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Roman Holiday – A Diary of Rome

By | 1st June 2009

fans-in-romeTuesday May 26th

11am – After failing in my quest to get a good night’s rest the night before, I spent the morning zombified thanks mainly to the hypnotic waffling of Paddy Crerand on MUTV. After a wash and an egg (though maybe not in that order) I got in the cab and headed for Heathrow Terminal 5. It was my first time there and it’s an odd place. Like a sort of high end gym/swimming pool complex. Or maybe a Scientology brainwashing facility. The plane was mostly full of Cockney Reds and journos. Also in attendance was Graeme Souness, looking much shorter than you’d expect but just as sour faced. Whether he sprawled across his seat displaying his ‘baggage’ to the stewardesses a la Sky Sports, I unfortunately can’t confirm.

3pm – I arrived at the Leonardo Da Vinci airport, had a fag with Mani from The Stone Roses (well, in the general vicinity of Mani from The Stone Roses) and quickly departed to the hotel in a Honda Accord masquerading as a mini cab. Despite the luxury of a mini bar stocked with water, we didn’t hang around the hotel and headed straight out for the city center and towards the Piazza del Popolo.

4pm – After skillfully dodging erratic mopeds driven by women in high heels for 15 minutes, we made our way to a little set of steps and a weird fish fountain thing where a few supporters had started to gather. Like most people, I was counting on the English’s unique ability to invade football events like a Nazi with a whiff of a loosely aligned and unstable Baltic country. There’s nothing we do better than swamping football tournaments and events in large numbers and worrying (unfoundedly, if that’s a word) the local authorities. However, my first impressions were that there were an awful lot of Barca fans. None of them seemed at all like the football fans I’d met at other Euro ties, World Cups and European Championships. They were pretty quiet, not in large groups, and quite happy to sit reading books and newspapers and wandering around amiably rather than necking beers and singing. The bastards.

5pm – After foolishly attempting a Four Cheese Pizza that was essentially a mound of molten bubbling fondue on some wafer thin bread, I stumbled my way to the Colosseum where the supposed ‘pre-match celebration’ was underway. This ‘Festival’ consisted of the Cup on display, a tent where you could play Pro Evolution on the PS3, a tent where you could imitate a celebration with a corner flag, and a few non-football related tents where people seemed to be milling around doing nothing. It was pretty pathetic and after getting a few snaps, I left to go and find a bar.

10pm – After some banter with the fans, a bit of Nun spotting (which wasn’t hard) and a lovely Veal Milanese I attempted to rectify my bad night’s sleep by getting an early one and being up early for Match Day. This failed as well, however, as I became engrossed by CNN’s ‘football for dummies’ build up coverage and then a bizarre Italian chat show with Gianluca Vialli and Paolo Rossi with a title sequence pastiche of the Persuaders (the Roger Moore, Tony Curtis womanizing detective camp fest from the 70s). Although I can speak pig Italian, understanding it is much harder as they speak so damn fast it’s impossible to follow. Despite this, I couldn’t stop bloody watching it and was up until 4.

Wednesday May 27th

1pm – After deciding I had to sleep in so I wouldn’t pass out during the game, we wandered down to the stadium to get the lay out of the place before it got too hectic. There were two things that struck me here.

Firstly, there is a massive phallic monument in honor of Mussolini in front of the Olimpic Stadium. I wasn’t aware we were into celebrating our Fascist dictators in Western Europe. Does the Allianz Arena have a statue of Hitler outside of it?

Secondly, the Italians seem to have at least 10 different types of police. There is no need for this. All of them are garbed up in increasingly extravagant uniforms, most of them have berets, some of them have sashes, a few wear women’s knee high boots and they all stand around with their shirt sleeves rolled up and their hands on their hips. In fact they spent more time posing around their equally disparate meat wagons than they did actually doing anything. They are obviously far more concerned with how they look than how efficiently they police and have decided the best use of police funds is to make them all look fabulous.

4pm – By this time I was quite pissed. Now I know what you’re thinking, how can you possibly have been pissed Oscar, there was an alcohol ban? Well yes, but not really. While the alcohol ban was in full force in the city center, the stadium was awash with cheeky Italian beer vendors who had, sensibly, stock piled the night before. Likewise the wily English fans. With the police busy posing, the area was flushed with beer by kickoff, meaning that the only people actually put out by the ban were Italians hoping for a nice glass of Vino with their lunch. This must have really pissed them off.

5pm – Back into the City center to admire just how beautiful the local girls were. Not football related but damnit worth menitoning

8.30pm – Firstly its worth mentioning how little security there was regarding tickets. We’d all been told, as fans were in Moscow the year before, that tickets would be checked against passports and the security would be stringent. There was none of this. Not only was there no reason for me to have brought my passport with me, I could easily have gotten in with a posted note with MAN U vs BARCA scrawled on it in crayon. As I made my way to my seat I was alarmed at first to discover how close it was to the Barca end, but thankfully my earlier confidence in the pack travelling of the English was rewarded as the supposed neutral area was mainly United.

8.45pm – Kick off. Five things I noticed from the match itself:

1. Barca were fantastic. I’ve claimed Barca were over rated in the past. How wrong was I. Very is the answer. I eat my words with a slice of humble pie and a huge portion of my own foot. United were poor, that must be said. They’ve rarely played as badly, but you can only beat whats put in front of you and Barca did that with gusto and flair. Fair do’s and congratulations, they were very worthy winners.

2. United’s squad is the best in the world. Their team is not. With everyone bar Hargreaves fit and only Fletcher suspended, they should not have had to play Park.

3. Sir Alex Ferguson – not the only one to think the team that crushed Arsenal could crush Barca. I, and many others, thought the same. But we were all wrong. Barca are not Arsenal, and in reflection United should have played more like Chelsea and should never have left a three man midfield to deal with Xavi and Iniesta, possibly the two best center midfield passers of the ball in the world. It was naive and costly.

4. The failures and weaknesses of our team should not be used to undermine Ronaldo’s status. Ronaldo was the only attacking player who put in any kind of shift. The media are trying to portray Messi as the clear victor in the ‘Best Player in The World’ contest, but that’s unfair. Messi had the advantage of a masterclass by Xavi and Iniesta to support him. Even then his little runs were fairly redundant and usually forced wide. Ronaldo was almost fighting on his own. Aside from a reckless challenge on Puyol that he was lucky to escape from cardless, he did himself proud and, in my opinion, played better with little or no support, than Messi would have, or did against Chelsea, in similar circumstances.

5. United had a shocker, and, to a degree, were shown up. But perspective must creep through when the mist of hyperbole has settled. Barca are the best team in the world this season, but over two seasons, United have been. They’ve won the league three seasons in a row and reached the European Cup final two years running. The Barca dream team lost 4-0 to Milan. They were still a great side. United had a bad game, but the doom merchants are getting ahead of themselves. You need to be in it to win it and United were in it. Two years in a row. No one else was. Football loves nothing more than an over reaction. United will come back stronger next year, but this year belongs to Barca and to Pep Guardiola, a young manager that has achieved in his first year what it took Alex Ferguson fifteen years to and what most great managers never do. The treble. Forca Barca. They deserve it.

Will United just bounce back? Have your say in the comments section below!

Reader Comments

The below views are those of our readers and do not reflect the opinions of Premiership Talk or its employees.
  1. Fantastic article, Oscar. You have no idea how jealous I am of your trip…although I'm sorry the result didn't work out.

    And Jason, I must say… I see a Chelsea v Real Madrid CL final next season… both clubs will spend way too much money to NOT make the CL final.

  2. Jason Pedersen says:

    I smell re-match next year. Barca and Man United are the top two teams in all of Europe and after the transfer window winds down this summer these two will still reign supreme and will be back at it next May in the Champions League Final.

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