There’s something really warm and comforting about sitting in on a rainy Sunday afternoon, watching some top quality Calcio play out at the San Siro.
Much publicised is the fondness many have for the good old days of the 1990’s where Channel 4 provided us mere mortals, without the sufficient luxury of satellite or cable, with weekends of football live on the TV.
We are not quite back at those times, Italian football isn’t quite free to view in the UK, but with my Eleven Sports streaming subscription of £50 for the year I can at least pretend, as well as insisting on watching as many games as possible “to get my moneys worth” and so submerge myself back into Calcio, rather than catching up via a YouTube highlights reel.
The football is still great. True, Juventus now arguably have more of a monopoly compared to the 90’s, but there are still the same old favourites and “grande” teams like AC Milan, Inter, Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina and Lazio. The plucky fan favourites, niche teams like Parma, Atalanta or Sampdoria who we can all watch and form attachments to as well continue to entertain.
All play in a competition not diluted or sanitised to the umpteenth degree by squillions of pounds worth of TV money (at the time of writing of course) and with fear of relegation and loss of revenue breeding an acceptance of mid table sludge. There is still the classy mistique surrounding Calcio, the passion, skill, tactics and darker sinister aura, which never seems far away, brought about by a long list of scandals from match fixing to organised crime with a quick stop at illegal supplements thrown in for good measure.
Clubs regularly go bust, there’s usually a scandal round the corner, many teams are on to multiple reincarnations of themselves, it’s all highly entertaining and addictive.
Growing up with Italian football has however had a far deeper impact than simply a nostalgic or rose tinted bit of football fandom.
An understanding and appreciation of different teams and rivalries has taught me enough Italian geography so successfully navigate the country on holiday, I have an awareness of when or where not to talk about Juventus, or Napoli, in a bar or say I love a certain player when chatting to an old boy over a coffee.
Associated with this I have also found that a seemingly floundering, hopeless and officially recognised Standard Grade “3” in French is not the grand total of my modern language abilities. Watching Italian football I have unwittingly picked up numerous nuggets of language, “bianconeri”, “giallorossi”, “nerazzuri” for starters, known off by heart and immediately giving me some Italian primary colours. Phrases like “calcio” or “tifosi” easily follow and one quickly begins to gain a bit more confidence in my ability to speak a foreign language than my S2 French teacher would ever have dreamed of predicting.
But being able to point to and ask for the “Rosso” ice cream on holiday isn’t the main reason that I love my calcio. Nor is it simply the nostalgia which brings me back.
As above, this remains a major football league, attracting a worldwide audience and world class footballers. Over recent years Italian clubs have proven to be competitive on the European stage, proving the prominence and quality of the football.
Fans remain passionate, continuing to support their teams to the hilt. Ticketing prices remain affordable. The importance of football in everyday culture also remains reassuringly prominent.
But after all this, Italian football remains deeply flawed through scandals, dodgy owners and financial irregularity. Wonderfully interesting and unsanitised, reflecting every day life. Football, just as life, isn’t always a quiet night at library or a civilised outing to the theatre, but must always continue on warts and all.
There remains unrest at clubs where fans feel that steps are being taken to sanitise their involvement or price them out, turn the match day experience into something akin to a high class dinner party.
Obviously there’s a balance between organising a safe and pleasant experience for all fans, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity and there needs to be order and control of the less savoury aspects that we see. But the stand against the wider sanitisation and ongoing passion demonstrated by Italian fans remains something to be admired.
The focus on tactics, line ups and appreciation by all of the qualities of a “regista” midfielder is also something to behold. Growing up in Scotland, aside from a short lived “tactics board” feature on Sportscene, there seemed to be a dearth of tactical analysis and so again the Calcio provided me with the relevant dose.
Italian football continues to provide this fix, the stereotype of a deeply tactical game rightly or wrongly clouding my judgement and forcing me to over analyse players, tactics and systems like no other football seems to do. Again, Calcio has a greater impact on me than I initially realise.
Taking all of the above into account, as I sip my espresso (made on the hob with Italian coffee in an Italian coffee pot), watching Italian football on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I can conclude that I do really love Italian football and long may it continue to have such a profound influence on me.