Back to the Drawing Board (Yes it’s a lame pun – sue me)

It was an absolutely baking hot day yesterday. One of those days where you wake up sticky on sheets lightly peppered with with persperation. Like every August day in Rome, in fact. Frankly I would have forgiven myself for not moving a single muscle until at least about four in the afternoon, but when there’s football to be watching, you have to put all such thoughts behind you and step into the kitchen, stand the heat and make yourself a fat old plate of scrambled eggs. If only the Roma players had had the same kind of gumption and mental fortitude as I do, yesterday might have turned out oh so different.

As omens go, the metro breaking down at San Giovanni was not a good one. We had planned on getting up there early and having something to drink, but instead were in all sorts of public transport related panic, a situation not helped by the fact that Spangles wanted to get in the ground half and hour before kick-off, something I haven’t done at any football match since about 1996, when 20 of would queue outside the gates for the West Stand Benches to get the spot at the back and on the halfway line. Those were the days. By all accounts a lot of the Ultras groups do that at the Olimpico as well, giving them time to sort out flags, organise their banners and get their spot (although in fairness you’d have to be a wee bit silly to not know where their usual place is, let alone stand in it). We ended up getting there about 40 minutes before kick off, with enough time to share a large bottle of beer and get really rather excited indeed. Excited enough to get completely confused by what entrance to use, to find where the staircase I needed was, and to find the seat I was supposed to be sitting in. It turned out to be this one in the west section of the Sud;

Not great, as you can clearly see from the non-view. Luckily for me there were plenty of spaces about; either because they didn’t sell out their season tickets in this section, those fans were still on holiday, or people smarter (and crucially there earlier) than me just sat in any old seat they fancied further up the stand. The most disappointing thing about where I am though isn’t the view, but that bar two ultras groups further up the section everyone sits down, and that on yesterday’s form they don’t seem to join in with most of the songs that they sing in the central section. In fact the whole atmosphere was strangely flat yesterday, not helped by the fact that there were only about 500 Napoli fans in the away end. Despite this Roma played pretty well in the first half and more than deserved their 1-0 lead, from what looked in my seat like an Aquilani volley, but you can’t quote me on that. Of the new signings, John Agent Riise was solid at left back and Julio Baptiste seemed to do all right for someone who doesn’t possess a first touch.

But as usual with Italian football, the most interesting stuff was going on off the pitch. During half time there was commotion in the away end and all of a sudden thousands of Napoli fans poured through the gates to their section, to a cacophony of boos, jeers and chants of ‘Vesuvius, wash them with fire’, all topped off with a rousing rendition of ‘Oddio Napoli’ (I hate Napoli). Anyone who is familiar with Man United’s ‘Viva Ronaldo’ song will know the tune, because that’s where they nicked it from.

The banners you can just about see in the distance read ‘157 days in cells’ and ‘five years of bans’, while the little white flags say ‘spies’, an insult referring to one of Roma’s main faces, who is accused of grassing up all of Napoli’s top boys/lads/chaps/twats to the police after an unseemly tussle between the two sets of fans some time back. In repsonse the Sud displayed a series of banners, one of which read ‘Napoli Ultras have no honour and no evidence… who accuse without proof’. Napoli fans shouldn’t be so hard on their Roma counterparts however, they are perfectly capable of being banned from games by their actions alone, with yesterday being a perfect example. At around half past nine in the morning 1500 of their supporters including leading ultras hi-jacked a train at Napoli’s main station that was supposed to be going to Turin and demanded that it be redirected to the capital so they could go to the game. Now, reports form Naples have suggested that this was because of an insufficiency of trains being laid on, that they were all ticket holding fans and that the capi ultras co-operated with the police to make sure that there was a minimum amount of trouble. However, there were also reports that they pulled everyone who wasn’t going to Rome off the train, including people who were going to hospitals up north, and when they showed up at Termini some hours later they started lobbing explosives around at bemused and probably terrified tourists. They then were escorted to the Olimpico, being pretty objectionable along the way.

Napoli arriving at Termini. A pleasant bunch.

Napoli arriving at Termini. A pleasant bunch.

However when they got into the ground they were very impressive, visually and sonically. It’s no surprise that their team perked up several notches backed by that sort of support and for the first 25 minutes of the second half it was pretty much all Napoli, despite the fact they were down to ten men 54 minutes in, after Santacroce received his marching orders for a wild lunge that gave the referee no option but to show him his second yellow card of the day and send him for an early bath. However the Neapolitans soon levelled the scores when Hamsik slotted home a rebound from a towering header that came off the woodwork, right into his path. He won’t get an easier chance this season, and it proved that sometimes it really is harder to play against ten men. That was enough to wake Roma from their post-half-time slumber, and they proceded to carve out chance after chance, most notably one from new signing Menez, which he will no doubt have nightmares about. The game ended 1-1, a result that will satisfy Napoli more than Roma, and puts an early dent in giallorossi title ambitions. You certainly can’t afford to drop points like that in this league Jeff.

So an irritating start to my Roma supporting career, eerily reminiscent of late 90’s Chelsea, complete with the sort of crowd grumbling and impotent, stifled chants that characterise a disappointed, oudone group of supporters. Still, at least we beat Tottenham as usual, eh? Oh.

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