in Italy at 9.45am. Milan Malpensa was last visited by me in 1980 and 1981 on family holidays to the Italian Riviera. I quickly recognised the forests which surrounded the runway. Through passport control, the instant aroma of coffee was overpowering – “benvenuti in Italia!” – and I just had time for the first cappuccino of the trip before I boarded the Sadem bus at 10.30am which took us to Turin. While the other coach passengers either slept or listened to music, I was taking note of everything. Maybe it was the caffeine inside me, but my eyes were everywhere. In truth, the road was rather bland, but I did not care one jot. The mountains of The Alps were our constant companion to the north and I kept scouring the rural Italian landscape for iconic images. Old farmsteads, woodland copses and the amazingly flat Po valley laid out to my right. Overhead, there were blotchy clouds. The Alps kept getting closer. They were snow-capped, of course, and quite beguiling. We passed by the town of Vercelli, home many years ago to one of Italy’s great teams in the early years. Pro Vercelli had won the First Division, in all its guises, seven times before Juventus had their first “scudetto” to their name.

Ah, football. Football was back in my mind again. As we approached the outskirts of Turin, I was sitting bolt upright and my arms were hugging the seat rest in front, attempting to gain a good vantage point of the twin sights which were dominating my thoughts.

On my last visit to Turin in 2009, my match report closed with the phrase –

“As I walked out to catch the airport bus at about 7am, I just wanted to put my arms around the city one last time. The Alps still looked stunning to the west and there was Superga, to the east, ready to welcome me back next time.”

After a few moments of uncertainty, there it was.

Superga.

The famous basilica which overlooks the entire Piedmont capital, was sitting high and proud on its very own hilltop. It was midday and the sky suddenly lit up with a bolt of sunshine. After around twenty minutes, I just glimpsed the other iconic sight which I had hoped to see. The two roof supports – the sole remainders of around twelve such structures from the old Stadio delli Alpi – of the brand spanking new Juventus Stadium were spotted a few miles to my west. While everyone else on the coach was still slumbering, I had welcomed myself to the city. To be honest, I wanted to leap to my feet, grab a microphone and become a tour rep for a few minutes.

“Of course, there is a big dichotomy in the city. The Torino club is supported by more of the locals than the more illustrious Juventus club.”

At 12.20pm, we had been deposited outside the Porta Sousa train station. I decided to walk the mile or so to my hotel. The Turin streets, some cobbled, were quiet. There was a slight chill to the air, but – “che bello” – it was fantastic to be back. I texted my friend Tullio, who I first met on that 1981 holiday in Diano Marina – that I was in his city.

“Welcome. See you soon.”

While I waited for my hotel on Via Saluzzo to allow me to check in at 2pm, I walked around for a few moments, taking in the familiar surroundings around the Porta Nuova station. I popped into a nearby bar and ordered a couple of small beers – “un piccolo birra per favore” – and attempted to pick out pertinent points from the footballing section of “La Stampa.” The little plate of free nibbles that the Toro-supporting barmaid gave me went down well. At 2pm I checked in at Hotel Due Mondi, but the beer had made me drowsy. I had already been awake for eleven hours. I decided to have a famous “Chelsea On Tour Power Nap.”

At 5.45pm, the night was falling and I gathered myself together and headed out. I had arranged to meet Tullio around a mile to the east, right outside the church where he married Emanuela in 1999. The air had chilled further and the rush-hour traffic was thudding over the cobbled streets. As I walked over the bridge, I noted that Monte dei Cappuccini was lit with blue lights. Was this another good sign? I was desperate for good omens. The River Po, with lights reflecting along its western edge, was magnificent. I was so happy to be back in the city once more. This would be my seventh trip to Turin for a Juventus game. Those waters run deep.

Tullio arrived, his car lights flashing, and I clambered into his car, almost too excited for words. We shook hands and then embraced. It was, of course, wonderful to see him once again.

I first visited Turin in 1987 – early November – and I can well remember walking the three miles from Porta Nuova to the old Stadio Communale for a Juve vs. Panathinaikos UEFA cup game. With each step on that cold, dark night, my excitement rose, with memories of Anastasi, Rossi, Boninsegna, Bettega and Zoff racing through my mind. It was, in fact, my first ever UEFA game of any description. How excited I was to turn a corner and finally set eyes on the Juve supporters crowding, three hours before the kick-off, outside the Curva Filadelphia. On that particular night, I sold my first ever football badges – “emblemi inglese, due mila lire” – before disappearing into the Curva Maratona to witness the bianconeri at play for the first time.

Just one memory of Turin. There are hundreds.

Tullio’s wife Emanuella welcomed me into their apartment and the two girls, Sofia and Lucrezia, soon arrived on the scene, though their gaze soon returned towards the cartoons on the TV screen. Of course, just under a year ago, I was with my other Italian friend Mario – from 1975 this time – in Germany when Chelsea played Michael Ballack’s Bayer Leverkusen. Was it really 1985 when the three of us were last together, playing football on the beach outside the Hotel Gabriella in Diano Marina? How time flies.

Emanuela, who is just starting up a fledgling catering company with a friend, served up a lovely Italian feast, alongside a couple of lovely local wines. We chatted and caught up and – to my surprise – the football talk was kept to a minimum. We ran through our two teams. I told Tullio that I liked the diminutive Giovinco.

“But he never scores. Only the third or fourth goal. Once the game is over.”

We spoke about the possibility of meeting up to see a Depeche Mode concert at the San Siro in Milano during the summer. Tullio has Mario to thank for exposing him to the music of the boys from Basildon. I had to comment –

“Of course, the best thing is…Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher are Chelsea fans.”

Tullio drove me back into the city and we said our goodbyes. Tullio would be attending the Chelsea match on the Tuesday with some friends; he had managed to get hold of a ticket from a friend whose brother is a presenter on the Juventus TV channel. Last time, in 2009, Cathy managed to get Tullio a ticket via a contact at Barclay’s in Turin.

I met up with Alan, Gary, Daryl and Neil in the “Murphy’s Six Nations” pub on Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II, the main east-west road in the city. They had arrived in the city from Genoa. A couple of pints there were followed by a few more at “Zilli’s Bar” on the other side of the road. A few more familiar faces; Rob, Pauline, Peter, Callum and Digger. I spent time talking to a couple of Chelsea friends. Rob was waxing lyrical about the time that he went to that infamous game in 1975 at White Hart Lane. It was, actually, his first ever Chelsea game, but he was locked out. He only got in towards the end of the game when Chelsea were losing 2-0 and the gates were opened to let the early-leavers depart. He went into great detail about parts of the day, but memories of the game were scant. I joked with him that he was able to remember what he had for breakfast in the café on the Tottenham High Road beforehand, though.

“Any mushrooms, Rob?”

“Nah. Fried tomatoes, though, Chris.”

To be honest, I expected this main drag to be busier. I was worried that we would only have around 1,500 out of our allotted 2,400. I decided to head back to the hotel at 2.30am after the bar was invaded by some youngsters who were intent on singing songs which I found to be unacceptable. I don’t appreciate songs lauding John Terry’s alleged racist nature. Things got a little heated. I soon left.

On the day of the game, my plans were already sorted. I had a fantastic lunch arranged for 12.30pm at the “La Pista” restaurant which sits on top of the old Fiat Lingotto factory where Tullio’s grandfather worked all his life. I had a lie-in, but left the hotel at 11.45am. Unbelievably, as I stepped out of the hotel, glimpsing up at the cloudless sky, I heard my name being called.

“Chris!”

It was Tullio’s mother! She was with Tullio’s father. What a joy it was to see their faces! I had not planned to see them on this trip. Their house was only a mile or so away and they had walked up to my hotel to leave a little present for me in reception. What an amazing coincidence that I should chose to leave the hotel at that exact time. We were all full of smiles and we gave each other big, big hugs.

I was buzzing. This city was endearing itself to me all over again. I caught the metro down to Lingotto at midday. For film aficionados, Lingotto is famously featured in the 1969 film “The Italian Job” when a bank heist takes place in the city. The famous car chase ends up on the test-track on top of the Lingotto factory. It is not far from the old Campo Filadelfia stadium and the Stadio Olimpico, former and current homes of Torino.

Lingotto remained disused for many years when Fiat’s production moved to the sprawling Mirafiori works further to the south, but has been rejuvenated by architect Renzo Piano in the past twenty years. It now houses a hotel and a shopping centre. Inside, there was a small Christmas fayre and there was music being played. The first song I heard was “One Step Beyond.”

Yes really. Another good omen?

I spent well over an hour in the fantastic restaurant at Lingotto. I’m not a foodie at all, but decided to treat myself. I had a table overlooking the old test track. The view was simply stunning. The Alps to my left, the hills to the right and the dramatic curve of the banked test track ahead of me. It was a perfect day. The food was exceptional. I typically spent the time people-watching; an elegant couple to my left were having the Full Monty, around eight courses, and I watched as truffles were weighed out on some scales. Ahead, a noisy table of sixteen, one of whom was wearing a Chelsea sweatshirt. Maybe he was a Torino fan. They all stopped to listen as the patriarch spoke; there was hushed reverence. I almost expected Roman Abramovich and his entourage to arrive and use the vacant table away in the distance. I wasn’t used to such decadent surroundings, but I loved every minute. I spent a while mulling over my love affair with Italy. It was a time for quiet introspection. There was a time, circa 1988, when I had no concrete career plans and I semi-seriously mulled over the idea of living in Turin and attempting to make a living through selling football badges at games in Italy. I’d attempt to learn the language. Maybe six months in Turin. Six months in England. La Dolce Vita and all that.

Dream on. It never happened. I didn’t have the self-confidence to go for it.

In the restaurant at Lingotto, I daydreamed of a life that could have been.

I smiled to myself. I wasn’t bothered.

“Things are good mate. Things are good. Salute.”

After the meal, armed with my camera, I circumnavigated the test-track. Ever since I have been coming to Turin, visiting it has been my own personal holy grail. And here I was, walking the famous banked curves for the very first time. My camera went into overdrive and I loved it. Thankfully, there were no clouds in the sky. The snow-capped mountains to the west were clearly visible. To the north, the ornate tower of Il Mole Antonelliana was magnificent.

Click, click, click.

I was in my own little world and I loved it.

If only I had a mini…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrNCGdtdIRc

With sadness, I left the roof area and descended into the shopping centre. I popped into the Juve store, but neglected to buy anything; I was in Turin for Chelsea. It didn’t seem right to buy a Juve item. In a boutique, I was warmed to see the appearance of some Henri Lloyd pullovers, sweatshirts and trousers alongside the more typical Italian names such as Armani. There was also a Clarks shop nearby.

England fights back. The Italian Job all over again.

I made my way back into town and met up, briefly with Josh (theangryintern) who was outside “Murphy’s” with Cathy. I set him off on a quick walk of the city to give him an idea of its charms. I then returned to the hotel to recharge batteries; my mobile phone, my camera, my body. At 5pm, I was back out again. Camera in hand, I shot a few memorable photos of the area around Via Roma, the street which houses the up-market shops such as Fendi and Boss, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. This street runs north south from the Porta Nuova up to Piazza San Carlo and beyond. Although I love it, its architecture is brutal and easily recognisable from the facist years of Benito Mussolini. In the city from November to January, there is a “Festival of Lights” and I captured a few iconic images. It was 5.30pm and the city was calm. Juve fans were hardly visible. I popped into a gorgeous bar on Piazza San Carlo and enjoyed a crisp beer, then helped myself to the plates of “free nibbles” which were piled high on the bar.

La Dolce Vita indeed.

As I departed I said “buona note e forza Chelsea” to the cashier. She smiled. Maybe she was Toro, too.

I zipped into “Zilli’s Bar” again. Rumours were confused about transportation to the stadium, some four miles to the north-west. Cathy and Josh, now joined by Beth, had rumours of getting a tube to Bernini and then coaches would be waiting. I then crossed the road and met up with Daryl, Alan, Gary and Neil in “Murphy’s” for a pint of Birra Moretti. There was a nice “Welcome Blues” banner outside this cosy bar and a Chelsea DVD was playing. I took a couple of photographs of Roberto Di Matteo in around 1997. The lads had enjoyed themselves during the day; a bus tour, a visit to Il Mole, some nice memories to take away with them. Alan had seen on the official Chelsea website that we had to muster on Corso San Maurizio to wait for buses. At around 7pm, we set off for this anointed point, but on our arrival, buses were nowhere to be seen. A plan B was called for and so I nipped into a Chinese restaurant and asked the owner to ring for a cab – “lo stadio, per cinque persone, per piacere.”

At 7.45pm, we were hurtling through the evening traffic. Fifteen minutes later, the cabbie – at last, a Juve fan – dropped us off at the north-eastern corner of the stadium. Pulses were racing now. Good times. On the cab ride, I had mentioned to Daryl that I remembered talking to him when we first met up in 1992 about my travels around Europe selling badges and the trips to Italy to see Juventus in particular. I remembered him commenting that, in all seriousness, he was a tad jealous, since all he had done was “watch Chelsea.” At the time, the remark made me wince since I was surprised anyone would be jealous of me. Since then, Daryl – plus all of my other mates – have had a merry dance, following our beloved team all over the continent. Daryl remembered the comment and smiled.

“We’ve been lucky. Other fans could only wish for what we’ve done.”

I was last on this spot in May 1999, the weekend of Tullio and Emanuela’s wedding, when I awoke bleary-eyed on the Sunday and made my way, again by cab, to the old Delli Alpi for the weekend’s other major attraction; Juventus vs. Fiorentina. On the Wednesday, Manchester United had been in town, memorably defeating Juve 3-2 in the CL semi-final after being 2-0 down. It was, allegedly, Roy Keane’s best ever game for United. It was United’s version of our draw at Barcelona in 2012 I guess. I was pretty delicate after the excesses of the wedding reception – I memorably awoke with bloodshot eyes – but watched a Juventus team including Didier Deschamps, Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane defeat the hated Viola 2-1. Current manager Antonio Conte scored the winning goal way deep in injury time and then infamously ran towards the away section in the north-east corner and pulled the black and white corner flag out of the ground and waved it victoriously at the Fiorentina fans. I have this all on camcorder film somewhere.

The others were keen to enter the stadium, but I excused myself and took a few moments to let things settle, to take it all in. Outside, there were many souvenir stalls selling Juve gifts. There was also the ever-present smell of wurst being grilled. A German food being sold at an Italian game? Sure. The smell took me back to nights selling badges in Turin, Milan and Verona. There was a heavy police presence outside our gate, but I was quickly through the security checks. My camera hung around my neck, but I was allowed in. At each of the three checks, I sweet-talked the stewards.

“Sono tifo di Chelsea, ma – sono un piccolo tifo di Juventus.”

There were smiles at each of these interjections.

I took some atmospheric shots of the stadium, with the moon high above. The stadium sits on the exact site of the Delli Alpi. Because the lower bowl is below street level, it doesn’t look too imposing from the exterior. It is a very photogenic stadium though. The twin roof supports are painted white, red and green, mirroring the Italian flag, but the design reminded me, bizarrely, of the 1990 World Cup mascot, too. Strangely, Google Earth still shows the Delle Alpi stadium in all its unloved glory.

Yes, this was the site of the wonderful, but eventually heart-breaking, England vs. West Germany semi-final. I heartily recommend the film “One night in Turin” by the way.

I slowly made my way up the entrance tunnels and the white light of the arena beckoned me ever closer. Within a few steps, there it was. The terraces were so steep. Never has a 40,000 stadium looked so large and impressive. I’ve been keeping an eye on the progress of the building of this new stadium for quite a while. To my knowledge, it is the first-ever publicly funded stadium in Italy. I even watched the official opening in August of last year in a special 45 minute “Juventus / Facebook” link. It was a magnificently choreographed evening. And here it was, in the flesh. It was more spectacular than I had hoped.

“Fantastico.”

The Chelsea fans were strong in number. Thank heavens. I’m not sure where they had all been hiding during the day, but it was stirring to see so many had traveled.

It was soon time for me to become reacquainted with the Juventus anthem which I have been “YouTubing” for ages. The flags were waved, the music boomed out. Out came my “pub camera” to record it all for posterity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz68T…&feature=g-upl

I must admit to being just a little dewy-eyed at this moment. I am sure that Tullio, over on the far side, was singing along to the words.

“Juve, storia di un grande amore.
Bianco che abbraccia il nero.
Coro che si alza davvero, solo per te.
E’ la juve, storia di quel che saro’
Quando fischia l’inizio.
Ed inizia quel sogno che sei.”

Juventus in black and white shirts, white shorts and white socks. Chelsea in all blue.

So, this was it then. The night of destiny in Turin. I prayed that we could withstand the onslaught in the first twenty minutes. We had heard that the team would be without Fernando Torres. Eden Hazard to play centrally. Having Cesar Azpilicueta play wide in the midfield brought back memories of Ryan Bertrand in Munich.

We could only hope.

Early Juventus pressure was not a surprise. A wonderful save from Petr Cech at his near post had us all applauding. The home team kept attacking, but a break by Oscar on eight minutes gave us hope. It was a very strong run and he drew a defender before feeding in Eden Hazard. A low shot was deflected by Gianluigi Bufon into the goal’s side netting. This gave us hope. The old favourite from 2009 was aired.

“We are Chelsea, we are Chelsea, we are Chelsea – in Turin.”

Juventus came again and another fine save denied Marchisio.

Chances for Ramires and Hazard gave us hope. In truth, Juventus were enjoying most of the ball. At least we were creating some chances, though.

On 37 minutes, a speculative shot from Quagliarella took a wicked deflection and Cech was beaten. The tifosi roared and our hearts sank. As if to rub it in, the Juventus DJ played a short burst of “Chelsea Dagger” after the goal was scored.

A dagger to the heart.

Although Juventus had most of the ball, the thoughts among my little group of friends were that we had played reasonably well in the first period. Mikel was our best player I thought. Oscar showed good strength.

Our play seemed to deteriorate with each passing minute in the second-half. We all thought Cahill had fouled Vucinic inside the penalty area and we breathed a collective sigh of relief when the referee didn’t agree. Juventus attacked at will and some of our positional play was worrying. Azpilicueta, who had been fine, was replaced by Moses. Soon after, Juventus went further ahead when the ball was played back to Vidal. His shot was deflected again, this time by Ramires and Cech was beaten.

Another dagger to the Chelsea heart.

Torres came on for Mikel. A surprise that. He tidily played in Oscar to no avail. We were hoping for a miracle to be honest. The news from Denmark had been to our favour in the first-half with Shakhtar losing; they were now winning 5-2.

Things were bleak.

Giovinco broke through and beat the offside trap. Petr Cech did all he could to block, but the little Juventus attacker stroked the ball into an empty.

Pure misery.

I texted Tullio –

“He always scores the third goal.”

At the final whistle, we stared an exit from this year’s competition straight in the face. I went down to have a quick chat with my friend Orlin, who I previously met before the Arsenal away game last season. He is a Bulgarian, currently living in San Francisco. He remembered my quote of being a “1% Juventus fan.”

“Chris, are you 1% happy?”

I grimaced.

“No. I’m zero per cent happy.”

This was truly a grim night. Kev from Bristol did some calculations; it transpired that we have to hope for Shakhtar to defeat Juve while we win our last game against Nordsjaelland. We shuffled out of the stadium while some young oafs took their frustration out on some persplex glass which kept us separated from the locals, beating it constantly. We waited in silence. The mood was of solemnity. I wasn’t happy. We then boarded a fleet of coaches to take us back to the city centre. We were packed in like sardines. The mood was very similar to the mood after the game in Naples in February.

Back in the centre, the Chelsea fans dispersed into the night. The five of us sat outside “Murphy’s” for a few more drinks. After a few moments, the mood lightened. The famous Chelsea gallows humour helped us through. Behind me, an unknown Chelsea supporter was talking to an Italian about the club and its manager –

“Di Matteo is the new manager, yes. We will hope he can build a team this season. We want him to stay and do well.”

The boys had to be up early in the morning, so at about 1.30am we all returned to our respective hotels.

There was no need for me to get up too early on the Wednesday. At 10am, I was slowly coming around. The defeat was heavy in my mind. Should we fall into the Europa League, how will we cope? How will I cope? Big questions.

At 10.13am, my work colleague Mike texted me –

“What a joke! Di Matteo should have been treated better than that! Shocking!”

I looked at the text with blurry eyes. What did this mean? Had he been sacked? No. Surely not. I replied –

“What? What’s the news?”

Mike replied –

“Been sacked.”

In one single moment, I was angry, saddened, crestfallen, bewildered, upset, confused and heartbroken. The texts started flying around. It was true. How could my club dismiss the services of one of its greatest ever heroes so easily – and with the absolute absence of dignity – in such a despicable manner? This man had won us the FA Cup and the European Cup in May. This man had taken charge in dire circumstances and yet had got the team to respond admirably. Only a month ago, we had followed up a 2-1 win at Arsenal with a 4-2 win at Tottenham. Only recently, we were top of the league. Do we know judge our managers over just six games?

My brain was numb for the rest of that day in Turin. I disappeared over the bridge and had a morning cappuccino in a café in Piazza Crimea, then had a conversation in Italian with two locals as I bought the pink “Gazzetta” sports paper. I likened Chelsea to an Italian club, changing managers every six months. I only really know “football words” and “swear words” in Italian, but my vocabulary allowed me to talk for quite some time.

“Cambio, cambio, cambio! Bastardi!”

I walked up to Monte dei Cappuccini to take the last few photographs of my most recent trip to Turin. The city was oblivious to my sorrow. I guess that it was almost inevitable, knowing how the hand of probability works, that on one visit there would be sadness. Turin has certainly known its share of footballing grief, what with the twin tragedies of Superga and Heysel. Those two disasters have formed part of the collective psyche for the respective supporters of Torino and Juventus. Without wishing to be disrespectful, impolite or churlish, the city of Turin has now become a black spot in the history of my beloved Chelsea Football Club too.
IMG_1196

Tales From The Game Of My Life

Juventus vs. Chelsea : 10 March 2009.

“Tales From The Game Of My Life” – what else could I call this?

This was just a brilliant trip to the Piedmont city of Turin. As I sit here with enough memories to last a lifetime, my only concern is getting this report finished before I have to leave to go to the next game.

Let’s get started.

On Sunday afternoon, I re-watched “The Italian Job” ( set in Torino, 1969 ) to get my juices flowing. It was the perfect appetiser.

I left home at 1.30am on Monday morning and made great time heading up to Stansted airport to the north of London. I had only flown from this airport once before – my first ever Chelsea euro away to Viktoria Zizkov in September 1994. On that trip I bumped into Andy and Neil – two Chelsea lads from Nuneaton. I actually began chatting to them on Wenceslas Square in Prague. As fate had it, I had learned that Andy and Neil, plus Jonesy and Jocka, were to be on this flight too. We bumped into each other at the departure gate. Handshakes all round.

Our Ryanair flight to Torino left at 7am. I had already been awake since 12.45am, so tried to nab a little sleep on the plane. As luck would have it, Torino was featured in the in-flight magazine and it highlighted a couple of places I would later visit. Ex-Tottenham manager David Pleat was sat a couple of rows behind. I wondered if he would be visiting Torino’s pavement society. Maybe that would be shrouded in mystery.

Due to high winds, we circled over the hills to the east of the city for about thirty minutes before the pilot getting the nod to land. We caught a few glimpses of the city on a pristine clear morning. We descended and flew over the city from the south and I was able to point out the Lingotto factory featured in “The Italian Job.” We landed at 9.15am and caught a slow moving bus into the city centre. I spotted the roof supports of the Delle Alpi to the west, nestling beneath the stunning snow-capped mountains. To my east, the Superga basilica, high atop a hill, welcomed me to the city once again, like a beacon.

The bus stopped outside the Porta Nuova train station, where I had arrived in Torino for the very first time in 1987. We stayed about 90 minutes in a tiny, cramped bar, drinking a variety of beers, the owner feeding us nuts and crisps. My – it was great to be back. I texted my friend Tullio to say I had arrived. I had collected two tickets at HQ on behalf of Joe from Chicago and he arrived at about 1.30pm so I could hand over the tickets. He looked very happy. Andy and his mates were staying several miles south, but we had time for one more beer in a quiet bar, before we went our separate ways. In those two bars, we spoke about the team, our football this season, our players, our hopes, our concerns…there wasn’t a stone left unturned…a real, intense session, which is quite unlike us really. Towards the end, we chatted about various bands – of our youth – and as I left them at about 3pm on Via Sacchi, Andy bellowed out a Slade song at me.

I walked east over the Po river and located the youth hostel where I was staying for the first two nights. I had stayed there in 1989 for the Juve vs. Fiorentina game, plus one night in 1990 too. I booked in and decided to sleep for an hour. All my mates are experienced euro travellers and we often cat-nap for an hour before hitting the town. I awoke and showered, quite refreshed. I got changed and re-traced my steps into the city. Unfortunately, Andy’s lot had overslept and then took a tram to the wrong station.

Porco Dio.”

While I waited for them to arrive, I scouted out a good pizzeria and decided to head into the foyer of Hotel Roma on Piazza Carlo Felice. Who should be in there but Dutch Mick plus Paul and Trizia. I had a beer and then my mates arrived. We made a beeline for the restaurant on Via Lagrange. I ordered a pizza with gorgonzola and onions, plus beers and more talk about Chelsea and music. Towards the end of the meal, we noticed a gaggle of Italian men get up from their table, quite agitated ( one looked like Bruce Buck )…we realised that they had spotted Momo Sissoko, sitting quietly with his wife and little daughter. This wasn’t a posh place – my pizza was eight euros – so we were gobsmacked. He had hurt his leg in the Toro vs. Juve game ( il derby delle Mole ) on Sunday, so wouldn’t be playing. Jonesy took a photo of him with me. I said to him “sono tifo de Chelsea.” He smiled and was pleasant and affable. We were drinking some Birra Moretti – who knows the significance of this in the story of Chelsea and Juventus?

At about 11pm, we slowly walked up to the cobble-stoned Piazza San Carlo, Turin’s “Drawing Room, and this is the epicentre of the city…a few neon adverts in one corner, a massive screen in another. The boys weren’t taking much interest in my tour guide comments and wanted some beer. We headed into a very nice pub called “Jumping Jesters” – thankfully devoid of Chelsea. Nice to just be with some locals. The beers were on offer for two for five euros. Bargain. Neil and Jocka were drinking Guinness but didn’t fancy using the “whole in the ground” toilets. It was like a game of human kerplunk! They lasted, despite several pints of the heavy brew, until they got back to their hotel. I texted Cathy, who I knew was arriving late. After a few texts, Cathy and Dog arrived and joined us for a few late night beers. Cathy was full of gorgeous tales from the past, too many to mention.

It felt great – top level Chelsea chat in a foreign city with some Chelsea legends.

We were kicked out at 3am. I dropped into a bar called the “Texas Ranger” on a slow walk back to the hostel. One for the road. Lo and behold, who should be in there but two blokes who were sat in front of me at Coventry, one of whom – Digger – was at Beth’s 50th birthday bash. They were bollocksed. I soon departed. As I crossed over the Po, I phoned Beth and had a boozy chat!

I retired to bed at 4am. I hope I didn’t wake anyone up.

Set the alarm for 9.45am. Game Day! A shower. Thankfully no hangover. Bonus!

I dropped into a café, a familiar haunt from past trips. “Un cappocino, per favore.” How perfect these little cafes are – lots of polished wood, frothing cappocino machines, baskets of Panini and brioche. I was falling in love with the city once again. Alan, Gary, Walnuts and Whitey were coming in from Milano – where they had enjoyed a San Siro tour – and were due in at 11am. I had arranged to meet up with them in their hotel and so hobbled along Corso Vittorio Emanuelle but took a cab from Porta Nuova.

My mate Rob was staying at their hotel too and by 11.30am we had all met up. Handshakes and hugs all round – a special welcome to my mate Walnuts who, like me, has been a Juve fan for many years. The weather was phenomenal – clear skies, the Alps never looking clearer. Rob lead us from the hotel near Porta Sousa through the middle of Torino. We reached Piazza San Carlo, bumped into Chicago Joe and Michelle, saw a few Chelsea dotted about.

Our one aim for the day was to visit the Superga basilica and we caught a tram from Piazza Vittorio Veneto ( the largest square in Europe with no statue, it was hosting the annual Chocolate Festival – the aroma was amazing! ). We reached Sassi, but the funicular railway was shut on Tuesdays. While we waited to catch a bus to the top of the hill, I chatted to a Stone Island wearing Chelsea fan from Halle in the former Eastern Germany. He goes to about 25 games a year – respect!

We spent around 90 minutes high atop the Superga hill. Everyone seemed to appreciate the views, if not the long time it took to reach the summit. We were soon at the site of the Superga air crash which wiped out the 1949 Torino team. The understated memorial, with the script written in Torino burgundy ( or granata / pomegranate to be more precise ), was laden with Torino scarves and wreaths lead close by. I wished I had brought a CFC scarf to lie alongside the other tributes. The air was solemn with respect.

From there, we spent a few minutes taking in the magnificent panorama of Torino below us. The Alps appeared to float above the city. It was a truly wonderful moment. Torino’s grid streets were visible as were a few landmarks including Il Mole Antoniella ( once the tallest building in the world, for which the the Juve vs. Toro derby is named ), Stadio Delle Alpi to the north, Stadio Communale to the south.

My love for Italy is a real story running through my life and it was a joy to be back at Superga. I last visited it in May 1992 and I vividly remember not wanting to leave the summit, a long drive home through France ahead of me. I have that trip on film and there is a real look of sadness on my face as I look out at the city. Seventeen years on, I still didn’t want to leave.

One song was rattling around my head throughout this trip, one by Everything But The Girl, which came out in April 1988, just after I had returned from a month in Italy and it summed up my dilemma at the time. After I had left college, on three occasions I sold football badges outside stadia in Italy. For a while, I contemplated another life, based in Torino, selling badges for a living, but England – or Chelsea – was in my head.

“So here we are in Italy
With a sun hat and a dictionary.
The air is warm, the sky is bright
Your arms are brown, you’re sleeping well at night.
But England calls.”

And so it continues – in moments of quiet contemplation, I often wonder what would have happened if I had decided to live in Italy. Well, I wouldn’t be up to 700 Chelsea games, that’s a fact.

I returned back to the hostel, showered, changed into my game wear, recharged my camera batteries, picked up my ticket and headed out into the clear evening air.

This is it Chris.

As I crossed the Po once again – let’s freeze that moment in time – I realised what a lucky man I was.

“The meet” was going to be at “The Huntsman” near the station, but I heard singing from outside “Café Lumiere.” All of the World and her Dog was there…Rob, Alan, Walnuts, Gary and Whitey had just arrived. I popped in to get a 5 euro beer and noted loads of Chelsea faces, all old school, battle-worn veterans, the old school on tour…I had to laugh when I saw Rosey Cheeks chatting to an ex-Headhunter as if they were the best of friends. Dutch Mick was there. Up Norf Malcolm. Rousey. Stan and Mo. Cathy was throwing crostini at me. The bar had laid on free nibbles. The bouncy was going on in the bar.

By some strange coincidence, the date of the game was the twenty-fifth anniversary of a pivotal game in Chelsea’s 1983-84 promotion campaign, but also a pivotal moment in my life. My good friend Glenn and myself travelled up on the Chelsea special for the away game against Newcastle United on March 10th. 1984. Despite a few away games in Bristol, this was my first “proper” Chelsea away game. My parents drove us up to London – they disappeared off to the Ideal Home Exhibition for the day – and we caught the train from Kings Cross at 9am. This was to be a phenomenal away game – Glenn and myself had been looking forward to it for ages. I always remember walking through the centre of Newcastle en masse, feeling part of something, part of something bigger than I had ever witnessed. Police cars were jammed up against pubs to stop locals getting at us. What a feeling.

Memories of the game? We went ahead through David Speedie and the 5,000 Chelsea went berserk. I was quite near the front and climbed the fence, gesturing my elation towards the home fans, but was pulled down by a fat Geordie copper who pushed me against the fence. I was a bit shaken, but OK. Newcastle equalised through McDermott and the Geordie fans erupted. Never have 36,000 fans made more noise. Another clear memory was of about 100 Chelsea casuals perched on top of that fence, a row of beige Pringle pullovers, yellow, blue and white Tacchini tracksuit tops and many Nike Wimbledon trainers. Wedge haircuts. Attitude. Just brilliant.

The train was bricked on the way out of Newcastle and it broke down at York. However, on the journey south, a very important event took place. I was dozing and Glenn went off to the buffet. He came back, bouncing, and said he had met some Chelsea fans from Brighton.

Fast forward – the next home game against Fulham and these lads were sat in front of us on the benches. Their names? Alan and Paul ( aka Walnuts ). We have been friends ever since. I told this story to Alan and Walnuts and they remembered meeting Glenn and couldn’t believe it was twenty-five years ago.

Just like in 1984, March 10th 2009 threw up another Black And White away game.

I was buzzing. Tullio was on his way and I was so excited.

As he approached, I shook his hand and then we embraced. I turned, opened my arms towards the scene behind me, and said “Welcome To My World.” Tullio was able to meet – and personally thank – Cathy for getting him his ticket. It was in the expensive seats and he was overjoyed. He met Alan and the boys, but it was soon time to make our way to the stadium. We all made our separate ways. Tullio and myself avoided the “Chelsea Coaches” and caught a bus and a tram to the stadium. As luck would have it, Tullio bumped into his Juve mate Mimo, who had been at the game at The Bridge. That was Mimo’s first euro away game since the sadness of Heysel in 1985. Mimo was a typical Juve fan – he came from the South and it was a pleasure to meet him.

At 8pm, we arrived at the ground and we took some team photos. “Ciao” to Tullio and Mimo. I didn’t go straight in, but wanted to savour every last minute of all of this. I headed for the road adjacent to the home end – the old Curva Filadelfia – where I had first sold badges at the Juve vs. Panathinaikos game in November 1987. I bought a scarf. I could hear the Juve tifosi singing inside the ground and I fought away some tears of happiness. Get a grip, man.

A little mob of Drughi were still outside…I edged past them. I noted what appeared to be a pool of blood on the road – there had been a couple of ambulances leaving the scene as I arrived. We later learned two Chelsea had been stabbed. I was blending in though, no colours.

“Axon!”

I turned around and Jocka, Andy, Neil and Jonesy were behind me. They had seen the blood too. Time to get in. No body searches at the gate – I was in at 8.30pm.

The scene which greeted me was spectacular. I filmed my entrance to the Chelsea section on my phone and soon decided to position myself atop some steps at the front of the middle tier. After a few moments, I realised Les from Melksham was near and he came down to stand next to me all of the game. Right down below me, Chicago Joe and Michelle. Cathy and Dog came in and watched right from the front. Chelsea fans brought in a Lazio and a Toro flag to wind up the locals. The fans in the Curva Nord to my right had been issued with Italian flags. At the other end, I noticed two massive sections of green and red shiny mosaics. As the CL anthem played, the tifosi in the home end, got to work, unfurling three massive banners which said “YES WE CAN.” However, much to my amusement, the last flag got caught up and so was never fully exposed. Felt like singing “No You Can’t.” As it turned out, this failed unfurling proved to be a metaphor for the night.

At 8.45pm, The Game Of My Life began – Juventus vs. Chelsea. Just seeing those two words together makes me go all goose-pimply. After a few minutes, Andy and Smithy arrived behind me…bizarrely, Smithy got in without having to show a ticket. This was great as I saw him in Rome but he had been delayed and so missed the game. Poetic justice! To be honest, I thought we were pretty poor in the first period. That opening goal from Iaquinta was on the cards and our World crumpled. Don’t do this to me! My worst fears were starting to come to life. Juve moved the ball around well but we defended OK. We just couldn’t seem to create anything, though. I remember one wild shot from Ballack, who was particularly poor.

The first-half ended in a blur of confusion and then elation. Please excuse my memory, but I may have got these moments all a bit messed-up. With the seconds ticking away, that Drogba free-kick ( ? ) looked to be saved by Buffon, but then a roar, a Chelsea player near the goal with arms raised and we went wild. Much celebration, but then – wait – we saw that the game was continuing. What happened? Dunno. What seemed like a minute after, a scramble in the Juve goal – did it come back off the bar? – and Essien poked it home, but I wasn’t sure it was in.

It was. GET IN. From my viewpoint at the front of the middle tier, I watched as the Chelsea fans in the lower deck ( the more “wild” of the 1,700 ) go amok, running towards the Juve fans to my right…or rather the plexiglass screen. Much singing, shouting, arms pointing. The Juve fans responded with a bizarre mixture of arm signals.

Juve now had to score three to go through. My evening was now looking good, very good in fact. We played better in the second-half, with Frank very busy. Chiellini was sent off half-way into the second period but then Juve seemed to dominate. We were all impressed with the substitute Giovinco. A Belletti handball presented Del Piero with a penalty which he coolly slotted away.

It was now “Game On.” The Juventus fans to my right were at it again. One fan in particular – a man in his late fifties, very much like Claudio Ranieri – was very graphic. In one memorable moment he seemed to suggest that, with a tremendous show of agility with his tongue, that we were all fans of oral sex.

Mate – who isn’t?

The game continued on a knife edge. However, throughout the game, I did find it hard to concentrate on the action. On many occasions, I found myself drifting back to my four previous visits to the stadium between 1987 and 1989. The stadium was 80% all standing in those days and even lie unused from 1990 to 2006. I continually read all of the black and white Juve banners which adorned every inch of balcony space. I found it hard. It was too incredible for words.

Late on, a fine move down in front of me and Juliano found Drogba with an inch perfect pass. Seeing the net bulge was a pure moment of joy. I was filled up, but remained calm enough to take about ten shots of the resultant celebration. The scream, the leap, the players joining in…the Chelsea fans down below me going crazy, climbing the fence, so reminiscent of that game in 1984.

We were in full voice.

“We Are Chelsea In Turin.”

“We Hate Tottenham In Turin.”

“We Are Bouncy In Turin.”

I’m afraid one moment was not met with my approval. A 50 year old old-school Chelsea “face” mimicked the fans getting crushed at Heysel to the viewing Juve fans. To all those that glory in our shared hooligan history, a wake up call. This was not clever.

At the final whistle – relief and euphoria. We were now in great voice. The players came over and we serenaded them. Joe was loving it down below me. We gave Tiago a brilliant reception and he looked visibly moved. He was the last off the pitch. I met up with Alan, Walnuts, Rob, Gary and Whitey just as Dave Johnstone was getting some stick as he tried to sell his fanzine.

“It’s A Euro In Turin.”

“Hurry Up In Turin.”

So – into the last eight and out into the Turin night. We caught buses back to the city centre. Skinhead John was on our bus and was wearing a Torino shirt. He demanded that I help tie up a Toro flag to taunt the Juve fans. He’s quite a formidable character – I wasn’t going to argue. Thankfully the police got it taken down. I was right next to the flag – didn’t fancy getting stoned on the way back to the centre.

A few groups of Toro fans applauded us as we flew through the streets, police car lights flashing.

We regrouped at the same restaurant – a Sicilia pizza with anchovies this time – and were joined by Fiona and Ronnie ( Scooby Doo at the Coventry game ). No Sissoko, but the same gaggle of Italians ( including Bruce Buck! ) were there. We shook their hands as they left. Nice times. We again stayed at the “Jumping Jesters” until 3am…nice and easy, though, nothing mad.

Back to the hostel at 4am again. Phew.

The last day was another perfect one. I breakfasted at my little café on Corso Fiume again, this time with a copy of the pink “La Gazzetta Dello Sport” and tried my best to evaluate the Italian synopsis of the game. I walked over to Piazza Vetorio Veneto and waited for the boys to arrive. I had a gorgeous piece of chocolate cake from one of the stalls of the Chocolate Festival. The boys arrived at about 11.30am and a coffee. Gary, Walnuts, Alan and Whitey soon left for Milano, but I stayed with Rob for the rest of the day.

More blue skies. We sat at the café for three hours, more coffee, a coke, some gnocchi. It was heaven. Ronnie and Fiona joined us, but Rob and myself had one last bit of sightseeing to do.

We visited Il Mole Antoniella and this was a great way to view the city. A lift rushed us up within the shell of the building and we were soon overlooking the red roofs and grid-like streets of the city. Just spectacular.

We then walked – or rather hobbled in my case, my football injury was getting worse – back to the hotel. I stopped off to get some stuff from the Juve shop on Via Garibaldi. Rob was taking a late flight that night, so I wished him well.

“See you Sunday.”

There was one more treat in store for me. Tullio picked me up from the hotel at 6pm and I was soon in his new apartment, to the south near Moncalieri. I met his wife Emanuela again, but also his daughters Sophia and Lucrezia for the first time. Sophia presented me with a Juve scarf. We had a few appetisers as the sun set behind the Alps. Magnificent.

We dropped in to see Tullio’s parents for a few moments – I was just so very pleased to be able to see them again and we spoke of the old times in Diano Marina. More appetisers. Tullio spoke of his grandfather’s love for Juve. He apparently saw Juve’s first ever game at Campo d’Armi, a stadium just to the north of Stadio Olimpico.

Tullio and myself then searched for a place to park before going into a lovely Piedmontese restaurant for a great meal. Talk about work, our families, our plans to meet again. The meal was rounded off with a perfect chocolate pudding.

When in Torino.

Tullio remembers me saying to him in around 1988 that it would be my dream to one day see Chelsea play Juventus. Deep down I knew this was never going to happen. What did I know, eh?

We bade our farewells to each other back at the hotel. We hugged. My last words to Tullio were –

“I’ve seen your team play many times before, for you to eventually see my team play means the World to me.”

“CIAO CIAO.”

After a peaceful night’s sleep at a hotel near Porta Sousa, I awoke early and was soon knocking back some coffee at around 6.45am in the hotel breakfast bar. The hotel radio jumped to life with a song which was coming to its end and it just made me smile. It was Louis Armstrong and “What A Wonderful World.”

Perfetto.

As I walked out to catch the airport bus at about 7am, I just wanted to put my arms around the city one last time. The Alps still looked stunning to the west and there was Superga, to the east, ready to welcome me back next time.

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