I know it's been quite a while since the matches I attended happened, but it is until now that I had the time to sit and write this up.
Still, it's the experience that I will try to focus on, more than a critical view of the team's performance.
Note: Exaggeration and romance will follow.
Anyway, here goes.
First off, I'd like to clarify that I wasn't actually hitchhiking, and neither is this precisely a guide, as it is more of a, say, recollection of impressions. So before regretting my choice of title, I'll just let myself into the actual content.
Having been in Italy for something close to three weeks, I was able and fortunate enough to attend to two of Juventus' games, however I trust you'll understand that I'll be focusing more on the Atalanta game, as even though I am glad to have seen the team in it's virtue as well as in it's vice, I am no too fond of commenting on that New Year's champagne-hungover miasma of a Sampdoria game.
Im finally back from a 2 month stroll down the old continent.
The trip was awesome, having confirmed that beautiful Italy is beautiful. Packed with wonderful cities and towns, filled with mouth-watering restaurants (which force you into undoing a button or two) and flooded with mind blowing sights which span from the Colosseum, through Michelangelo's Pieta to, yes my friends, the Juventus Stadium.
As it is well known, transport in Italy, albeit sometimes a tad expensive, is well interconnected. From cars to trains and buses, I chose the latter to carry me all the way to Turin, from Lyon, France along with my girlfriend and cousin.
In the middle of an endurable 4 hour ride one comes across a 20 minute long tunnel that carves across monumental amounts of rock which, being pitch dark, I came to understand only later that were the mighty Alps.
I live in a city that is host to truly spectacular topography in the shape of the Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes and I gotta say that the Alps are something to behold. Be it from close range as I did that time on the bus or from a slow approach via highway there is no denying that their majesty, which paints a cherry-on-top background for the Stadium is one of the site's most beautiful attributes.
Nothing ever escapes the law of "you get what you pay for", especially not concerning hotels. Having said that, I admit we did not pay for an overly expensive one, actually, it was pretty cheap. And as many of you may know, in unexpensive lodgings, bathrooms are shared and are located on hallways, with only one per floor. You might imagine it is not the most comfortable scenario for a nighttime feverish puke-fest, which of course, is exactly what happened to me. It may well have been a mixture of the pizza, the ride and the nerves that ultimately culminated in my vomiting, however as green my face was early next morning, there is no sickness that can pose a threat to the awe that live-Juve action commands. So after throwing up a countless number of times, some fresh air amidst a freezing Turin and the thrill of a nearing 3:00pm, I managed to shake off my greenness and could enjoy what was at hand.
You know that frustrating feeling of talking about football to some guy (read EPL/LaLiga fanboy) and he doesn't know who Lichtsteiner is? Of course you do.
Over the years I've come to make my peace with Serie A not being the world's most popular league. Or the second. People tend to minimise Juventus and Italian football in general so it is difficult to engage in a profound conversation on Calcio with people who don't know half of what they're criticising in the first place. (eg. "Italian football is defensive and boring").
Now imagine walking down the street on a Sunday morning while constantly overhearing loud men at cafes and parks talking about nothing but Juventus. Discussing concepts which we are so familiar with and going over the exact same things we go on about in this website. It's kind of odd yet strangely familiar.
That feeling was particularly evident on the bus trip to the Stadium, where only after you've board it you suddenly realise it's packed with people who are either wearing a scarf, a shirt or a jacket of Juventus.
My girlfriend and I did not know exactly which stop was it we should get down on to get to the Stadium. Then there was one where the entirety of passengers in the bus went for the door and got down. We both agreed that might be the one.
Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies...only instead of it being a boat it's a store, and instead of a candy-flavoured Lennon trip, it's a never ending black and white collection of miscellaneous paraphernalia. You got pens, hats, scarves and magnets. You got pet sweaters, pet beds and pet leashes. You got stamped jerseys of absolutely every Juventus player, even Rubinho.
Your eyes will spiral and your mouth will drool, just beware of entering the doors with a fat wallet, as it is likely to exit thinner than the physical state in which Krasic left us.
Wanna buy something? Fine. There's an I-kid-you-not 45 minute long line waiting for you.
I went to the store on 4 occasions, and excluding a 9am visit, the place held more crammed people than a J.K Rowling Reading waiting line (or a Roman bus stop, for that matter).
It is chaotic. Though it's always nice to see so much Bianconeri enthusiasm.
Confused, anxious and shaken by the glittering products, I got tense and could not focus a specific thing for more than ten seconds. I ended up buying a hat.
Also, at the main entrance there's a wall high print of the lads celebrating, where my brother took this awesome picture of me.
A stadium is a fortress. It's emblematic of its team and represents the promise of football and its excitement. It should seem like a stronghold for the beautiful game. The pitch itself may hold heroic tales and might be thrilling to behold, but the building, the actual structure must impose and echo its magnificence, especially if it is the stuff of legends.
New I don't mean to offend any Barcelona supporters, as this is still my very own personal opinion. I'm just saying things as they appeared to me.
During my trip, I also visited Catalunya, and while Gaudi remained the main sightseeing attraction, Camp Nou was a landmark I would not ignore. I gotta say, I was actually a bit thrilled to see it. I climbed my way to the roof-less upper deck and got my camera ready to take a first impression picture of the Stadium, I would just wait for the bus to turn on the corner and pass that big building that was obstructing my view. Then the bus suddenly stopped right there and people began coming out. Turns out that the big building was in fact the Camp Nou Stadium.
What I want to say with this is that again, in my opinion, the legendary Catalunya fortress is in no way what I though the world's best club stadium would look like. I just didn't feel all that might.
The Juventus Stadium, my friends, is a monument. Beautiful and modern in every sense, it stands alone in a whole block dedicated to nothing but its grand view. Slightly uphill, you walk towards it for a while growing closer by the stride very much like Mount Doom grew larger and larger in Froddo and Sam's eyes.
Together, the glittering green, red and silver scaled shell, along with the uncommon cabled twin posts form an outline that, if not already, will make of the Stadium one of the most recognisable sporting contours across the globe.
The Stadium's setting, structure and background all play in unison to make its visit a unique thing among footballing experiences.
Perhaps the one downside on the whole thing was that I could not get a look at my Del Piero Star. And it was strictly due to faulty and a bit absurd logistics. So anyone who purchased a Star, heed.
Since they are not located on public corridors, like the Store, one must pass two checkpoints before actually getting to the zone where they're at, and once you're there, there's no going back or around. So basically, you have to purchase a ticket on the very same section with an entrance on the same zone as your Star, otherwise you're toast. Problem is that the Del Piero bit is right on the side that has very few tickets available because it hosts the media and presidential seats, and I managed, quite problematically, to get tickets exactly on the opposite side.
Apparently, the Juventus Stadium Tour does allow you to walk through the Stars...all except Del Piero's, cause they're still putting stars on, or some bull.
So no, after a half hour of asking around and trying to figure out if there was another way, the answer remained negative.
But alas, I shall have to make do with admiring the Star replica they sent me, which clearly isn't at the Stadium tracks but on my bedroom shelf.
At least it gives me one more reason to return.
Having said how great the Stadium is from the outside, it's time to comment on just how awesome it is on the inside. What I remember the most is when I finally got to the tracks, located my entrance, walked through the tunnel and then boom! there it was. The pitch is crisp, the stands are shiny, the colors are bright, the fans are loud and the vibe is just magnificent. You will miss a heartbeat.
Now, if there is a cheesy club, that is Juventus. And I say this with absolutely no malice, quite the contrary, it's something I think we kind of value, as in all it's cheesiness it ultimately comes down to attention to detail for us, the fans. Which brings me to the pre-match bit.
Something like a half hour before kick-off, when stands are still being filled, and there are heart-warming chants that play background music to the videos shown on the mega-screens, there's a sudden stop, and with our Turin friends
having a particular knack for the dramatic, they cue the theatricals. Check this out: as an introduction for the squad which is about to enter the pitch, they start a catchy Eye of the Tigerish tune along with a ridiculously dramatic countdown...yes, a countdown! which eventually reaches zero when the players come out into the field to great effect as the crowds roar (think "Maximus, Maximus!"). It don't get cheesier than a countdown, and it's effing awesome.
But it doesn't stop there, then comes the heartily sung anthem, the raising of the scarves and, my favorite, the shouting of the last names in the starting line up.
Announcer: "Numero uno, Gianluigi..."
Every soul in the Stadium: "Buffon!!!"
Shouts louder than Conte's.
As for the tifosi, they are very committed and passionate people. Nothing like the Curva Sud ones, who sing and yell throughout the whole 90 minutes and keep the atmosphere pumped up and very much alive, especially when the few rival supporters dare attempt to start a chant. Of course, they are emphatically whistled, jeered, overshadowed and eventually silenced by the home crowd.
Yes, they are intense. And things tend to get a wee bit aggressive over at the borderline between the home and visitor sections, particularly when the visiting team is being shredded to strips. But it's all good sport...it's not like the tifosi are violent or anything... . . .
The Atalanta game... If there ever was a match to watch live at the Stadium. Well, I might be exaggerating, but it really was a great match. I mean, come on, 3 goals in less than 20 minutes? at my closest side of the pitch? With a Vucinic escapade, a Pirlo free kick and a Marchisio daisy-cutter? Yeah, I consider myself having been pretty lucky.
Now, watching live football, form the stands has a different quality to it than watching it on the screen. I don't now if it is we're more used to the television or what, but there's something special about live performances, a certain je ne sais quoi. They just move different, I don't know.
It takes time to realize that you are actually watching them live, in front of you, not more than 40 meters away. There they are, doing what you see them do week in, week out, but right there and they are something else.
But Pirlo, mamma mia, Pirlo. He's from another planet, that man is. The way he moves, the way he dummies, the way he controls the game. I'm telling you, if you think watching a Pirlo long range pass is great, you have no idea what it is to see him do it in person, it's as if the ball is locked onto the receiving player's foot and can land nowhere but at its destination. Truly spectacular.
Speaking of the bearded wonder, here is something I managed to capture that I know you will appreciate.
As for the display, it was great. They really play very beautifully, the lads.
After the goals, time simply distended and I was hypnotised into a dynamic and flowing possession game while the sun set behind the Alps through a sliver in the roof of the Stadium.
Well, I hope this wasn't too personal or too romantic, and that more than taking it as one man's experience it may have incited some of you who haven't gone to stand up right away, take a red marker and write "Juventus Trip" on your calendar right across the first week of your next vacation.
I sure feel lucky to have been able to go there, and insist on you trying to do so too.
So take double shifts for a while, eat less, ride a bike instead, go into prostitution, beg, even steal. Do whatever it takes to gather the dough for this trip for it will truly be worth every cent.
You simply have.to.go.
- Eat all you can, you shall exercise at your return to real life. Just avoid heavy meals before the match. Nerves and pizza can cause stomach-havoc.
- Buy your tickets with time. LisTicket, which apparently is the only non-resale centre, is an absolute mess. I still don't get how it works (nor do the people who work there, I'm sure) so just consider the italian chaos and take precautions.
- Arrive early. Be it for entering a less crowded store or for catching the whole pre-match action, you'll want to miss neither.
- Carry a video recording device and record every set-piece. You never know when you might actually catch a beauty. I know I did.
P.S- Sorry for the joke, Milos. I still love you.
Fino alla Fine