European football eh?
How we’ve missed it. A welcome return this season and the added bonus of being back in the Champions League after a twenty year absence.
The draw in early September saw us grouped with real European royalty in the shape of AC Milan, Dortmund and PSG. A frightening prospect in football terms but a dream draw for fans. Some bucket list destinations for stadium geeks and football fans alike.
So, shift at work over at 6pm then a 7pm departure for the drive to Stansted for me and the missus. Not quite the planes, trains and automobiles journey some had mind as we heard of some great trips to get there via numerous European airports.
11pm arrival at the hotel and the first person we see is a well known fanzine scribbler at reception requesting an iron and ironing board. Forever the sharp dressed man is Mr C.
After the Premier League summer season trip to Atlanta, we had the relatively short flight to the home of Atalanta, Bergamo and then the bus ride in to Milano, home of the mighty AC.
Now for those who don’t know, though we obviously do, being the fashion conscious types, it’s Milan Fashion Week. However, the main fashion in Milan on Tuesday was Black & White shirts. From the minute we arrived at Milano Centrale you saw them. Hundreds of them! We are back in Europe and fans are making the most of it.
Officially we had 4500 with tickets in Milan but there were several thousand over without and just along for the trip.
Obviously the first port of call has to be a pizza restaurant. Pizza and Poretti, the food of champions!
So, the afore-mentioned fashion week means Milan is busier than ever. Taxis were at a premium both in terms of availability and cost. Little surprise they were as rare as rocking horse shit even on the App. Whilst standing trying to get one, an Italian fella asks us if we need a car. Well, obviously we did and he knew it. In his broken English, he told us getting a taxi would be impossible and he was happy to take us where we were going, in his own car, at a price. €30 for a couple of miles and he wasn’t budging. Couldn’t be arsed to start sussing out the Metro as all we wanted to do was get to the apartment so took him up on the offer. Hell-raising trip, but the bloke was sound and got us where we needed to be unscathed.
Next issue was that there was nobody at the apartment to check us in so we had to contact the booking agent who told us where we should have picked the keys up. At the f*****g station I’d just paid €30 to get from! Great eh?
Luckily, the said agent accepted their lack of communication meant it was their fault so agreed to send someone over with the keys but not immediately. So plans of a trip to the Navagli canal where the main fan gathering was went out the window.
We took up residence in the pavement cafe/bar adjacent to the apartment and that proved a cracking decision. Having been to Milan before, I’ve experienced it previously, but as long as we were drinking, they supplied us with free food. Top notch stuff too!
Even when our mates arrived, the food continued to come. Superb stuff!
So after eventually checking in, we headed off to the San Siro.
We know its quite a way outside the central area so the majority had headed off far earlier. A short tram ride to Duomo Metro then 2 trains to San Siro (Stadio Guiseppe Meazza). By this time, the trains were predominantly packed out with Milan fans.
It was all good natured and friendly and as it should be. The station is pretty much outside the ground, though we did hear later that many of our fans were forced off trains at an earlier stop and made to walk the rest of the way which took around 45 minutes. No need for this and proved to be a precursor for post match.
We were guided in to the “away compound” where numerous checks and searches were made as we headed through a maze of fencing before eventually getting to the entrance. Two things we noted. Two in our group had tickets that weren’t in their names. Their ticket was checked, their passport was checked but there was no issue that they didn’t match!
We also witnessed fans climbing over the fences and they weren’t challenged at all.
Access in the stadium is via a spiral ramp, right to the very top tier. It is quite a challenge if you struggle with health or fitness. The seating area was rammed but our seats, right at the front were surprisingly still empty. The downside is there is a glass partition between the two tiers which obstructs the view.
Now whatever the issues with the stadium in terms of facilities, age etc, it’s still a sight to behold and the Milan fans put on a fantastic tifo display and made some great noise.
The game itself was a little bit meh from our point of view. We never really got going.
We struggled to contain them first half and were probably fortunate to go in level at the break. At one point, they’d had 15 efforts on goal to our 1. Pope pulled off some decent saves and profligate finishing from the hosts kept us in it.
We gave a much better account second half but still struggled to get at them with any real purpose despite a couple of personnel changes.
After hanging in for so long, you kind of thought our moment might come and right at the death, we thought it had. Sean Longstaff hit a great effort at goal that many of us thought had won the game for us. Sadly not as the ‘keeper got a touch over.
In the end, we left with a hard earned and much welcomed point. Up and running in the Champions League in a group rival fans thought we’d lose all 6 in.
After the usual after game lock in to allow home fans to clear the surrounding areas, we were eventually let out. To those who went to Milan last time, it should have been little surprise to find the Metro stations closed and trains not running.
Pretty much the only option was to head on foot in the direction of the city centre and it’s miles away!
Fortunately, a station around an hour’s walk away was still in operation and local Carabinieri seemed to appear miraculously to get us in to the station and on to the last remaining trains. Shambolic really though this is something other clubs’ fans have experienced as pointed on social media!
My personal view is they are quite happy to subdue/wear out fans to the point they get back to city centre and head back to their hotels. In this couple’s case, it pretty much worked.
The following morning and early afternoon was a time to do the tourista stuff. We found a nice cafe near the Duomo for breakfast, followed by a photo session in the Duomo Piazza along with numerous other United fans.
Some still wore their Black & White shirts, others doing the casual look to blend in with the locals. A walk through the fashion malls and arcades, with wall to wall high end designer brands that need a second mortgage to purchase anything from. Primark on Northumberland St it isn’t and some of the cafes in there didn’t want fans wearing their football shirts.
Despite the cost of things, it’s a beautiful place. There is stunning architecture even for those who don’t generally do that sort of thing. There’s a lot of this type of thing around the city hidden amongst the apartment blocks that typically line just about every street. Our driver on the first day suggested Milano is Italy’s finest city ahead of the likes of Roma and Firenze. To be fair to him, it’s difficult to disagree. A beautiful place inhabited by the beautiful people. It’s quite stunning.
We decided to walk back to Milano Centrale to catch our bus back to Bergamo, taking in a couple of pavement bars along the way, to savour the ambience of the place and make the most of our time there.
Despite the issues we had along the way, which add to the overall experience, it’s been a superb trip. How we’ve missed the European experiences and how we hope come December they will be on the calendar for early 2024.
So it’s on to Dortmund for the next trip and another cultural experience though this time me will no doubt feature a lot of the finest German produce. BIER.
Steve and Allison Wallwork – .@stevewallwork